The Sri Lankan cricket team to tour Pakistan from next week may be a second-string side, but their visit will be a breakthrough for Pakistani cricket that has been starved of quality cricket at home. The few international teams that toured Pakistan in the past 10 years, after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, have either been brave or foolhardy.
The fear of terrorists attacking sportsmen despite the fact that all it brings is bad publicity for the rebels has meant players have stayed away from Pakistan over safety fears. The principle that sport is above politics and sportsmen should be allowed to play has also been breached elsewhere, like the attack on a football stadium during the French terror strikes.
Pakistani cricket suffered despite being an innocent party, while Pakistan has often charged the powerful BCCI with toeing the Indian government line to harm Pakistan’s cricketing interests. Shahid Afridi has been an outspoken critic of India’s cash-rich IPL for not hiring Pakistanis for years after he himself figured in the league in its early years.
IPL teams with market valuations in hundreds of millions of dollars can’t envisage bidding for Pakistani players for fear of inviting opprobrium or even attacks on those players. But should sport, movies and performing art be banned from all links with Pakistan? Is there a mature way in which sport and art can be separated from politics and normality sought at least in cultural links. Thanks to national sentiments, this might seem unthinkable just now, but there should be some way Indian cricket can reach out to Pakistanis by offering to play the team in a safe zone like the Gulf. One way to beat terrorists is to show normal sport is possible even in abnormal times.