Will the real Afridi please stand up?
Afridi is negating his own statement that Pakistanis are more open hearted when he spouts such jingoistic fodder.
* Anas Abbas contributed to this blog post.
"I think I am a cricketer first and then a diplomat. I am an ambassador for Pakistan, so I should know what to say. I think it's a great sign for both countries and sports, especially cricket always brings these two countries together."
So spoke Shahid Khan Afridi on the eve of the World Cup semi final against India.
Mere days after winning the hearts of numerous Indian fans with his generous remarks after the semi final loss, Afridi struck out wildly when he went on record to lambast Indians on a TV talk show.
"If I have to tell the truth, Indians cannot have the kind of hearts that Pakistani Muslims have. They cannot have the big and clean hearts that Allah has given to Pakistanis."
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accepted the invitation extended by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to watch the World Cup match between the two nations last week- the first time a top Pakistani leader visited since 2001.
There was an air of bonhomie and camaraderie in the air as the two leaders exchanged gifts, dined and watched the match together. But Afridi was having none of it. He knew better.
"It is very difficult for us to live with them or have a long-term relationship with them. You can see how many times we have had friendship in 60 years and how many times relations got strained."
So much for cricket diplomacy.
Afridi also slammed the Indian media for its "very negative approach" and said the Pakistani media was a "hundred times better" than its Indian counterpart.
"I believe their role has also been very dirty especially in terms of worsening ties between our two countries."
Predictably, Afridi has now said that these remarks have been taken out of context.
"Don't take my comments negatively. I have always got a lot of love and affection from Indian fans. The media makes a big deal of small issues. It is shameful.”
Perhaps he is unaware that his original comments were aired at length and uninterrupted by two Pakistani TV channels. What kind of technology is required to make a live interview “out of context”?
If Pakistani media is so much better than the Indian media as he claims, then pray which media is he blaming now? Cut to the chase, Afridi. Please don’t insult our intelligence any further.
Deflecting constructive criticism
There can be no two opinions about Afridi’s bizarre captaincy tactics in the semi final which puzzled the public, cricket analysts and former cricket greats alike.
But when senior cricketer Aamir Sohail had the temerity to critique Afridi’s strategy, he was contemptuously dismissed by the latter who labeled him a shameless person (“ghatiya insaan”)
Indeed, Aamir’s opinion has been echoed by a deeply disappointed Imran Khan:
"We should have gone for the Indian jugular when they were reeling under the pressure. We played like pussycats instead of being tigerish. We should have been like a pack of wolves, but we just let everything slip by."
What’s the deal?
So, what makes Afridi so averse to any questioning of his glaring on-field errors? Since when did constructive criticism and an honest evaluation become a red flag for the bull? Unable to digest defeat at the hands of old foe India, Afridi is firing on all cylinders, desperate to evade a critical review.
Instead of being an ambassador of goodwill, peace and harmony, Afridi is evoking negative nationalism which breeds the hydra headed dragon of hatred.
How will he explain to the Pakistani media the bad fielding, out-of-focus bowling, inadequate batting and defensive captaincy tactics? Far, far better to change the topic.
Now, he has successfully shifted the focus from his own performance and started a new issue that Indians mistreated him during the trip. To add more flavour to this concoction, Afridi added a dollop of religion by saying that Allah has always been kinder to Pakistan and hence we Pakistanis have lighter and friendlier hearts.
Undoubtedly, Afridi is taking a leaf out of the books of our politicians and army generals who have been resorting to conspiracy theories and primitive statements over the past 60 years in order to cover up their mistakes. The gullible public gets diverted from the real issue and hence there is never any accountability or damage control.
A member of the Tableeghi Jamaat whose historic roots are in India, perhaps Afridi has forgotten in the heat of the moment that India has more Muslims than Pakistan.
If Afridi believes that Indians naturally hate Pakistanis and it is impossible to live with them, why did he have no problem playing for the cash rich IPL, or being a die-hard Shahrukh Khan fan?
His brother Javed Afridi says:
"Shahid never misses out on Shahrukh’s films and has seen My Name Is Khan at least a dozen times. Shahid was upset when he learnt that Shahrukh will not be able to make it to Mohali for the semi final, because he missed a chance of meeting SRK. They have met a couple of times before and he becomes like a star-struck kid every time."
If Afridi has a bone to pick with Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir for dedicating his victory in the World Cup final to victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, then why did Afridi dedicate the T20 victory to Swat victims, considering the fact that there is a wide perception in Pakistan that TTP has been supported by India?
Impact on youngsters
Sports heroes have always held a special fascination for kids the world over. What kind of an impact would such statements from the most popular Pakistani cricketer have on the minds of youngsters?
As a role model, he should have been more responsible, because the import of what he says reverberates around the world. While 10-year-old Sana from Chandigarh is upset and keeps asking her father why her swashbuckling Afridi was running down Indians, it was shameful how the studio audience in Pakistan applauded Afridi’s tirade.
As Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common.”
People to people contact
Despite the pressure of playing against India, Pakistani and Indian cricketers have always shared a camaraderie.
Imran Khan recalls that when they were playing against other teams like Australia, England or West Indies, “our relationship was the strongest with the Indian team off the field.”
Ajay Jadeja, Waqar Younis and Rashid Latif are known to be firm friends. No matter which corner of the world one goes to, it is not unusual to see Indians and Pakistanis gravitating towards one another. We have far more in common that unites us than that which divides us.
As an ambassador of Pakistan and leader of the team, Afridi should stick to the sports field and avoid wading into the cesspool of jingoism and hostility. Instead of muddying the waters, he should display responsibility and some semblance of common sense.
His highly irresponsible statements can make matters worse for India and Pakistan, because it can contribute towards the increase in animosity between the people of the two neighbouring countries.
In essence, Afridi is negating his own statement that Pakistanis are more open hearted when he spouts such jingoistic fodder for the mill.
What would have been our reaction had Sachin Tendulkar, M S Dhoni or Amitabh Bachchan said this against Pakistan?