There is only one bond which exists between Pakistan and Afghanistan and that is of Universal expansion of Islamism. However, no matter how big a brotherhood is, there is always a chink in the armour. In this case, it is Cricket.
Five Afghan players in IPL 2022
If harnessed properly, India’s command on the Cricket world can work as a dividing link between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Currently, both these Islamic nations are key allies in Southeast Asia, albeit with some differences as well. However, citizens of one country (Afghanistan) have excellent Cricketing relations with India, the superpower of sport, while the other country (Pakistan) enjoys zero privilege and is often subjected to humiliation due to a lack of support from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
In IPL 2022, five Afghani players are plying their trade. Rashid Khan, the most celebrated of them is playing for the Gujarat Titans team. The team from the Southern state also roped in left-arm unorthodox spinner Noor Ahmed and opening batsman Rahmanullah Gurbaz. Similarly, Mohammad Nabi, the veteran all-rounder is in Shahrukh Khan owned Kolkata Knight Riders squad. One other player left-arm medium-pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi is under Dale Steyn’s guidance in Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Not just through the IPL, BCCI has been supportive of the Afghan team on every front. When Afghanistan joined ICC in 2001, India played a key role in the promotion of Cricket in the war-torn region. India provided Afghanistan with monetary as well as infrastructural support. The partnership reached its pinnacle in 2015 when India allowed the Afghan team to shift its base to Greater Noida. When Afghanistan got Test status, India decided to shift its base to Dehradun in 2018. Now, any game allotted by ICC to be played on the Afghan home ground can now be played in Dehradun.
The larger significance of the Pakistani team being a pariah
On the other side of the fence are Pakistani Cricketers. The last time a Pakistani player got featured in IPL was way back in 2008, the inaugural edition of IPL. The last time the Pakistan team was seen playing Cricket was way back in 2016 when they came here to participate in ICCT20 World Cup, 2016. The last bilateral series between both arch-rivals was in the 2012-13 annual season of the ICC Future Tours Programme.
Though ostracising Pakistan may not be good news for short-sighted Cricket fans, those who keep a closed eye on diplomacy realise how important is India’s differential treatment of Pakistan and Afghan teams.
The current political dispensations of Afghanistan and Pakistan are two evil forces to reckon with. It is next to impossible to engage with them through formal diplomatic channels. On one hand, we are forced to accept the existence of the Taliban, while on the other Pakistan refuses to consider Kashmir as an internal matter of India and hence thwarting any chances of reconciliation between the two countries.
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But, no one can claim that an average Pakistani or an average Afghani does not want good relations with India. The Indian government is well aware of the dichotomy between powerful people at the top and those at the lower rungs of hierarchy in both countries. Though it is next to impossible for us to deal with the Pakistani population, we have certainly been helping Afghanistan on almost every front.
A large part of the credit for infrastructural development in war-torn Afghanistan goes to India. Thus, it has already established good people-to-people connections with the Afghanistani masses. Adding Cricket to the existing paradigm is turning out to be the cherry on the cake. India’s cricket diplomacy has the potential to act as the breaking point of the bond between the Taliban and the existing Pakistan government of the day.
The friendship developed through Cricket will help India to maintain the minimum status quo on the people-to-people front. There will come a time when Pakistan will be eaten up by its own Frankenstein Monster (Taliban) and then the people of Afghanistan will throw away this despotic regime as well. It may be possible that the Taliban will be replaced by more tyranny, but love for India in the hearts of the people of Afghanistan will ensure that it will go unscathed.