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.