Tensions and the threat of armed conflict between India and Pakistan have often kept millions of people in the region glued to their televisions and radios. Recently, Pakistanis and Indians have been caught up in a different kind of battle -- one waged with cricket bats and balls.
"Fortunately, the only missiles being hurled on the sub-continent now travel no faster than one-hundred miles an hour," said Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Lalit Mansingh. He was referring to the recent cricket series played by the national teams of India and Pakistan. The missiles, said Ambassador Mansingh, were "being delivered by a Pakistani fast bowler named Shoaib Akhtar." He said that India's best missile defense was "the Indian batsman Virender Sehwag."
Imran Khan is the former captain of Pakistan's national cricket team and now a member of parliament. He says that Indian and Pakistani fans share more than a love of the sport:
“When the two countries are trying to become friendly, trying to ease tensions, then cricket plays a healing role. Cricket becomes a cement in bonding the countries together.”
For thousands of Indian fans making their first trip to Pakistan, the sporting event has changed the way they look at their Pakistani neighbors. "My views of Pakistan [had] always been negative," said Lungsanliu Gonmei. Now, she says, "I would like to travel around Pakistan and meet other Pakistanis. It’s important that we get to know each other better," she said. "We can't wait for Pakistan to tour India now so that we can give their fans the welcome they've given us," said an Indian student.
Such popular reactions reflect the desire of millions of Indians and Pakistanis for improved relations. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining their independence from Britain in 1947. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in conflict over Kashmir. Following a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, India and Pakistan came close to war again.
Since then, the two countries have taken a number of steps to ease tensions. Rail, air, and road links have been restored. At a meeting in Islamabad in January, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf agreed to new talks. The next meeting, scheduled for May 25th, will deal with confidence-building measures involving nuclear weapons and other security issues.