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Pitching For Peace In Pakistan

watching the cricket sure sounds a lot better than fighting over a bunch of melting glaciers
by Zarina Khan
Islamabad (UPI) Mar 10, 2004
The Pakistan-India cricket series beginning Wednesday in Lahore promises to be a rough one, but many on the sidelines Pakistan are welcoming the games as a chance for more than an improved team score.

Ideally, a friendly game of cricket can take the edge off Pakistan and India's long-standing enmity by bringing the fans of the rival countries together in their love of the game. Historically, however, things haven't worked out quite that way. Previous test matches between India and Pakistan, specifically in Karachi and Peshawar, have ended in hostility.

In some matches, Indian players have found themselves pelted with stones and debris from Pakistani fans -- hardly a sporting gesture. What hope is there that this test series will be any different?

Plenty, says M. U. Haq, former Pakistani cricketer. "There has always been a hEalthy rivalry between the two countries, but there has also been respect ... I can remember when we toured India in 1998, in a match in Chennai (previously Madras) the Indian team had been winning, until (Sachin) Tendulkar was dismissed.

Pakistan won by 12 runs, and the Indian crowd that had initially been so hostile gave us a standing ovation ... I'm sure Pakistan will return in kind at this new series. Cricket is a game that will bring the two countries together."

Though cricket has brought Pakistan and India together at neutral venues and competitions over the years, they haven't played a Test series across the border since 1989. Sports contact between Pakistan and India was severed after the two countries came seemingly to the brink of war several times in the recent years, and it was only after mutual gestures of friendship that the ice thawed sufficiently for a match.

Following Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's famous offering of a "handOf friendship" to Pakistan in April, sporting relations were reopened just last October. Now some 8,000 Indian cricket fans are expected to walk through the Wahga Gate into Pakistan to witness the games here. Pakistan has ordered all Indians holding tickets for the games to be issued visas.

"The Indian cricket team's upcoming visit -- their first in an incredible 15 years, is perhaps a high point in the thaw between the two countries," said Adnan Rehmat, a security analyst and country director of Internews Pakistan, a media assistance organization.

"Cricket is more than just a game for the people of Pakistan and India -- it's almost a religion. More than even the lure of Indian films or Pakistani TV soaps, nothing excites the passion of the average Pakistani or Indian like cricket does. The people of both countries are stealing the thunder from their governmentsThere's absolutely no doubt peace will prevail as long as people-to-peopLe contact is an everyday fact," Rehmat added.

To some it may seem that the recently announced five One-day Internationals and three Test matches to be played in Pakistan have come out of the blue, but those involved in the track-II diplomacy that toiled to make this series possible aren't surprised in the least.

Pakistan's academic, intellectual, entertainment and sporting community have been playing both sides of the border for many years, and many believe that the cricket series is just a first step in countering the demonization of the respective rival teams and peoples.

Lahori socialite Yousuf Salahudin, whose lavish parties often are attended by the who's who of both countries, said; "Cricket gives people on both sides an excellent chance to meet. In India they are literally thronging the Pakistani consulates and embassies to come and see the games here. Now all we need is an end to the visa nonsense. We need to open it up like itIs in Europe."

Artist and former National Council of the Arts Principal Salma Hashmi seconded the call to relax the visa restrictions, and added, "We need to open the roads. When the people start coming and going without any hassle then you'll see a real change..."

The change that they're hoping for is in the easing of tensions and the enmity between the common Pakistani and the common Indian, making peace and trust finally possible.

Pakistan's musicians, actors, dancers, fashion designers, writers and artists -- those that celebrate the South Asian culture that flows freely in the region -- believe that in essence the people of India and Pakistan are one, and when the restrictions in movement and contact are relaxed, the public will be able to see this.

Unfortunately that amity is still a ways off, and in its absence there has been friction between Pakistani and Indian cricket officials regarding certain technical aNd legal aspects of the series, as well as the series itinerary itself.

Indian players are reluctant to play matches in Pakistan's larger and more rowdy cities. Their safety is a large enough concern for each of the Indian players to have been insured for $500,000 in the event of any casualty in a terrorist attack during the upcoming tour.

"We have made excellent arrangements, there is great enthusiasm in both the countries and the matches will be played peacefully because we are playing a game, not fighting war. We should be mentally prepared to accept defeat and victory, which is part of the game," Minister of Information Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed recently declared.

Yet, in spite of these minor problems there still appears to be progress towards normalizing the relationship between India and Pakistan. Rehmat points out that ever since bilateral relations started improving there has been a steadily growing traffic of civil society players.

Such as activists, actors, people of letters, businessmen and politicians across both countries, "in the bargain lowering political temperatures drastically and triggering hopes of a lasting peace."

Ali Azmat, lead-singer of Pakistan's mega rock band Junoon, who often plays to packed concert halls in India to promote a message of peace, also felt the match was a positive development.

He said; "We've been working for that reason, to open up the two countries so that people can have more contact not only for tourism but for things like student exchanges and medical treatment. There are good facilities in both countries that people can benefit from.

"Sometimes people here end up paying thousands if not millions of dollars for health care abroad, when they could have gotten much cheaper and convenient treatment in a facility in India, and vice versa. We can both benefit from each other."

While the outcome of the highly anticipated series seeMs to be evenly divided, one thing is certain -- there is more than just the score on the line. A successful cricket series, one that goes off without a hitch and ends on a positive note no matter who the winner is, may lend momentum to Pak-Indian friendship that the nuclear rivals have historically been lacking since 1947. If all goes well, both sides may be winners.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2004 by United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of by United Press International.

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Pakistan Wants To Keep its Nukes
 by Anwar Iqbal
 Washington (UPI) - Mar 09, 2004
Soon after testing another long-range missile Tuesday, Pakistan announced it does not intend to roll back its nuclear program. The test "reflects Pakistan's resolve to maintain minimum credible deterrence as the cornerstone of its security plan," said a statement issued by the army press office. The test also eliminates "apprehensions of a rollback" of Pakistan's nuclear program, the statement said.

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