Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let’s start with the positives.
Unlike past peace efforts which have veered between ill-prepared personal initiatives by political leaders and technical talks between bureaucrats which foundered for lack of direction from the top, the current phase combines the two. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s impromptu invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch last week’s India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai. The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu, Bhutan in February. In talks last week, the home secretaries of the two countries made progress in coordinating their investigations into the Mumbai attacks; the trade secretaries are expected to meet soon, as are the defence secretaries.
Moreover, the Indian prime minister is personally committed to pursuing peace in the time he has left before a national election due by 2014. And while last year he was isolated even within his own party in his enthusiasm for peace - an idea that still lingers in some quarters - his initiative appears to enjoy the support of powerful Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. Outlook magazine, writing about his cricket diplomacy, noted that Singh was flanked by Gandhi and her son and prime-minister- in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi, when he welcomed Gilani on his first official visit to India.
The Pakistan Army, which dominates foreign and security policy in Pakistan, has also been slowly reassessing its approach to Islamist militants it once nurtured for use against India as they slip increasingly out of its control. How far that reassessment goes is open to debate; but few doubt that Gilani would have accepted Singh’s invitation to India to explore peace talks had this not been endorsed by the army.
“Cricket diplomacy” has always been one of the great staples of the relationship between India and Pakistan. The two countries have tried and failed before to use their shared enthusiasm for cricket to build bridges, right back to the days of Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq, if not earlier.
So when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced last week that he was inviting Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to watch the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup in Mohali, India, the temptation was to dismiss it as an old idea.
Pakistani cricketers, the press and ordinary people are livid about their players’ exclusion from India’s Premier League , the game’s most lucrative tournament played out before a vast television audience. Eight Indian teams that take part in the tournament bid for players from around the world, doling out large sums of money. But nobody bid for the 11 Pakistani players on the list, includng some who were part of the Pakistani squad that won last year’s World Cup Twenty20 tournament, the three-hour version of the game that the IPL is also played in.
It’s not that they were not good enough. They are some of the best the game has to offer. It’s that the people who own the teams fear the Pakistani players may face dificulties getting visas or that tensions between the two countries, already rising, could make things dificult for them So why put money on them ?
from India Insight:
Pakistan's success in the Twenty20 cricket World Cup must rank as one of sports' more timely victories. For a state that is supposed to be at war with itself, failing and in danger of fragmentation there cannot be a sweeter way to hit back.
Younus Khan who led his unfancied team comes from the North West Frontier Province, as does Shahid Afridi whose explosive batting took Pakistan to an eight-wicket win over Sri Lanka, another nation wracked by decades of civil war, but coming out of it.
Colonel Harish Puri says it is incredible that the Pakistan Army allowed something as reprehensible as the public flogging of a teenage girl in the Swat Valley without lifting a finger, even though it coudn’t have happened very far from an army checkpoint.
The Pakistani state may be facing its most serious threat since its birth more than six decades ago, begging the question of who controls the militants who are expanding their influence across the country.
The question has arisen in the light of escalating violence inside Pakistan including the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team despite a call reported to have been made by the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, urging Pakistani militants to stop fighting at home and instead focus on Afghanistan.
Conspiracy theories have filled a void in Pakistan that opened up as soon as the dozen gunmen who attacked the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team made a leisurely getaway without any apparent casualties after a 25 minute gun battle.
Since the attack on Tuesday, Pakistani authorities have yet to reveal where the investigation was going, despite Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying “important leads” had been established.
from India Insight:
It's just not cricket.
Ducking for cover as bullets replaced bouncers... players evacuated in a military helicopter that lands right next to a 22-yard pitch... the same strip at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium that saw Thilan Samaraweera score a double century the previous evening.
Samaraweera was hit on his leg during an audacious attack by armed militants on a convoy taking his team to the venue, an attack that left six cricketers injured and more than half-a-dozen Pakistani security personnel killed.
“Everything is officially going to hell.” The verdict of a reader quoted by All Things Pakistan said perhaps better than anyone else why the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore marked a defining moment in Pakistan’s agonising descent into chaos.
Six Sri Lankan cricketers and their British assistant coach were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore. Five policemen were killed.
You have to be living in Pakistan, or have gone through the “madness” of the last year or so to understand the despondency that is likely to be caused by the International Cricket Council’s decision to postpone next month’s Champions trophy because of security concerns, writes columnist Osman Samiuddin.
Cricket is close to most people’s hearts in South Asia, and for Pakistan to lose the game’s second most important tournament after the World Cup hurts. Yes, there is a war out there in the northwest, yes there are suicide bombings, and in the middle of all this, there is political uncertainty that can turn ugly very quickly, as has happened so often in the past.