Events leading to Cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan at Mohali generated a lot of optimism. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh extended invitation to Pakistan’s President and Prime Minister to come to India and witness the event. Mr. Gilani, the Pak Prime Minister accepted the invitation and watched the match along with his Indian counter-part on 30 March.
The match did create a lot of spontaneous bonhomie when Shahid Afiridi, the Pak captain praised Indian team for its game and wished them well for the finals.
India also issued visa to about 5,000 Pakistani cricket fans to come and watch the game. There was a shortage of tickets and if the newspaper reports are to be believed many Indians gave their tickets to Pakistani fans to enable them see the match.
Mohali cricket ground can accommodate about 35,000 spectators, out of which 5,000 were Pakistani fans. In the stadium there was a fair share of ‘Star and Crescent’ along with ‘Tri-colour’. Pakistani team was not playing in front of a biased crowd. It did manage to extract its share of applause from the spectators because of its sporting craft.
India managed to beat Pakistan by 29 runs and qualified for the finals. The match did create a lot of spontaneous bonhomie when Shahid Afiridi, the Pak captain praised Indian team for its game and wished them well for the finals.
“¦Afiridi while facing Pak media in Karachi posed a basic question to his countrymen. “I do not know why we are against India so much. I do not understand the mindset of people here (in Pakistan), why are we so opposed to India?
On 31 March, Afiridi while facing Pak media in Karachi posed a basic question to his countrymen. “I do not know why we are against India so much. I do not understand the mindset of people here (in Pakistan), why are we so opposed to India? ….Why is there so much hatred against India, are there no other teams (to talk about)? If that is the case then why are so many Indian TV soaps watched in every household here… our marriage rituals are so very similar to theirs… lot of Indian movies are being watched here, then why is this hatred for India, why only with India?,” he asked plainly. It created a lot of flutter deep inside the Pak society.
Coming from a man whose belligerence against India – both on field and off field is well-known, it was a pleasant surprise. It also indicated that there were people in Pakistan who could still call a ‘spade a spade’ despite recent assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahnawaz Bhatti for expressing their liberal views openly.
It also proved the penetration of ‘soft power’ was far deeper than columns of battle tanks that both sides have so diligently maintained in battle-ready state over the years.
Shahid Afiridi is no ordinary Pakistani. He is a cricketing icon. He has galvanised his scam-tainted team to reach the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup, despite the most ill-timed warning before the match from Mr. Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister to the team members to stay away from match fixing.
It was indeed a rude missive from Malik. Afirdi lambasted the minister for expressing his distrust in the team. No one had expected the team to reach this far. Pak media showered praises on Afiridi when he apologised to the nation for losing the semi-finals.
“¦Afiridi did a volte-face. While speaking on a TV show he said, “As far as Indian media is concerned, their approach is very negative.
But on 4 April Afiridi did a volte-face. While speaking on a TV show he said, “As far as Indian media is concerned, their approach is very negative. I believe their role has also been very dirty (sic) especially in terms of worsening ties between our two countries. If I have to tell the truth, Indians cannot have the kind of hearts that Pakistani Muslims have. They cannot have the big and clean hearts that Allah has given to Pakistanis.”
Afiridi is not a statesman. His opinion does not make or mar Indo-Pak relations at policy level. But what his statements reveal is a deep-rooted malaise in the Pakistani society. It seems that no one is not entitled to express his or her opinion in today’s Pakistan.
This volte-face must have come after a ‘gentle nudge’ from the fundamentalists, clerics, Taliban, intelligence and the hawks in the government who cannot see relations between two countries normalising.
Today there are four women in the Pak society, whose grit and determination in the face of such intimidation is worth mentioning. Ms. Sherry Rehman – former minister and human rights advocate, Ms. Fauzia Wahab – former Pakistan People’s Party spokesperson, Ms. Kashmala Tariq – a member of Parliament from Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association President Ms. Asma Jahangir have received threats from the terrorists for speaking against terror groups and the blasphemy law. But these women have not retracted their stand despite the grave threat they face to their life and family.
We admire Afiridi’s macho image as a cricketer. But as a Pakistani, he could not stick to his view point like these women have done. In Pak society, one cannot preach love and normal relations with India – it is a big taboo. Hate India is a part of the survival kit in Pakistan, especially for those who lead a public life.