Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Standing on the warfront: when sport divides India and Pakistan



In the run-up to Wednesday’s cricket match between India and Pakistan, passions are running high on both sides of the border and in the diaspora which is following their teams’ progress in the game’s biggest tournament.

How to demolish Pakistan was the title of a programme aired by an Indian television network  where former players and experts discussed ways to win the high-voltage game that will be played in the northern Indian town of Mohali, within, in a manner of speaking, of earshot distance of the heavily militarised  border with Pakistan. 
Pakistan television in similarly wall-to-wall coverage ran a programme where one of the guests advised the team to recite a particular passage from the Koran before stepping out to play that day. There is even a story doing the rounds in Pakistan that an enraged Indian crowd put a parrot fortune teller to death for predicting a Pakistani victory, according to this report.

All fair in sport, you would argue, and especially for two countries that take their cricket very seriously. But this contest has an edgy undertone of antagonism that flows from the tension in ties since the Mumbai attacks of 2008 carried out by Pakistan based militants and for which New Delhi seeks greater redress from Pakistani authorities.

The charged atmosphere - and this has very little to do with the players themselves – recalls the fervour and aggression of the 1990s when the people of the two countries treated cricket as essential conflict. Each game was seen as a test of national honour in much the way the border guards  of the two countries strut their stuff in a bitter-sweet ceremony at the Wagah crossing each day at sunset. The winner of the cricket game was feted while the loser slinked away in disgrace.