Neighbour is not Sporting but we have Handed out invite.
Amb Kanwal Sibal

Not only the World Cup sporting fortunes of our cricket team in the quarter final match against Australia were in play, the political fortunes of our relations with Pakistan were at stake too.

Unknown to them our gallant players were playing for the nation for a cause greater than closing the doors for Australia in the tournament. They were, through their successful exertions in the field, opening the doors of a resumed summit level engagement between India and Pakistan.

If the spectators in the cricket ground were baying for an Indian win, those at Raisina Hill were praying for the victory of our “Nations Eleven”. Our cricketers were acting as diplomats without knowing it.

Cricket diplomacy seems to fascinate us despite our bitter experience with the last Pakistani practitioner of it. Exultation over our win has promptly led to an invitation to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to visit Mohali to witness the India-Pakistan semi-final.

The difference between being imaginative and being ad hoc in responses can be sometimes thin. What if India had lost the match against Australia? Obviously, Z and G would not have been sent friendly missives to visit India. How much of the forward movement in our ties with Pakistan depended on the unpredictable results of a cricket match!

If this is the fluidity of the underlying dynamics of our approach toward Pakistan, how can we build a solid policy towards that country?

Even before the Thimphu spirit has produced heady feelings on our side, we have already imbued ourselves with a new one- the Mohali spirit. At Thimphu we had agreed to a series of meetings to discuss counter-terrorism cooperation, trade, Kashmir, Sir Creek, peace and security at Secretary level, to be topped with a meeting at Foreign Minister level by July this year.

Well before this agenda has even begun to be completed, we have abandoned it by jumping straight to the PM-President level.

Without verifying over the coming months if there is any positive change in Pakistan’s positions on various issues, we are demonstrating our trust in that country’s essential goodwill towards us by opening our arms to its leaders. For us Pakistan cannot be in disgrace for too long no matter what they do because of our powerful yearning to embrace them at the earliest opportunity.

Pakistani leaders have long wanted our Prime Minister to visit their country, but their actions have made it impossible for him to do so. Even now Pakistan has not moved on the issue of bringing to justice those responsible for the Mumbai massacre, much less dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism on their soil.

Pakistan’s unwillingness even to curb Hafiz Saeed is instructive on where they stand on the issue of jihadi groups targetting India. Meanwhile, religious extremism is striking deeper roots in the country, with Ministers being killed for opposing the egregious blasphemy law.

The government of Z and G is tottering because of internal political bickerings in the coalition. US-Pakistan relations have come under more strain because of the Raymond Davis affair. Pakistan’s descent towards failure as a state is generating increased anxiety. China is proceeding with expanding the nuclear capability of this unstable country that is frenetically adding to its nuclear arsenal.

Z and G can’t deliver what their own people want from them. How can they deliver anything that we want? They, in fact, would be looking for gestures from us to bolster themselves internally.

Our first gesture has already been made. We are throwing a political lifeline to Z( and to a lesser extent G) even as he is politically drowning. Why? Should we feel concerned that other gestures might follow? The Pakistanis are very keen on a Siachen agreement, and they have support for this from their western friends desperately keen to exit from Afghanistan.

Thers is nothing sporting in Pakistan’s conduct and policies towards us. Cricket, a traditionally gentleman’s game, does not, therefore, offer the right metaphor politically for our effort to advance our understanding with Pakistan.

Those with no show of remorse for Mumbai did not merit our use of the excuse of the cricket match at Mohali to forgive, forget and move forward.

Published in Mail Today dated 26 March, 2011

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