PM Modi Indulges in Cricket Diplomacy, FS to Visit SAARC Nations
NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called leaders of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to wish them luck for the upcoming cricket World Cup. “5 SAARC Nations are playing & are excited about the World Cup.Am sure WC will celebrate sportsman spirit & will be a treat for sports lovers,” the Indian Prime Minister tweeted.
The leaders who received a call were Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and newly-sworn in Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena.
“Cricket connects people in our region & promotes goodwill. Hope players from SAARC region play with passion & bring laurels to the region,” the Indian PM additionally tweeted.
In another tweet, PM Modi said that India’s Foreign Secretary will soon be setting off on a “SAARC-yatra” to promote ties.
Although cricket democracy is by no means new to the region, PM Modi has been associated as a leader set to take the lead in promoting relations between SAARC nations. He became the first Indian Prime Minister to invite all SAARC leaders for the swearing-in ceremony.
However, at the same time, India-Pakistan relations have currently taken a hit, with the two countries engaged in cross-border firing across the Line of Control, leading to several casualties and displacement on both sides. In the worst ceasefire violations since 2003 when the countries signed a ceasefire agreement, firing began in late 2004 and continue into 2015.
The two countries recently also came to blows over Pakistan’s celebration of so-called “Kashmir Solidarity Day,” especially rallies and speeches that were held by banned terrorist groups including the Jama'at-ud-Da'wah (JuD) and PM Sharif’s remark that Kashmir was the "jugular vein" of Pakistan.
At the same time, there are reports that there may be a resumption of back channel diplomacy, as Pakistan’s former National Security Adviser Major-General (Retd.) Mahmud Durrani met with NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar a few weeks ago.
Although the MEA spokesperson dismissed a question in regard to whether this could pave the way for the resumption of an India-Pakistan dialogue, General Durrani was quoted by The Hindu saying that his impression is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would “like to move forward” on the dialogue, but would rather not pick up the old format of the composite dialogue process. “Mr. Modi is a different man with a different mind and a different thinking from the previous Prime Minister,” The Hindu quoted General Durrani as saying. “I think he will probably engage with Pakistan, but he would like to do that in his own way.”
Perhaps the World Cup will provide the backdrop to an improvement in relations between India and Pakistan, with cricket having played this crucial role in the relations between the two countries on several occasions.
In 1987, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan's president at the time, General Zia ul-Haq, attended a test match between India and Pakistan in Jaipur - a visit that apparently helped cool a flare-up in tensions. More recently, in 2004, after a hiatus of fifteen years, a resumption in India-Pakistan diplomatic relations was marked with India touring Pakistan and both sides relaxing tough visa regulations, allowing thousands of fans to travel across the border.
In 2005, in an attempt to replicate the cricket diplomacy of the past, then Pakistani Prime Minister General Pervez Musharraf visited India on the premise of attending a cricket match. The visit however came to become more of a “summit” -- with the two sides agreeing to put the disputed-Kashmir issue on the table.
Cricket also played an alleviatory role when India-Pakistan relations hit one of the lowest points in their shared trajectory. The 2011 Cricket World Cup semi final played a role in improving relations after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, with then Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh inviting his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the match at Mohali. Gilani accepted the offer.
The cricketing ties between India and Pakistan are symbolic of the two countries’ political relations, being called off when relations dip, and being resumed when relations are on the upswing. Given this context, the call to wish PM Sharif good luck is hopefully symbolic of better things to come for the two countries’ political equation.