In case you were not among the billion-plus people watching today’s Cricket World Cup semi-final, India has just won. It was a tough, close match with both sides getting a chance to show off their bowling. That’s not this Indian team’s strength, but they were in good form today and overpowered the Pakistani batsmen, who started strong but couldn’t hold out.
This year’s World Cup has been New India all the way, a multi-billion-dollar, 21st century corporate sponsorship-palooza. (A Pepsico executive recently told me that a single World Cup promotion – vote for your favorite chip flavor inspired by one of the teams – attracted 50 million votes.) The stands were filled with celebrities of all kinds – not just the leaders of the two nations but also Bollywood stars like Aamir Khan and Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. But in other ways the atmosphere in Delhi reminded me of pre-boom India, when I first learned cricket. It was 1997, and I was here taking some time off after graduate school to write and travel. This was the 50th year of independence for both countries, a year before India became a declared nuclear weapons power, and more than 10 years before the Mumbai terrorist attacks. It seems unthinkable now, but in the fall of 1997, the Indian team played a series of one-day international matches in three Pakistani cities — Hyderabad, Karachi and Lahore — with the home team winning two. No one could talk about or, it seemed, think about anything else, so I figured I should really learn the rules of the game. Then as now, when the two nations played cricket, there was no way to avoid it. Every television, portable radio and car stereo broadcast the same thing, and everyone around me was tuned only to that frequency. It was the same scene today— the whole city watching and listening together.
Cricket commentators love rivalries like this one – they add tension and drama and backstory to the matches and are seemingly inexhaustible. No matter who wins this match, the next time, the rivalry is as strong as ever. It would be easy to assume that the two nations’ political rivalry is just as immutable. But that’s not the case. Relations between the two countries continue to be difficult and permeated with paranoia but things do change, for better and for worse.
Yesterday saw one of those infrequent shifts. The Indian and Pakistani home secretaries issued a joint statement after a two-day meeting in which they made small but significant progress. The language is opaque, but the key paragraphs here are 7 and 8:
“7. Pakistani side provided updates on the ongoing trial and investigation in Pakistan on the Mumbai Terror Attacks. Pakistan conveyed its readiness, in principle, based upon the principle of comity and reciprocity, to entertain a Commission from India with respect to Mumbai Terror Attack investigations. Modalities and composition in this connection will be worked out through diplomatic channels. Dates for the visit of the Judicial Commission from Pakistan in connection with Mumbai attack trial will be conveyed by India within four-six weeks. NIA and FIA will continue to cooperate in the Mumbai Terror Attack investigations.
8. India provided information on the on-going Samjhautha Express blast case investigation. It was also agreed that after filing of report in the court, updated information will be shared with the concerned Pakistan authorities.”
In plain English, Pakistan agrees to give India access to its investigation on the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Pakistan has resisted until now, and without that good faith effort, talks about Kashmir have essentially stalled. By pairing that measure with India’s investigation of the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast, India is also making an important concession. That blast — targeting a train linking Delhi and Lahore — was allegedly organized by a Hindu nationalist group linked to a former Indian Army officer. Including it in this statement is an implicit acknowledgement by India that no country or religion as a monopoly on terror.
On its own, the joint statement is not a breakthrough, and it doesn’t alter the two countries’ fundamental differences or entrenched positions, notably Pakistan’s support of India-centric terror groups and India’s military presence in Kashmir and growing influence in Afghanistan. But it does give them a way out of their current impasse. In cricket, it’s called a tie, but in this case, I’d say it’s a win-win.