Supporting Sri Lanka with Love from Pakistan
Rarely in world history has a single sport dominated cross-border emotions, politics, roller-coaster national relationships, fervent and unifying as much as the game of cricket has between for Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The easy and inherent ability of cricket to bring people together makes it a powerful communication tool. Cricket is bringing both nations together, highlighting commonalities and bridging cultural or ethnic divides. The deep love of the people for the game of cricket in the two countries simply is unfathomable.
The sports history of Pakistan and Sri Lanka goes back to April 1949 when the Pakistan national cricket team visited Sri Lanka to play two first class matches with their hosts. Till date large number of Pakistani cricket fans support the Sri Lanka team and vice versa. Proof of which I saw when I encountered a rickshaw (tuk tuk) driver in Sri Lanka wearing a Pakistan cricket team jersey and cap.
In 1996, Pakistan sent cricket friendship team to Sri Lanka during the World Cup the two nations were then jointly hosting with India, after Australia and the West Indies refused to tour Sri Lanka after a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) bomb attack in Colombo. Top Pakistani and Sri Lankan cricket stars played together in Sri Lanka to express solidarity with the island nation.
No one can forget the rapturous applause that was given by cricket lovers at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore in 1996 when former Prime Minister of Pakistan late Benazir Bhutto presented the ICC World Cup trophy to Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga. Also during the 2009 Twenty20 cricket World Cup finals when both teams played each other yet both the countrys fans watched the game together united by the love of cricket.
Sri Lankas decision to go to Pakistan was greeted with some disapproval by millions of Indian cricket fans who felt the island nation and its cricketers had betrayed India by not following Delhis boycott. Following a cowardly attack on the cricket team of Sri Lanka in Lahore turned the whole Pakistani nation sad and shocked. Its self evident that the evil attack was planned to sabotage the relationships between both nations. Pakistan and Sri Lanka condemned the attack with a resolve to stand together.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who cut short a visit to Nepal to return home, condemned the cowardly terrorist attack, dispatched his foreign minister to Pakistan who stated the attack would not affect ties between the island nation. Pakistani nation saluted the Sri Lankan team for the great spirit with which they visited Pakistan and entertained cricket lovers. Above all, Mehr Khalil, the driver of the bus, who had written a new chapter of courage and bravery under the most nerve stressing moments. He was given a heros welcome when he visited Sri Lanka.
The benefits are indeed tremendous and ideally cricket can extend to previously unchartered territories of endeavors as it will continue to serve human development. Victory or defeat for Sri Lanka would be a secondary matter for Pakistanis. What is more important that cricket may continue to make contribution to foster the friendship between the two vibrant cricket playing Asian nations.
(Mobisher Rabbani is a diplomatic consultant, humanitarian, columnist and President of Overseas Pakistanis and Sri Lankans Society (OPSS) which works to enhance People to People contacts between Non Resident Pakistanis and Sri Lankans).