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Guest Column <br>Retrofit: Indo-Pak relations – time to take our gloves off

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Guest Column <br>Retrofit:  Indo-Pak relations – time to take our gloves off

With Home Minister P Chidambaram talking of an all links embargo on Pakistan, the time has come for all encompassing sanctions to be imposed. Not only should India do this individually, but it should rally the comity of nations to bring pressure to bear. A recalcitrant Pakistan is playing the nod and wink diplomatic game as it refuses to accept that the perpetrators of 26/11 are from across the border. Sanctions against Pakistan can be economic, sporting and tourism related. Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal has been appearing on various channels saying that India should snap diplomatic relations with Pakistan, including recalling our Ambassador and other diplomatic staff.

Since 26/11, there has been a dramatic shift in strategic imperatives for the two principal political parties – Congress and BJP. While the BJP thought that it could use the soft on terror and rising priceline planks to browbeat the Congress and garner votes, the state elections threw up a surprise. Voters cast their franchise on developmental issues and BJP’s think tank got it completely wrong. They misjudged the mood of the electorate. It is the shifting of sands that is more vital to this treatise. With a commodity downturn underway, petro product prices have collapsed. The inflationary spiral is rapidly sinking, as a consequence of which, interest rates are also showing a decline. But it is the tactical superiority shown by Congress party managers in installing P Chidambaram as Home Minister, which seems to have worked like clockwork. His pronouncements have been uncompromising, be it on Bangladeshi migrants or Pakistan’s terror apparatus.

In a slew of tough measures, the Government broke the back of the oil officers strike, acted a little late; but acted on the truckers strike and then showed great alacrity in tackling the Satyam fiasco. A Government, which seemed in the arms of Morpheus, had come alive, galvanised as it was by the general elections looming large on the radar. Almost simultaneously, the BJP, which seemed to be a government in waiting, has collapsed under the weight of expectation. Unable to manage inner party contradictions, it is being pummelled by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Kalyan Singh. It suddenly seems like a party bereft of strategy, in tatters. The wind seems to have been taken out of their sails and the party is haring around at sixes and sevens. On Tuesday, Lodh leader Kalyan Singh’s presser must have been gut wrenching for BJP party bosses. This absence of a strategy on the part of the BJP is curious, because they have always prided themselves as masters of this acumen. In many ways, the battle for Delhi was a defining one in terms of communication strategy. The BJP getting it wrong must have sent shivers up their collective spines. Now, has the Congress assiduously worked on this aggression to tie in with the run-up to the national polls, or is it by default that they have an inert BJP on the mat? Time will tell. But it is too much of a coincidence. For the Congress is in attack mode as it realises that public memory is short. Then again, they say that a week is too long in politics. But the pendulum has shifted towards the Congress.

Against this backdrop, India calling off its cricket tour to Pakistan is a decision of great import. Given that Pakistan continues to play truant on the sensitive issue of 26/11 perpetrators and seems to have closed ranks against the interloper India, the time is right to fashion an anti-Pakistan economic and sporting embargo plank. India will have to take a lead in creating this environment, using a raft of measures. After Pokhran 2, India suffered due to the economic sanctions levelled against it by the US and other developed nations.

For long, India’s diplomatic skills have paled in comparison to Pakistan’s lobbying methods on Capitol Hill in the US. This is as good an opportunity as any to set the record straight. The images that the world saw of automatic weapon wielding gunmen have triggered off widespread indignation against Pakistan. The indignation, both in India and abroad, over the sheer audacity of the attack and its ramifications has to be channelised effectively by our diplomatic corps. Pakistan very curiously has called off its hockey team’s presence in a four-nation tournament in India. Once again showing that it is on ball, while we vacillate, waiting for US pressure on Pakistan to bear fruit.

With Pakistan on the doortstep of penury, multilateral agencies provided it with a creditline to tide over the crisis recently. In future, India needs to ensure that the doors are slammed shut in Pakistan’s face. Now that there is talk of reform in the Bretton Woods sisters – IMF and World Bank – India needs to use its growing clout as an economic powerhouse to swing things its way. For its overt frontline support in the War against Terror, Americans seem unwilling to directly bell the cat. But with Bush giving way to Barack Obama, the new man in White House may not necessarily pursue pro-Pakistan policies. The key is Robert Gates, who will seamlessly move from the incumbent administration to the new one as US Secretary of Defense. India has to convince the western world that not only is Pakistan a failed state, it is increasingly a rogue state.

With Pakistan emerging as the epicentre of global terror, the Government of India did the right thing by cancelling the cricket tour to Pakistan. Now, we need to start building global opinion for an all encompassing sporting embargo of Pakistan. Grappling with jehadi elements inside Pakistan, the nation’s cricket tours and fixtures programme is more or less in tatters. Australia decided not to tour Pakistan in March 2008. The Champions Trophy slated to be held in Pakistan was also cancelled due to adverse security perceptions. A series of jehadi bombings, as also the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, has ensured that Pakistan did not play any Test cricket last year. Now, India needs to take this forward. No sporting contact of any kind with Pakistan by other cricketing nations is imperative. Unfortunately, we were not able to convince Sri Lanka to toe our line.

How do we go about achieving this? And is this too harsh? After all, why should sports and politics mix? The reality is that the chickens have home to roost. Pakistan has actively consorted with jehadis to foment trouble in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir for close to 20 years. Presenting a Janus face to the world at large, it has managed to talk its way out of trouble, saying one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

It is time India brought pressure to bear on the international community to bar Pakistan from any sporting contact whatsoever. Using its clout in the ICC, it should arm twist the ICC to ban Pakistan. And it is time that the BCCI takes up cudgels on behalf of the people of India to do this. If in the process the next World Cup in 2011 is jeopardised, so be it. Let us take our gloves off.

Long years ago, an abhorrent racially discriminatory practice called apartheid barred South Africa from the world order. South Africa lived a life of complete isolation as the world shut it out from any and every sporting contact. If apartheid was distasteful, then terror is an even more dangerous thing as it affects lives of innocents around the world. Let us understand that not just Indians, but people from various countries were killed in the Mumbai attacks. Apartheid, incidentally, meant separateness in Afrikaans and was a system of legal segregation on the lines of colour and race.

We forget that India forfeited its best chance of winning the Davis Cup in 1974 because the opponent was South Africa. India took a stand then, it needs to do it again. It is time that India, led by its Cricket Board, begins to push the envelope in seeking Pakistan’s sporting isolation. So, if it means no sporting contact with Pakistan, so be it. If it means that Lahore Badshahs don’t participate in the ICL, so be it. If it means that Pakistan players will not be plying their trade in the Indian Premier League, so be it. Moreover, if it means that India doesn’t co-host the 2011 World Cup, so be it. India needs to take a stand against terror. It needs to do it here and now. The BCCI is omnipotent in the cricketing power pyramid today. Men like Sharad Pawar and IS Bindra have enormous power. Pawar is set to succeed David Morgan in 2010, while Bindra is already principal advisor to the ICC Executive Board. It is time we used our clout to set events in motion. Events, which will bar Pakistan from the cricket world. At the same time, we need to lobby with the Commonwealth Games Federation and International Olympic Committee for banning Pakistan from these events.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist who started his career with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi - with The Indian Express, Illustrated Weekly, Sunday Observer, Dalal Street Journal, Plus Channel where he ran India's first morning business show on Doordarshan, The Times of India Group, Business India, Hindustan Times and Reliance Big Entertainment. Starting his career as a cricket writer, he graduated to becoming a man for all seasons under Pritish Nandy, who he considers as the premier influence on his career. Since he studied economics at Calcutta University, Bamzai decided in 1993 to branch out into business and financial journalism. Familiar with all three media, he is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.)


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