India and Pakistan are two cricket crazy nations and whenever these two teams clash with each other, it creates a very ‘unique aura’ around it both inside and outside the stadium where the match is being played. There is a reason behind the uniqueness to this competition between the two countries which is very political and diplomatic in nature.
The partition led to horrific incidents of mass killings, rapes, genocide, rioting in different parts of India as well as Pakistan. This left some very cruel memories which remained imprinted in the minds of people from both sides.
This rivalry between these two south-asian neighbours dates back to 1947, when Pakistan was carved out from India on religious lines by the British who were till then the colonial masters of the Indian sub-continent. The partition led to horrific incidents of mass killings, rapes, genocide, rioting in different parts of India as well as Pakistan. This left some very cruel memories which remained imprinted in the minds of people from both sides.
The first Indo-Pak cricket series was played in 1954 when Pakistani team toured India. Since then, there has been a feeling in the cricket lovers of both the countries that losing to the other side in a match is unforgivable. This was shown in the angry reactions of the crowds when either of the two teams lost at their home soil. Thousands of Indian fans were granted visas to go Lahore when Indian team for the first time went to Pakistan to play a test series and Pakistani government did the same when their team toured India in 1961.
But still the concept of ‘Cricket Diplomacy’ was not born yet because at that time ‘Hockey’ was a much popular sport in both countries when compared to cricket since the undivided India was an Olympic champion in Hockey. Since these two countries were not fighting in the field after 1947 till 1965 and only 3 test series were played in these 18 years, there was a very little window left for using Cricket as a tool to maintain good-will between India and Pakistan.
Initial Phase: 1965-1990
India and Pakistan in the early decades after their Independence moved in very different directions. While India was strengthening its democratic ideals and was moving forward towards nation building, Pakistan remained very unstable with its military dictatorships, even its constitution was completed in 1971, much late after India. The 1965 and 1971 wars led to complete stoppage of cricketing ties between the two nations.
Media started playing an important role in setting the agenda for a public debate on statements like these which gave on opportunity to hardliners, extremists and right wing forces to speak venomously for the other side.
After a gap of 17 years, cricket was resumed between the two countries in 1978. The resuming of cricketing ties was a result of the governments in power in both the countries which were not in power during the 1971 war. In India, it was Janta Party’s government led by Morarji Desai while Pakistan was headed by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. This cricket series brought together the two states with Desai’s orders to stop the spying activities of R&AW in Pakistan. This made him immensely popular in Pakistan and as a result he was conferred Nishan-e-Pakistan in 1990, which is the highest civilian award of Pakistan.
Though, the relations seemed peaceful, but on the ground the case was not so. When Pakistan won the 1978 test series due to very bad and biased umpiring against India, it displayed the feeling of Pakistani’s who wanted to defeat India on any front, either hook or by crook. The ‘public opinion’ was very much against India which showed divisions on religious lines because the then Pakistani cricket captain Mushtaq Mohammad after defeating India in the test series said, “It’s the victory of Muslims all over the world over the Hindus”.
Media started playing an important role in setting the agenda for a public debate on statements like these which gave on opportunity to hardliners, extremists and right wing forces to speak venomously for the other side. The peace keepers and cricket fans were very happy though, when the two sides continued to play each other in next few years.
Cricket diplomacy between India and Pakistan has a chequered history. Sometimes it has come as an icebreaker; at other times; it has merely marked a deceptive lull before another storm. Former Pakistani President General Zia-ul-Haq started it all when he came to India to watch a Test match between the two sides in February 1987 as part of his “cricket for peace initiative” because India had launched a huge military exercise on its border during the winter, and a rattled Pakistan had bolstered troops on its borders in response.
The tension grew after India’s tour to Pakistan in 1989 for a full-fledged one-day and test series. The reason behind it was ‘Kashmir’.
According to BBC reports, during the match, President Zia apparently whispered to Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi that Pakistan had the nuclear bomb. Later, using pointed metaphors, he reportedly asked Indian reporters: “Why do you ignore my sixers to Indian bouncers?” To follow up on the Rajiv-Zia talks, the then finance minister V P Singh went to Pakistan. He had a productive dialogue with his counterpart, the pragmatic economist Mahbub –ul- Haque.
Romesh Bhandari, India’s former foreign secretary in an article on reddiff.com writes “There was no euphoria when Rajiv and Zia met because people didn’t trust Pakistan. They had heard so often that peace would arrive, but it always remained far away. There was a feeling in India that many within the Pakistan armed forces wanted to take revenge for Bangladesh. So there was no hype. The talk took place in the Yellow Room of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Zia stayed over that night at Rashtrapati Bhavan.”
Cricket continued to be played on neutral venues like Sharjah, while only one bilateral series was played between the two countries till nearly the end of the millennium. The tension grew after India’s tour to Pakistan in 1989 for a full-fledged one-day and test series. The reason behind it was ‘Kashmir’.
Kashmir Insurgency & the 90s Era
Indo-Pak cricket matches during this period became the center of attraction for entire population on both sides. Even those, who didn’t like cricket got glued to their television sets because of the political conflict which was at its height was going on in the background. The game has been very popular among the soldiers of both Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers. The politicians and diplomats also liked this game on both sides of the border.
Kashmir, due to the prevailing anti-India sentiments in the insurgency era, saw itself aligned towards Pakistan because of their support for insurgents who were seen as ‘freedom fighters’ of Kashmir.
This is what made ‘Cricket Diplomacy’ between these two countries very special because the people who were directly or indirectly involved in Indo-Pak foreign policy had one common thing among them i.e. their passion for cricket. Though people on both sides were very much against each other but still the fans from both the sides went in the stadiums and sat together for the whole day to enjoy the match.
The peacekeepers saw this game as a tool which binds people together which was displayed by the emotions of people from both sides, for e.g. though Pakistani public always wanted their team to crush India in a match but they also wanted Sachin Tendulkar to hit sixes and in the same manner Indian public wanted their team to demolish Pakistan but they wanted Wasim Akaram or Imran Khan to deliver a magic spell of ‘reverse swing’.
That is why cricketers gradually became the ambassadors of their countries whenever they crossed the borders to play on the neighbouring soil. But cricket also brought some horrific incidents in Kashmir during this period. This is ironic to see how sports which binds people together, can lead to destruction of lives.
Kashmir, due to the prevailing anti-India sentiments in the insurgency era, saw itself aligned towards Pakistan because of their support for insurgents who were seen as ‘freedom fighters’ of Kashmir. This led Kashmiris to support Pakistani team whenever a cricket match happened. Media reports in Greater Kashmir and other Kashmir dailies reported that people distributed sweets and burned crackers whenever India lost and they prayed for Pakistan to win.
These activities were seen as anti-national sentiment by Indian Armed Forces who were having special powers under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act) by then. Recently few Kashmiri students were expelled from a private university in Uttar Pradesh when they were found to be supporting Pakistan in an Asia Cup Indo-Pak which Pakistan won which spurred a huge debate in the media.
Ministry of External Affairs and Intelligence agencies are also put on alert on the possibility of a tour to Pakistan. This shows that cricket is not just a game when it comes to India and Pakistan…
During this period only, India went to Pakistan for a 3 match ODI series which was a result of the resumption of the high level talks between the two countries. Cricket between the two nations continued to become more and more tensed and apparently in three world cups where India defeated Pakistan in 1992, 1996 and 1999, the political statements made by both sides using cricketing terminologies started creating controversies which again was exaggerated by the media, specially private broadcast media which started to bloom in the era of 90s.
One thing is noteworthy here that cricket in India is in a control of a body called BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) takes all the decisions related to where and when to send the Indian cricket team and which team to invite to India, but when it comes to playing with Pakistan, the union government gets involved with Home Ministry coming up in front for giving a ‘green signal’ to the tour.
Ministry of External Affairs and Intelligence agencies are also put on alert on the possibility of a tour to Pakistan. This shows that cricket is not just a game when it comes to India and Pakistan and that’s why it has gained such an important place in ‘soft diplomacy’ vis-à-vis these two nations.
When Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee met Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at New York in September 1998, it was decided that foreign secretary level talks would be held between India and Pakistan, and a direct bus service between Lahore and Delhi was proposed. These talks led to the famous Pakistan cricket team touring India for a two match test series in Jan-Feb 1999. These two teams were seeing off each other in a test series after a long gap of 10 years.
Both Bus and Cricket Diplomacy failed just after 3 months, when Indo-Pak forces were once again facing each other in the mountains of Kargil.
The crowds swelled at the historic Chepauk and Feroz Shah Kotla stadium and because two countries were seemingly coming together politically, the crowds displayed immense respect for Pakistani team by giving them a ‘standing ovation’ when they defeated India. This was an unprecedented and a historic sight which was appreciated by people on both sides of the border.
Since Indo-Pak politics was increasingly the biggest talk in the South-Asian diplomatic circles, India earlier in January 1999, agreed to allow its cricket team to participate in the first Asian test championship which was scheduled to be played in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to promote good-will among the South-Asian neighbours. Interestingly, Pakistani team was in India when Vajpayee went to Pakistan.
Though Pakistani team played a Pepsi Cup one day series till April 1999, which they won but by then, the relations went sour between the two nations as radical Islamist groups were gaining strength there and Nawaz Sharif’s power was going down. Both Bus and Cricket Diplomacy failed just after 3 months, when Indo-Pak forces were once again facing each other in the mountains of Kargil. This was a result of a military coup in Pakistan by their army Gen. Pervez Musharraf who was responsible for the Kargil War.
In the New Millennium: 2000 and afterwards
India cancelled its proposed tour to Pakistan after the IC 814 hijack and in the second Asian Test Championship which was not a bilateral tournament but a multilateral one, BCCI pulled off from the tournament just before a week after PM Vajpayee with his ministers met with BCCI and asked them to cut –off any cricketing ties with Pakistan.
Cricket between the two countries continued despite the Samjhauta Express train blast in February 2007 but after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, India called off the proposed series in Pakistan…
The then Indian sports minister Uma Bharti stated that cricketing ties between the two countries would resume after the normalization of political Indo-Pak ties. Additionally, Indian players’ security and safety in Pakistan was also noted to be the major concern. India’s decision to pull off from the tournament was criticized by Pakistanis who said that Indians pulled out of the tournament due to the fear of losing to Pakistan.
In 2004, PM Vajpayee again went to Pakistan to attend the SAARC summit which was very successful in bringing the two countries together after a long time. To boost up the new born friendship, a full-fledged Indian team cricket tour to Pakistan comprising of 3 test and 5 ODIs were green signalled by Government of India. Thousands of visas were given to people to cross the border to see the match.
Before the Indian cricket team left for Pakistan, they were invited to meet PM Vajpayee at his residence where he asked the cricketers to not only win the matches but also win the hearts of Pakistani public.
Indian team was given grand welcome in Pakistan and wherever they went to play, the crowds gave them huge support. It was a new experience for both the Indian cricketers and Pakistani public. New friendships were forged between the Indian spectators and Pakistani public during the series. In the next 3 years, both the countries played each thrice, one time again in Pakistan in 2006, while twice in India in 2005 and 2007. Pakistani spectators were given same heart-warming response when they came to India to watch the matches.
Cricket between the two countries continued despite the Samjhauta Express train blast in February 2007 but after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, India called off the proposed series in Pakistan in February 2009 and hasn’t visited Pakistan since then. Pakistani Players were debarred from playing in Indian Premiere League organized by BCCI. The 2004-2008 years until 26/11 attacks were a golden period for Indo-Pak cricket and their politics in general. Gen. Pervez Musharraf later in an interview to CNN-IBN news channel mentioned this point.
…cricket diplomacy for long has been used as a tool to bring the public on both sides of LOC closer to each other through cricket but it fails when cross border terrorism continues to be backed by Pakistan.
Later in March 2007, terrorists striked Sri Lankan cricketers while they were on team bus for a playing a test match against Pakistan in Lahore in which some Lankan cricketers got injured and they had to be airlifted from the stadium. From then on, International Cricket Council suspended Pakistan from hosting any international match in future.
Cricket diplomacy again came on a high when Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani met each other for the World Cup 2011 semi-final clash between India and Pakistan where Gilani invited Indian PM to Pakistan. The peace talks started again and Pakistan toured India in December 2012 for a T20 and 3 ODIs.
Lately, Narendra Modi is said to be indulging in Cricket Diplomacy when he called Nawaz Sharif before 2015 World Cup Indo-Pak clash and started to re-initiate the peace talks which his government called off in August last year as Pakistanis were meeting Hurriyat leaders from Kashmir. This move by Indian PM has again sparked off a debate in Indian media over the intentions of Modi government and whether US president’s visit earlier this year had something to do with Modi’s cricket diplomacy.
In totality, cricket diplomacy for long has been used as a tool to bring the public on both sides of LOC closer to each other through cricket but it fails when cross border terrorism continues to be backed by Pakistan.