Batting for peace: Why is Indo-Pak cricket diplomacy not working?

By: Waqas Jawaid


This is the land of a nation which did not close eyes even in its worst circumstances. This is about a nation that foresaw light at the end of every tunnel with its sheer commitment, contentment, hard work and self belief. This is a tale of passion of a nation whose hearts beat for the game called cricket. People are so crazy for it that they sleep, eat and breathe cricket.

India and Pakistan are two cricket crazy nations and whenever these two teams clash with each other, it creates a very unique aura both inside and outside the stadium where the match is being played. The cricket competitions between the two countries are loaded with deeper political and diplomatic meaning.

The rivalry between these two South Asian neighbors dates back to 1947, when partition led to horrific incidents of mass killings, rapes, genocide, and rioting in different parts of India as well as Pakistan. Since then, the cricket lovers of both countries have decided that losing to the other side in a match is unforgivable.

The first India-Pakistan cricket series was played in 1954, when the Pakistani team toured India. Later, thousands of Indian fans were granted visas to go to Lahore when the Indian team went to Pakistan for the first time to play a test series. The Pakistanis did the same when their team toured India again in 1961.

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But still the concept of “cricket diplomacy” was not born yet. At that time hockey was a much more popular sport in both countries. From 1947 to 1965 only three test series were played between India and Pakistan. The 1965 and 1971 wars led to complete stoppage of cricket exchanges between the two nations.

After a gap of 17 years, cricket was resumed between the two countries in 1978. Cricket diplomacy between India and Pakistan has a checkered history. Former Pakistani President General Zia-ul-Haq started it all with this “cricket for peace initiative.”


With Indian troops am­a­ssed along the Pakistani border in early 1987, the morning of Feb 21, 1987, presented an altogether different surprise: a Pakistan Air Force jet landed at Delhi airport, with the visitor none other than Pakistan President General Ziaul Haq.

The general had flown to Delhi on the pretext of watching a test match between Pakistan and India in Jaipur, with his arrival putting Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in a spot of bother.

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Behramnam, special adviser to Rajiv Gandhi, stated in his article that: “Before departure for Chennai, General Ziaul Haq, while saying goodbye to Gandhi said, ‘Mr Rajiv, you want to attack Pakistan, do it. But keep in mind that this world will forget Halaku Khan and Changez Khan and will remember only Ziaul Haq and Rajiv Gandhi, because this will not be a conventional war but a nuclear war.

Cricket continued to be played at neutral venues like Sharjah, while only one bilateral series was played between the two countries till nearly the end of the millennium.

Kashmir Insurgency: The 1990s

This is what made cricket diplomacy between these two countries very special. The people who were directly or indirectly involved in India-Pakistan foreign policy had one thing in common: their passion for cricket. Though people on both sides were very much against each other, still the fans from both sides went into stadiums and sat together for the whole day to enjoy the match.

During this period, India went to Pakistan for a three-match ODI series, made possible by the resumption of high level talks between the two countries. Yet cricket between the two nations continued to become more and more tense. In three World Cups where India defeated Pakistan (in 1992, 1996, and 1999), political statements made by both sides using cricketing terminology created controversies.

When Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee met Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York in 1998, the successful talks once again becomes the reason of revival of cricket between two nations.

These talks led to the Pakistan cricket team touring India for a two-match test series in January and February of 1999. These two teams were seeing each other in a test series after a long gap of 10 years.

The ensuing Kargil War was followed by a military coup in Pakistan by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The Pakistani team played a Pepsi Cup one-day series in April 1999, but by then, the relations were going sour between the two nations.


In 2004, Vajpayee again went to Pakistan to attend the SAARC summit, which was very successful in bringing the two countries together after a long time. To boost the new-born friendship, the Indian government gave the green light to a full-fledged Indian team cricket tour of Pakistan, comprising of three tests and five ODIs. Thousands of visas were given to people to cross the border to see the match.

Over the next three years, the two countries played each other three times, once more in Pakistan in 2006, and twice in India in 2005 and 2007. Indian spectators were given the same heart-warming reception when they came to Pakistan to watch the matches.

In the context of Pakistan and India, cricket diplomacy has a special place. After Gen Zia’s and General Pervez Musharraf visit, in 2011 after democracy returned to Pakistan, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart to visit India and witness a cricket match between the two countries. PM Yousuf Raza Gilani accepted the invite, and went to Mohali which had helped defuse tense situation between the two countries after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

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India has not played a full bilateral Test series with Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Although Pakistan had toured India in December 2012 for a short limited-over series, defeating India badly, but both nations failed to resume full ties cricket, including Tests.

Back in February 2014, when the BCCI (along with Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board) completely re-hauled the International Cricket Council to effectively give itself greater control over the administration of the game, it received support from the Pakistan Cricket Board on the condition that Pakistan would be rewarded with more matches against India.

According to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the PCB and BCCI, both countries are scheduled to play six series between 2015 and 2023 after a clearance from the Indian Government.


The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) also said to claiming up to $70 million for missed series in 2014 and 2015 from Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) after the country failed to attend two series as part of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two boards.

The PCB also sent a legal notice to the International Cricket Council (ICC) to set up a Dispute Resolution Committee for adjudicating the matter of Indian cricket board not honouring its promise of playing bilateral series with Pakistan.

In a recent development Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj ruled out to play with Pakistan by saying that the high number of “cross-border firings by Pakistan” does not set the tone for engagements such as a cricket series.

Responding to a query whether restarting the long-suspended cricket exchange could be an option for easing tensions between the two countries, Swaraj said there had been suggestions on humanitarian lines such as the release of women and elderly detainees and prisoners.


Now it is crystal clear that Indian spy Kalbhushan Jadav is also a reason behind for not playing with Pakistan.

Shiv Sena has history of disrupting Indo-Pak cricket relations on many occasions. Its workers dug up the wicket at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in 1991 ahead of the India-Pakistan Test Match, forcing the cancellation of the series. In the year 2000, the Shiv Sena protests once again forced the Indian government to postpone the matches.

The Sub-continent, home to about 1.5 billion population, has failed to benefit from this magic, which is cricket. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, due to their typical political and diplomatic conditions, may not participate in the world events as one team, but may play with one another without holding matches at neutral venues to help their home crowds enjoy cricket.

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Cricket diplomacy has thus long been used as a tool to bring the public in both India and Pakistan closer to each other through sport. For nearly 70 years, the scheduling (or cancelling) of matches has served as a signal of the state of political relations.

There is no chance that the BJP government would even consider any kind of cricketing ties with Pakistan. For a party that has built its appeal on bashing Pakistan, any effort at rekindling cricketing ties would be seen as an act of cowardice by its supporters – a selling out of sorts to the “old enemy”.

For the BCCI, it works out very conveniently. As the richest cricket board in the world, the BCCI can pick and choose between its many suitors, knowing fully well that Pakistan needs the BCCI far more than India needs it.

The Pakistan Cricket Board will probably be able to get out of this by arranging a series with another nation while the BCCI will have no problem filling up the gap in the international cricketing calendar.

Ultimately, it will be cricket that loses out. The way it stands, an entire generation of fans on both sides of the border will never get a chance to experience the magic of an India-Pakistan cricket series.



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