Mosques, churches, Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples were united in special prayers for the national team. Party flags disappeared in favor of the national flag, and Pakistanis learned a valuable lesson: an over-politicized nation has better things to do than watch boring politicians shouting on equally boring talk shows.
Many Pakistanis were struck by the scenes they saw on the streets of Islamabad and Rawalpindi today: smiling shopkeepers, courteous car drivers and jolly passersby. The scenes were almost similar in Pakistani cities like Quetta, Karachi and Muzaffarabad. Teenagers painted their cheeks in the colors of the Green and the Crescent, and shops and offices displayed homemade and professional banners in support of the national team. Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Hindu places of worship across Pakistan were on the same page today. A nation demoralized by political and economic mess and beset by the disaster of fighting someone else’s failed war was suddenly transformed in the days leading up to today’s match.
Pakistani cricket team lost the match in the 2011 World Cup semifinal against India on Indian home turf. The defeat was minor: 29 runs short of victory. It seemed like a win that turned into defeat toward the end.
But more important than anything else, a nation divided by petty politics was united in a way not seen in a long time. It appeared Pakistanis wanted an excuse to show unity.
Instead of the flags of the failed political parties which dominate the landscape, this was a day for the Pakistani flag, which was seen in abundance in all the major cities and towns.
For a change, political talk shows that have nothing to offer except screaming, unimaginative and divisive politicians, took a backseat. An over-politicized nation got a break from politics and focused on other pursuits that make life beautiful.
Pakistanis were hurting after the defeat in front of the Indian team, make no mistake about that.
This is no ordinary sporting event. See the Indian reactions that preceded the match. A parrot owned by a roadside Indian fortune teller was killed by Hindu extremists for predicting a Pakistani win. Also, Indian hackers attacked Pakistani websites that predicted an Indian defeat. The worst thing to happen in Pakistan in the run up to the match was comments similar to what a Facebook user wrote on the wall of a Pakistani group for cricket fans after end of the match: “I still love my team … and I still hate END-ia!”
But generally Pakistanis did not resort to exaggerated expressions of rivalry, as in the Indian cases of the murdered parrot and the hacking of Pakistani sports websites.
For Pakistanis, it’s tough losing a match against India. Forget all the niceties about this being ‘just a game’. There is a reason why sporting events between Pakistan and India are so charged. It’s a war without bullets. Pakistanis can’t forget that India is the country that invaded Pakistan without provocation in 1971 and cut it in two. India dragged the region into a nuclear arms race. And India is yet to stop indirect claims to Pakistani territory. Lastly, the Indians are using the foreign-occupied territory of Afghanistan to arm and send terrorists into Pakistan and kill Pakistanis.
So, for Pakistan, the winner of the 1992 World Cup, it’s difficult to be defeated in the 2011 semifinal in front of India when victory was so close. But theirs is a team that did reach the semifinal against great odds. And, more importantly, Pakistanis displayed unity despite a failed and divisive political culture, and despite foreign intervention by governments that encourage dividing Pakistanis between ‘liberals vs. extremists’ and ‘secular vs. Islamists’ in order to perpetuate a failed war in Afghanistan.
This match has shown that if we stop fighting other people’s wars and stop letting politics dominate everything, then we can recreate Pakistan’s golden age of the mid twentieth century, when Pakistan made impressive strides in culture, sports and economy.