Friday, March 25, 2011

Cricket and diplomacy with Pakistan.....Why I support Manmohan Singh on this

Let’s be clear. Nothing has ever been achieved in the past by cricketing diplomacy between the two countries. Nothing will be achieved this time as well. Don’t expect the terror attacks on India to stop. Don’t expect Pakistan to become less of an irritant. Don’t expect Pakistan not to align with China to create strategic advantage for itself against India. And yet, I agree with the PM’s strategy to use the cricket encounter at Mohali to do some good diplomacy. If nothing else, it will create good PR for India in the international community!

I guess most Indians would disapprove of this diplomacy and think of it as a sign of our softness. One can almost hear the war cries in the BJP and the Shiv Sena camps. But most people (and parties which haven’t ruled India long enough) do not adequately understand diplomacy. Just look at how people get upset at incidents that sometimes happen at international airports. For eg, the recent row about Jeev Milkha Singh’s coach’s being asked to remove his turban. In my view, it’s got nothing to do with racial discrimination. It’s just that the western world is paranoid about anyone who wears a head-gear. To them, a Sikh head-gear resembles a Talibani one. They are paranoid. Remember France has gone so far as to ban the burqa in their country. And yet, we take affront very personally. We feel we have been insulted. Diplomacy needs a certain maturity.....its best to keep people’s opinions out of it.

Before we go on to Pakistan’s cricket, let’s look at Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan is a failed economy. Its GDP grew at just 2.7% last year on a small base of $175 billion. India’s grew at nearly 9% on a base of $1.5 trillion. Further, the future of Pakistan continues to remain (the main driver of future growth) in Pakistan are just 15% of GDP v/s investments of 32% of GDP in India. Industry in Pakistan suffers because of very high interest rates.....central bank rates are 12.5% in Pakistan v/s 6% in India. The small size of their economy also shows up in the size of their main stock market (Karachi).....their total value of traded stocks is just $33 billion v/s ours of $1.2 trillion. Their exports are just $20 billion v/s ours of $225 billion. Their forex reserves are just $16 billion v/s ours of $300 billion. In short, Pakistan is much smaller economy than India (typically 10% of India) and its also growing very slowly compared to India.

But the Mohali encounter is not about relative sizes of our economies! It’s about cricket. When it comes to cricket, Pakistan is a damned good side. It has historically been a better side than India. Overall, in ODIs, Pakistan has won 69 against India....India only 46 against Pakistan. If you break this up by decades, Pakistan won 10 ODI tournaments against India in the 1990s; India only 4 against Pakistan. In the 2000s however, India has beaten Pakistan in 4 out of 5 tournaments. Pakistan has beaten India twice in the Champion’s Trophy; India hasn’t beaten Pakistan yet. However, in the World Cup, India has a 4-0 advantage over Pakistan. What really worries me about the Paki cricket team is its “junoon” which India lacks. India has got professionalism but professionalism is no match for junoon. India has a much better batting line-up; Pakistan a much better bowling attack. India can handle pressure better than Pakistan. India will have 200 million people rooting for it; Pakistan only a fraction of it. The two teams have been nearly equal in the recent past and this is what makes the Mohali encounter so exciting!

Now coming back to the PM’s diplomacy. What should we expect in diplomatic terms from the PM’s invitation to the Pakistani leadership? As I mentioned earlier: zilch. Pakistan is an enemy of India and has never forgotten India for the 1971 war in which India helped create Bangladesh. It is infested with radical Muslims of late (the moderates are in a minority now) and the Blasphemy Law discussions have only made Pakistan more radical. Pakistan gets billions of $s of aid from the US.....supposedly to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, but everyone knows that it uses those funds to beef up their might against India. The US has pledged total economic and defense aid of nearly $15 billion in be deployed over the next 5 years or so. Much of the “economic” aid is actually military aid. Much of this military aid is deployed against India. Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program targeted solely at India. So let’s be clear: India and Pakistan are sworn enemies. There will be another war some day. The fact that Pakistan and China have a nexus only makes matters worse for India.

Many North Indians have this romantic notion about the Pakistani people being friendly towards them (even while their country is an enemy of India). They mistake a shared culture of music and food for love and affection for each other. I think this is simply not true. As a nation, Pakistan is a virulent enemy of India. If there is ever another war between India and Pakistan (and even if there isn’t), make no mistake: Pakistani people will be enemies of Indian people. The Aman ki Asha idea was fine.....but what really cut ice with the Indian audiences.....were the musical concerts of Pakistani and Indian artists, not the “we love each other” gyaan!

But here’s what we have to remember. We cannot disengage diplomatically from Pakistan. It’s like a batsman should never take his eyes off a short pitched delivery when he pulls it to the boundary; India cannot take its eyes off Pakistan even.....rather especially.....when our relations with them are so bad. Engaging with them is a “big brother” responsibility that India has to shoulder and demonstrate. Small brother Pakistan can sulk and act immaturely. India cannot. We should not expect peace from them; in fact we should expect hostility. Yet, it’s our responsibility to engage with them. That’s why the invitation of our PM to the Pakistani leadership should be seen as an act of statesmanship rather than softness.

The real truth is that Pakistan is a pain in the ass for India but India still has to engage with it. Small steps like the cricket diplomacy help keep the political pressures down. And if this can help delay or avoid a war between the two nations, it’s good for both. By focusing on their economies, both nations will do their people a lot of good. That’s why I support the PM’s invitation.....

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