In December 2015, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unprecedented dash to Lahore, it was considered a diplomatic masterstroke of sort. Amid deep political mistrust between Pakistan and India, it was hailed as a positive step that paved the way for a lasting thaw in bilateral relations. It did not, however, bear fruit in the long run.
Since then, India and Pakistan have resumed moving in opposite political trajectories. Mistrust has further widened and its spillover has also affected other areas of engagement and possible cooperation: sports, films, religious and cultural tourism, trade and other spheres.
Given the high level of political mistrust at the top, it must not stop peace-loving former government officials and the people of Pakistan and India from keep coming together and pushing for investment in peace overtures (track-II and track-III diplomacy).
Talking about cricket, after successfully hosting the World XI in Lahore recently, the euphoria of the possible revival of international cricket in Pakistan is growing by the day. Now the cricket-frenzied nation is excited about the upcoming fixtures in Pakistan that feature Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Since the sudden halt of international cricket in Pakistan in the wake of the deadly attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009, the country has surely come a long way.
Now, after hosting the World XI team, we have created a wide pool of ambassadors of peaceful cricket who can help persuade their respective teams to come to Pakistan – not only for bilateral series but also the Pakistan Super League. And it is, hopefully, only a matter of time that high-profile international cricket will soon be completely revived in Pakistan.
For Pakistan and India, it is an opportune moment to adopt sincere efforts for the revival of bilateral engagements – at least at the track-II and track-III levels of diplomacy – to push for the resumption of cricketing ties. Ongoing political differences and disputes aside, Pakistan-India cricket is what both cricket-loving nations have been craving for quite a long time now and they must not be disappointed further. There are some points that need to be made.
First, it is sad that no Indian player could feature in the World XI or, for that matter, the cricket leagues. In this scenario, it is important to realise that cricket heroes, especially Imran Khan, can play a significant role in making a convincing case for bilateral series and cooperation between cricket leagues. His absence from the scene is absolutely disappointing.
The idea is to get the two cricketing nations to come together quietly, away from the poisonous vitriol of jingoism and chest-thumping in the media. Later, the media and opinion-makers can also play a role in terms of initiating a sincere debate and creating a feasible environment to break the ice. After all, it has been quite a long time since India last played in Lahore in 2004.
Second, the ongoing dispute between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) over India not honouring the MoU on bilateral series should be settled dispassionately and amicably in favour of bilateral series.
As per the MoU, the two countries were expected to play six bilateral series between 2015 and 2023, with four of them to be played in Pakistan comprising 14 Tests, 30 ODIs and 12 T20Is. As Pakistani and Indian boards could not resolve the issue through bilateral talks, Pakistan is looking into taking the BCCI to the ICC’s dispute resolution panel. The panel will give a final judgment that will have to be honoured by the disputing parties. In all likelihood, if the ICC panel orders the BCCI to honour the MoU, the series will become a bittersweet contest – albeit more historic than ever. Instead of pushing Pakistan and India into a long-drawn cricket dispute, it is advisable that India amicably agrees to honour the MoU and let the game begin sooner than later.
Third, people in the Indo-Pak region have a deep-seated emotional affair with both politics and cricket and it has become impossible to separate cricket from the politics of hate and mistrust. In this context, it is disappointing that sour diplomatic relations and political mistrust begets a ban on bilateral cricket. In a way, we have allowed political tensions to spill over on our bilateral cricketing ties.
It is time to turn it around: resume bilateral cricket first and then capitalise on it to resume bilateral political engagements as well. After all, there is a long history of Pakistan-India cricket diplomacy. It is an opportune moment to start a new chapter. International cricket is set to be revived in Pakistan anyway. Why can’t India lend a helping hand in it and stand with Pakistan?
The writer is a freelance contributor.