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Call Me A Delusional Pakistani For Separating Politics From Indian-Pakistani Cricket

Pakistan Cricket 2019 World Cup

Staff writer Abhinav Poludasu responds to Amana Begam’s article in ThePrint, which criticises the continuation of India-Pakistan cricket matches at an international level.

9 June was a day of contrasting emotions for many Indians. While the nation celebrated a thrilling 4-run victory over Pakistan in the Cricket T20 World Cup, joy quickly turned to sorrow. Several unidentified terrorists opened fire on a passenger bus carrying Hindu pilgrims from the Shiv Khori cave to Katra in Reasi, Jammu, Indian Administered Kashmir. The attack caused the bus to lose control and plummet into a deep gorge, after which the gunmen continued firing at the crashed vehicle. This brutal assault resulted in the deaths of nine people and left 33 others injured.

In the following days, Jammu faced more violence. Terrorists launched three additional attacks, firing at two checkpoints in Doda, located in Jammu’s Chenab Valley, injuring several security personnel. In Kathua, villagers reported the presence of terrorists, leading to a firefight in which a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldier lost his life.

The recent wave of attacks in Jammu has been nothing short of cowardly and despicable. Initially claimed by The Resistance Front (TRF), purportedly linked to the notorious terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), responsibility was later denied. Nonetheless, strong suspicions remain regarding the involvement of the Pakistani government.

This is because according to officials, on 20 June, the Jammu and Kashmir Police arrested a person who had provided food and shelter to three terrorists identified as Pakistani nationals, further highlighting Pakistani involvement in the incident. This person also transported the terrorists to Reasi where they attacked pilgrims.

Emotions understandably run high. For over three decades, India has endured a staggering number of terrorist attacks, many involving elements linked to the Pakistani government, reflecting a strategy to inflict continuous harm under the doctrine of “bleeding India through a thousand cuts.” This insidious approach is part of a covert warfare agenda championed by the Pakistani military against India.

While it is justified to express anger and outrage over these militant attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, these sentiments have unfortunately been exploited by a small faction of what I call ‘online opinion warriors.’ Rather than holding the Pakistani government and military accountable for their unrelenting aggression against India, they have chosen to unfairly vilify the entire nation and its people. Such divisive rhetoric only serves to distract from the true perpetrators of these heinous acts.

Amana Begam, a writer for ThePrint, an Indian digital news platform is one of these “warriors” who have taken a contentious stance by criticising Pakistani cricketers representing their country.

In her article titled Those separating cricket from politics after Reasi tragedy are either delusional or Pakistani, dated 14 June, Begam questions India’s continued participation in International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments against Pakistan. She highlights past remarks made by Pakistani cricketers and cites outdated data from 2011 to bolster her argument. 

Begam’s piece adds to a Pakistan-phobia set of literature, as seen in articles from Swarajya to The Indian Express, that advocate for severing cultural and sporting ties in response to terrorism. This approach, however, risks playing into the hands of those who seek to sow division and undermine peace efforts, thereby failing to acknowledge the sacrifices made by soldiers defending our way of life.

Begam’s arguments are misguided and others outright dangerous. Her rhetoric threatens to further widen the gap between India and Pakistan, undermining any chance of reconciliation and the formation of friendly relations between these two arch-rivals.

Does war call for boycotts?

Begam’s assertion that India should sever all cricketing ties with Pakistan on the grounds of political animosity and militarism is not only shortsighted but also fundamentally flawed. If we were to follow her logic, international sports would be decimated, with numerous rivalries being shelved indefinitely.

Consider the USA and Russia during the Cold War. Despite immense political tension and mutual distrust, both nations continued to compete in the Olympics, with the exception of 1980 and 1984, showcasing that sports can transcend political divides. Similarly, England and Argentina have maintained a fierce football rivalry despite the scars of the Falklands War. The India-Pakistan cricket matches, rather than being a mere extension of political hostility, serve as a unique platform for soft diplomacy, fostering people-to-people contact and mutual respect.

Data that represents a consensus, but From a decade ago.

Another argument Begam presents relies on data from a Pew Research study conducted in 2011. It claims that Pakistanis view India as a significant threat while only 36% perceive the LeT as a danger. However, why does Begam rely on data that is over a decade old? To base her argument on statistics from 13 years ago is not only flawed but also intellectually dishonest. If Begam believes that public opinion has remained static since then, she would be grossly mistaken. Public perceptions and geopolitical landscapes evolve, and using outdated data undermines the credibility and relevance of her argument.

To borrow some recent data from Gopal Sankaranarayanan’s fantastic work on the same issue on whether or not India should play cricket with Pakistan, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), India lost 4,919 civilians and 3,578 security personnel due to insurgency in Kashmir between 2001 and 2023. However, during the same period, terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 21,301 Pakistani civilians and 8,308 security personnel. Pakistan has suffered greatly at the hands of these barbaric groups just as India has. However, the responsibility for nurturing these groups lies with the Pakistani government.

Is an attack by one an attack by all?

Begam further proceeds to highlight a few anti-India statements made by cricketers Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi and Imran Khan, with Akhtar even calling for Ghazwa-e-Hind or a holy war against India. While statements made by figures like Akhtar are indeed demeaning and deserve condemnation, it is unjust to connect these past remarks to the current Pakistani cricket team. 

Let us consider the case of Shubhneet Singh, known as Shubh, an Indian rapper-singer based in Canada. He sparked controversy for his alleged support of the Khalistani movement, a separatist movement that looks to break away from India to create a separate country for the Sikhs, by posting an image of India without Jammu, Kashmir, Punjab, and the North East on his Instagram story. Despite this, Shubh continues to attract 13 million monthly listeners on Spotify and garners about a billion views on YouTube. His India tour might have been cancelled, but people have not stopped listening to his music.

Does this mean we should boycott all Punjabi singers and rappers because of Shubh’s actions? Absolutely not. This logic is flawed. In any community, there will always be individuals who make questionable remarks, but they do not represent the entire group. In the same way that not all Punjabi singers are Khalistani supporters because of Shubh, not all Pakistani cricketers are terrorists because of Shoaib Akhtar. By holding an entire team accountable for the actions of a few individuals, we perpetuate unfair stereotypes and hinder the spirit of sportsmanship that cricket embodies.

Let’s call them cricketers, not terrorists

Begam’s remarks that equate Pakistani cricketers with terrorists harbouring the same institutionalised hatred against Hindus in India are not only distasteful but also disrespectful to a team of athletes who have dedicated their lives to their sport and country. Such sweeping generalisations demean the hard work, dedication, and sportsmanship of these players who represent the aspirations and dreams of millions. To conflate a cricketer with a terrorist based solely on their nationality and without any idea about their upbringing is an egregious insult, not just to the individuals on the field, but to the spirit of the game itself. 

By reducing Pakistani cricketers to symbols of terrorism, Begam overlooks the diverse and passionate populace of Pakistan who, like millions of Indians, see cricket as a bridge of shared passion and camaraderie. Punishing the sport and its fans for the actions of a few is not only unjust but also counterproductive to the spirit of sportsmanship and global unity.

Sport has long been recognized as a powerful unifying force, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and cultures in a way that politics often fails to do. While political agendas and conflicts tend to divide us, sport provide a common ground where differences are set aside in the spirit of competition and mutual respect. The passion and energy that sports evoke can bridge even the deepest divides, fostering friendships and understanding among people who might otherwise never have found common ground.

It is crucial to distinguish between political conflicts and the individuals who play the game. We should be celebrating their achievements and respecting their commitment to the sport, rather than vilifying them through such offensive and baseless comparisons.

Cricketers, like all athletes, strive to transcend political boundaries and bring glory to their nation through their talent and hard work. They are not emissaries of hatred, but ambassadors of their sport that foster mutual respect and admiration across borders.  By reducing them to symbols of institutionalised hatred, Begam undermines the very essence of sportsmanship and the values of fair play and respect that cricket stands for.

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