Pakistanís Military Dictator-cum-President Parvez Musharraf is in India this weekend, in what is being hailed on both sides of the border (India, Pakistan and even in vilayat) as another successful round of cricket diplomacy (the first being Ziaís surprise trip to meet Rajiv Gandhi in Rajasthan in 1987). This cricket match, played in the Firuz Shah Kotla area of Delhi, is the latest in the 2004-2005 series of home and home contests in India and Pakistan. Many are a bit more skeptical, and justifiably so, about the possibilities of cricket diplomacy, especially over at the Acorn, where the extension of an Indian invitation to the General in the first place is roundly condemned.
I have no love whatsoever for Musharraf and his role in continuing the long, sordid history of military rule in Pakistan, but I think it does little good to Indo-Pak relations to renew the ‘Butcher of Kargil’ rhetoric and refuse to negotiate. (Do not want to get into the blame game of Kargil, but in the final analysis two were tangoing, as it were.) Musharraf is clearly and unambiguously running the show now, and a snub to the man will not get us any closer to a resolution of the Kashmir conflict, nor will it bring Pakistanis nearer to going to the polls. Pakistan may well have a bit to learn from Indiaís reasonably robust democracy. On the other hand, Indiaís self-appointed role of watchdog over the entirety of the subcontinent is decidedly not helping the democratization process across the border.
The building and maintenance of stable participatory democratic institutions is something that cannot be externally compelled. Military occupation is especially poorly suited to this cause, the most recent examples being the mockery of democracy that US-run elections have wrought in Afghanistan and Iraq (perhaps soon Pakistan too if Benazir’s unalloyed praise of the Bush doctrine bears political fruit). Likewise, I doubt diplomatic intransigence by India is going to help matters in Pakistan. On the contrary, giving Musharraf the international relations equivalent of a tight slap as some seem to advocate would provide a fair amount more leeway to anti-democracy forces in Pakistan (the General himself included), just as the recent refusal of the US to grant Narendra Modi a visa will without question be converted into political capital by the BJP.
Certainly there is great potential for human contact in border-hopping with the subcontinentís pastime, as evidenced by UrbAnandís touching tale of camaraderie, romance and cricket visas. As for ërealí politics, I hold out scant hope for much substantive progress being made in negotiations between Manmohan and Musharraf in Delhi (it certainly does not bode well that Basmati is dropping by in hopes of getting all involved to do her bidding). I do think both Pakistan and India stand to benefit from negotiations not restricted to the question of Kashmir. The two nations collaborating to create conditions for people to trade, fish and ride buses or trains across the border is important, and I for one would like to see this trend continue.
On another note entirely, Musharraf made a point of stopping by in Ajmer for a visit to the famous Dargah of Khwajah Muinuddin Chishti, the major 12th/13th century Sufi Pir. This gestures to more positive shared histories of the people of India and Pakistan, ones invisible from the perspective of debates over democracy, authoritarianism and military conflict. Sufi shrines, Gurdwaras, and other pilgrimage sites across South Asia serve as major nodes of transnational contact, and the flow of people across political boundaries has been severely limited (but not stopped) by the partition of the subcontinent. While political movements and states in both Pakistan and India have attempted to link the control over these spiritually invested and often economically productive sites to discourses of religious nationalism (mandir-mosque conflicts in India, state control or restriction of Sufi shrine veneration in Pakistan), the Dargah at Ajmer remains a site patronized by people of all creeds.
While one sometimes encounters exclusivist visions of political community coming from Sufis in South Asia at various points in history, the Chishtiyya tariqa and their interpretation of Sufism has since medieval times represented an idiom for the integration of Islam and local religious traditions. This process took place in the political sphere as well. If we follow the argument of Muzaffar Alam in his latest book, the ëSufi Interventioní encouraged a pluralistic trend in Mughal governance.
One wonders to what extent a Sufi imagining of politics can be extended into the contemporary South Asian scenario. It would certainly be a stretch to suggest that Musharrafís visit to Ajmer and generous patronage of the Dargah will have visible political effects in either India or Pakistan (after all, the instigator of the intolerant and misogynistic so-called Islamization of law and society in Pakistan, General Zia, also made a stop in Ajmer on his cricket diplomacy mission almost two decades ago). Still, it is heartening somehow to see politicians bringing arenas of shared South Asian culture and history like Muinuddin Chishtiís shrine into the public eye for at least a moment.