2 enemies have bond in cricket

Fans: As India and Pakistan battle over Kashmir, people in both countries are obsessed with the World Cup competition.

June 06, 1999|By AKHILESH UPADHYAY

KATHMANDU, Nepal -- You can't have a greater irony. South Asia, home to more than a billion poor, gets noticed by the world for an expensive arms race. Last year, it was a series of nuclear tests, first started by India and later matched blow by blow by Pakistan. The two in total spent more than $13 billion in defense during that year.

Now, both are being discussed all over the world for a "warlike situation" -- borrowing the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's words -- which describes days of heavy shelling in disputed Kashmir.

The Indian military offensive in Kashmir is the biggest since 1971 and could very well drag on until winter, when the extremely trying conditions at the mountain posts in Kargil, Drass and Baru could force Muslim guerrillas out of their high-altitude shelters.

Poverty-stricken South Asia has the highest battlefield on Earth. At 20,000 feet, Drass is the coldest place after Siberia. Incidents of cross-border firing in the volatile Himalayan state aren't uncommon, but the situation has alarmed people across South Asia. Not the least because India and Pakistan have proved their nuclear might, and we realize that Armageddon is only a push-button away.

Oddly enough, the latest India-Pakistan conflict could not have come at a more awkward moment: The two cricket-mad countries are competing for the World Cup in England, the mecca of world cricket. As a matter of fact, Pakistan and India have advanced to the Super Six stage, edging out traditional cricketing giants England and the West Indies.

Throughout South Asia cricket fans are deliriously happy. In fact, an Indian newspaper had to make an appeal to its readers to take note of the death of an air force pilot whose plane was shot down by a Pakistani missile. Most Indians were not thinking about the fighting, they were focused on Sachin Tendulkar, 25, India's No. 1 cricketer, who had to return home to Bombay to attend his father's funeral. The nation groaned when India lost a vital World Cup clash in his absence to a lowly ranked Zimbabwe.

On May 3, the world's best batsman more than compensated for his absence when he returned to England to set the World Cup ablaze with a new batting record against the hapless Kenyans. His huge appetite for runs has been generously acknowledged by the Pakistanis.

While the military generals in India and Pakistan are desperately trying to outmaneuver each other, millions of Indians and Pakistanis go to bed dreaming of their teams bringing home the World Cup. And if it is not their country, it should at least be an Asian team. The pan-South Asian spirit soared after India became the first Asian team to break the West Indian monopoly over the World Cup in 1983, a feat later achieved by Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Three Asian teams have won the last four World cups.

If cricket and film stars have rekindled the regional spirit, it's the satellite television channels that have provided the medium to break national frontiers and restoring regional sensibilities. This regionalism is evident in Kathmandu where India and Pakistan cricket teams enjoy a massive fan following, and Sarukh Khan and Kajol -- Indian film stars -- are every teeny-bop's darling. The phenomenal reach of Asia's new icons transcends the narrow confines of national boundaries.

In England, Pakistani cricketers of yesteryears -- who have now become the game's revered critics -- unabashedly cheer the Indian team and vice versa. These are new forces that bind the conflict-ridden region.

On Tuesday, Pakistan and India take on each other in a vital World Cup encounter that will be followed ball-by-ball by millions of television viewers across South Asia. Two other Asian nations, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, were qualifiers in the competition.

Meanwhile, history offers little consolation for lasting peace. Official relations between Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan have been marked by bitter acrimony. The enmity dates to 1947 when religion led to India's division. The India that was founded as one nation became two after the triumph of a two-nation policy pursued by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Under his theory, Pakistan became homeland to Indian Muslims. What followed was a bloody partition as Hindus moved to India and Muslims to Pakistan and millions decided to stay where they were.

In all, a million people died in the ensuing violence. Jinnah offered his now-famous two-nation theory in 1940: "The Hindus and Muslims have different religions, philosophies, social customs, literature. ... To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical majority and the other as a minority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for government of such a state."

The Mountbatten Plan (named after the last viceroy to India) in June 1947 formalized the partition.

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