India really needs to take it down a notch. Since the fracas at the Line of Control (LoC), still shrouded in competing claims, Pakistani diplomats have been barred from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, our hockey players felt so threatened by protests that they flew home and now our women’s cricket team is being forced to live at the stadium in which they will be playing their group matches.
For the first two cases, short-sighted Indian hawks who don’t hold much stock in cultural and sporting contact can make the exceedingly technical case that attending literary festivals and playing in an Indian hockey league is a privilege, not a right. The same cannot be said for our participation in the women’s World Cup. Our cricket team has earned its way into the tournament and deserves to be provided both with security and the same accommodations as the other teams.
The cricket team was originally meant to be stationed in Mumbai but the power, both at the street and governance level, of the Shiv Sena made that a non-starter. Our matches were then moved to Cuttack but the nearest hotel in Bhubaneshwar is an hour’s drive away. So our players will have to live at the clubhouse in the stadium for the entirety of the group stages. This also means that the entirety of India’s security strategy is dependent on us not making the final, which is to be played in Mumbai. If we do reach the final will India simply declare the city safe for us?
Try this for a thought experiment. What if we tell international teams that Pakistan is completely safe for visiting teams so long as they never leave the stadium? The suggestion would get us laughed out of the ICC and yet a different standard is being applied to India. In 1996, when Australia and the West Indies refused to play their World Cup matches in Sri Lanka out of fear, the hosts offered to airlift the players into and out of the stadium. That wasn’t enough to get them to play. We should take a similar stand. If the Indians cannot guarantee our players’ safety outside the stadium, how can they ensure it inside?
The refusal to let Pakistani diplomats attend the Jaipur Literature Festival, meanwhile, smacks of pettiness. This was a decision made not on the basis of security threats but simple petulance. Restricting the movement of diplomats only ensures that similar tit-for-tat actions will be taken in Pakistan.
Peace between the two countries has been incremental but steady over the last couple of years. The centrality of people-to-people contact in that process should never be forgotten or taken for granted. Our politics have certainly moved in a more pro-India direction, with none of our major political parties disputing the need for peaceful relations with India. Debate in Pakistan is now centred on how peace with India may best be achieved, not whether peace is even in our interest. The twin LoC incidents on their own were not enough to change the contours of this debate but any further humiliation of sportspersons may just tilt the scales in the direction of hawkishness.
The current détente that the two countries have enjoyed should be seen as fragile and easily broken. Any temporary anger we feel should be tempered by the bigger picture. The women’s cricket team has shown maturity by accepting the situation rather than walking off in a huff. But that does not mean India should be spared criticism for its heavy-handed response to the LoC incidents.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2013.