Cricket, Azadi and Pakistan: Mir Laieeq Ishtiyaq


As all of India celebrated the well-deserved Indian victory in the cricket world cup finals, the mood in the Kashmir valley was different. Their favourite team was ousted in the semi-final itself. On the eve of the semi-final between India and Pakistan at Mohali, a friend asked on Facebook: “That Kashmiris don’t support the Indian cricket team is well understood, but why is there so much support for Pakistan? Seems INDEPENDENCE IS JUST A MYTH…” There are no simple answers to this question.

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[Pictures taken in Kashmir during the India-Pakistan Mohali semi-final by ISHAN TANKHA for Open magazine.]

Cricket has always been supported in sub-continent with a lot of passion. Kashmir is no exception.

I vividly remember my first experience of cricketing mass frenzy. It was 1986. Pakistan was playing India in the final of Australia-Asia Cup. I was an eight year old watching the match with my uncles, aunts, cousins and friends. The room was packed. We were drowning out the TV commentary with our own individual frenzied and passionate commentaries.

The room would explode with joyous cries every time India lost a wicket or Pakistan scored a boundary or a sixer. Pakistan was having a hard time chasing the total, turning us all into nervous wrecks. The smokers were puffing much more than they normally would. Irritated with my ‘childish’ comments, a cousin wanted to get rid of me in such a tense situation. He advised me to go and pray for Pakistan. I did ablutions (as good as I could at that age) and offered my Salah and started praying to God for the victory of Pakistan. All my cousins burst into laughter. Embarrassed, I asked them what was so funny. “You are a fool!” one said, “You offered prayers with your back to Kiblah rather than facing it! Now Pakistan is definitely going to lose the match!”

It troubled me immensely, to think that Pakistan could lose because of me. This time I prayed quietly, facing the Kiblah, asking God to let victory be Pakistan’s. In the middle of my prayer I heard a huge uproar, cries all around, screams of laughter, tears of joy… Javed Miandad had played a blinder on the last ball of the match, hitting a six off poor Chetan Sharma’s full toss, to lift the cup. All my cousins started hugging and kissing me. To the world Javed was a hero, but the child in me believed that I was an equal hero; after all it was my prayers that had won them the match!

It is scenarios like these which create fans and frenzy for the sports and the countries we support. A sport is about much more than a game. When cricket started becoming popular in Kashmir, people were already politicised in terms of what their future should be. As part of the original partition based on communal divide –  the two nation theory – the general feeling was that Kashmir should go to Pakistan, so support for Pakistan was quite natural and people thought it was just a matter of time till they would join it. The people of Kashmir as a whole never accepted themselves to be part of India, despite the temporary accession. India’s reluctance to fulfill its promises of plebiscite over decades, saw this feeling grow more intense. People started to look at Pakistan as a saviour of their cause. And so, every Pakistani victory on the cricket field was a vindication of that hope and faith which they had placed in Pakistan.

With the rise of armed resistance against India in late ’80s, the passion for supporting Pakistan in cricket, the public expression of such passion, and the result of such support reached unprecedented levels. Firstly, the endless strikes and curfews people gave people ample time to watch cricket. The politically charged environment affected everyone’s hearts and minds. With militancy at its peak in early nineties, Pakistan’s victory in the 1992 world cup led the hysteria of Pakistani cricket to an all-time high. This time the celebration of victory was beyond ordinary crackers. We saw rounds fired in air to mark the celebration! It was as if the people believed that like the world cup, they will soon win their freedom. We also saw how brutal the “crackdowns” were whenever Pakistan defeated India. Armed personal would take full revenge of the loss from innocent civilians, sometimes beaten to pulp for supporting Pakistan. I still remember when one young man was shot by a crazy soldier for cheering for Pakistan after India lost to them.

A lot has changed in the political landscape of Kashmir since then. Even though support for Pakistani cricket has continued, the support for merger with Pakistan has decreased tremendously. Pakistan is no longer seen as a saviour by Kashmiris, to say the least. There are several reasons for that. Over the years Kashmiris have come to realize that political violence will not take them anywhere. With both countries going nuclear, war can only bring destruction at an unimaginable scale. They have known that unless and until their struggle for freedom and dignity is indigenous, they will never succeed in realising their aspirations. That Pakistan could not become what Jinnah and Iqbal might have dreamed it to become is evident to Kashmiris. 9/11 and its impact on the Pakistani establishment, which quickly changed colours to side with America, waging war against its own citizens, has been an eye-opener for even the most reluctant admirers of Pakistan in Kashmir. The fact that Kashmir issue will not always remain the most important priority in Pakistan’s foreign policy with India, despite rhetoric to the contrary, was best exemplified by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who quite arrogantly announced, “Only national interest is constant.”

Yet, people do understand that Pakistan is a party to the Kashmir dispute and has been the lone voice for Kashmir for years. It is also true that there are many in Kashmir who still think their future lies with Pakistan, but their numbers are shrinking by the day. Even most of the young supporters of the most prominent voice for Pakistan, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, do not necessarily support his Pro-Pakistan vision; they are “azadi lovers”. They support Geelani sahib for what they perceive as his integrity and steadfastness on the Kashmir cause. Even his estimation increased in the eyes of the general public and critics after he “talked back to Musharraf as a Kashmiri”.

The decrease in support for merger with Pakistan has not benefitted India. Instead there has been a sharpening of the voices for “Azadi” (meaning complete independence from both India and Pakistan, to state the obvious for critics who pretend not to understand what Azadi “means”). India has no one but itself to blame. The unspeakable crimes its troops, armed with sophisticated weapons and brutal black laws, committed in Kashmir, could never tilt the balance in its favour. Dreaded, lawless counterinsurgency group, the Ikhwan, created, supported and nurtured by the state, security forces and intelligence agencies, committed horrendous crimes against Kashmiri people. That is what the “world’s largest democracy” could come up with to combat militancy!

Meanwhile, the support for Pakistani cricket has continued unabated in Kashmir. This support cuts across the political divide; even the followers of the so-called mainstream parties also support the Pakistani team, albeit secretly! The overwhelming demand for Azadi and the support for Pakistani cricket co-exist. The support for Pakistan is multifaceted and is deeply rooted in our history (as noted earlier). For some it may also have to do with our profound crisis of identity, for some others with trans-national Muslim solidarity. However, the new dimension of our cricketing choices has been the strong anti-India sentiment in the valley. This explains why, after Pakistan’s exit from the 1996 World Cup, with that unforgettable loss to India in the quarter-finals, people in Kashmir rooted for Sri Lanka in the semi-finals against India and broke out in celebrations when India was beaten by Lanka!

That is not to say Kashmiris don’t appreciate India’s talent in cricket. In fact, Sachin and Sehwag are quite popular. It is only when it comes to playing Pakistan that emotions soar high and everything is forgotten, and the only thing that matters is victory against India. This is the dominant narrative in Kashmir and there are exceptions. Victory against India. There are some who may support India, some who are wise enough to watch it like a mere game, and many who have experienced so much misery and pain over the last two decades that they have been rendered incapable of watching and enjoying a simple game of cricket.

So what does Pakistan represent to people of valley today? Only those seeped in history will tell us of the nobility of the idea of Pakistan – the concept of a welfare state that is just and democratic in a uniquely Islamic way – rather than confront the reality of today’s Pakistan and its state apparatus. There are voices in support of this idea of Pakistan as a nucleus of a just Islamic polity in modern times, much in line with the pan-Islamic views of Iqbal. However, a lot has changed in the world ever since the founding fathers of Pakistan conceived this idea. This raises profound questions for the people of Pakistan, and for Muslims in general.

During a huge protest in Srinagar, I saw groups of youth chanting slogans of Azadi. However, the moment they would reach military bunkers they would suspend their slogans of Azadi and chant pro-Pakistani slogans! As soon as they had marched ahead of the bunkers, they would raise Azadi slogans with a new zeal.

Later in the evening, I asked some of the youth leading this procession, “Do you want Pakistan or Azaadi?” They responded emphatically with “Azadi”. Then why were you raising pro-Pakistan slogans? They responded: “Bus haz military wallain khadkawaan …hahahahaaa!” (O! that… we were just teasing the security personnel!) It is well known that security personnel are more provoked by P word than A word.

Are these young boys using the Pakistan slogan as a means of provocation only? When someone is oppressed and bruised physically or psychologically, repeatedly over a long period of time, the only response one shows whenever there is some sense of empowerment (in this case, being together in huge masses of people must be quite empowering) is to provoke and ridicule the aggressor.

But when this happens to a society at large, especially to its younger generation, it can be dangerous. For such moments are followed by absolute lack of fear, as we saw last summer. This is not necessarily a good thing. Kashmiris are human at the end of the day and there are limits to our resistance, all of us like others deserve to watch a game only for the sake of it and nothing else.

It is vital for people in India with any sense of justice, especially the intellectuals and people in media to see why these glaring contradictions to the idea of India exist in Kashmir. Given the current situation, will anyone out there in the present hysteria of jingoism and hyper-nationalism listen to the subdued voices of Kashmir?

(The writer is a medical doctor by profession. Contact: mirlaieeq at gmail dot com.)

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17 thoughts on “Cricket, Azadi and Pakistan: Mir Laieeq Ishtiyaq”

  1. Indeed a nice piece…and quite true…and I also like majority of Kashmiris support any team against India in cricket and no regrets about it…


    1. And I like majority of the people in the world support the idea of economic progress and development as a means of lifting people out of poverty. Something which all of us Indians want for all our fellow Indians and feel that we together must try to achieve.
      As a guilty pleasure I dont regret gloating at the state of affairs of Pakistan and how different the trajectories of the two countries have been since Independence. I wonder what the main different between India and Pakistan is …


      1. Love your reply, Indian! I don’t even feel guilty about the pleasure of seeing Pakistan in such a mess! A theocratic country will always be a mess, no two ways about it! I think we shld let these Kashmiris who hate India go to Pakistan and seal the border. These Kashmiris think they are so special that they can have their own constitution, bar other Indians from Kashmir (article 370) but what are they giving India in return for these concessions? Nothing other than terrorism!!!! I am absolutely sick and tired of these people.


  2. During the partition, personal politics decided the future of the Kashmiris. Although it is appreciable that Pakistan has been the throat to the robust voice of Kashmir’s azadi, this time let cricket nationalism not decide the future of a solid demand for self determination. Miandad’s sixers or Akhtar’s bouncers may well be a part of a lucid narrative, but India’s political loss should not be a failed democracy’s victory (In cricket it can be although). The future of the Kashmiris should be an independent future, at least that’s what seems to be the aspiration of the people to an outsider like me. Nice article!


    1. Pakistan was never ‘the throat to the robust voice of Kashmir’s azadi’. It still isn’t. It never will be. It is only concerned with accession of Kashmir to their pure land. They even have laws in place that prohibit any political activities aimed at anything other than accession of Kashmir to Pakistan.


    2. Great way of looking at the situation Tanmoy Sharma. The balance is where you say, ” India’s political loss should not be a failed democracy’s victory”. Question is: How do we achieve that balance? Bigger question maybe: Will India and Pakistan work it out between themselves or will they let the Kashmiris do it for them?


  3. thanks for the article. in a sense, reminds me of how the Scots cheer for ABE (Anyone But England) in any sporting event, particularly the football World Cup. The difference though is that here many Kashmiris are at the same time cheering for another specific country.
    Beyond sports though one has to critically look at the relationship of the Kashimiri sentiment and Pakistan. I think a distinction can usefully be made between the idea of Pakistan and Pakistan as an actually existing nation-state. This would be the site of a gap; like that between the ‘Keeper and first slip, perhaps.


  4. “There are voices in support of this idea of Pakistan as a nucleus of a just Islamic polity in modern times, much in line with the pan-Islamic views of Iqbal”..
    I think a slight correction is required much in line with the pan-Islamic views of Syed Abul A’ala Maududi , syed qutb , Hassan al-Banna


  5. Wonderful piece of writing…v kashmiris hv alwz been supportin pak team…i personally support pak as a cricket team,not as a country…i want my kashmir to b independant from both india as well as pak…our future lies wid our kashmir only…v hv been deceived by both d countries tym n again…lets take d example of cricket match only…whole india was watchin d match collectively n cheerin for their team n again it was only a kashmiri who was subjected to suffer from d bloody section 144…..d only thing…V WANT FREEDOM…


  6. Its a small suggestion for the moderators of kafila particularly to shivam vij..
    I have been a regular follower of Kafila and the article posted here have been some
    of the best observations. But for a long time it has been my observation (its personal
    and people might very well disagree) that articles on Kashmir have been substandard,
    take the case of last two articles on Kashmir, they have been simply vomiting stuff which
    is so commonsensical. Who doesn’t know that support for Pakistan has decreased in
    Kashmir, the question to be asked is why has this happened, but no one is ready to take a dig. Similarly my suggestion will be that we move forward from the ages old generalizations which are crude and unsatisfactory. When the idea is of alternative media the arguments
    have to be sophisticated and sharp enough to convey alternative message, otherwise its a simple miss/mess.. Hope to see some good stuff on Kashmir.


    1. Thanks, Amit Kuamr, for your comment. I’m afraid I don’t think you have read the post, otherwise you would not say that ‘no one’ is ready to ‘dig’ why the support for Pakistan has decreased. And you are right about ‘sub-standard’ being a subjective view.


  7. Well written……this reminds me of india vs westindies match at kashmir in 80s when everyone in the audience cheered for westindies instead of india,westindian players were shocked to find such unexpectedly great support .I actually felt for indian players who must have felt humiliated….I wonder whether anything will change…u r right media and thinkers will have to play a great role…Kaafila is a great step in this direction….


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