The modern state is said to have the monopoly over the use of force or military or what may be loosely described as hard power. Soft power is, however, not necessarily only the prerogative of the state; or so it seems. It may be wielded by ordinary citizens.
Recently India saw the super rich owners of the Indian Premier League, better known as the IPL-3, hold an auction of cricket players which initially attracted the usual attention of the media in this cricket crazy country. Normally, the excitement would have lasted just a few hours but this time it almost created a diplomatic row; the reason, no Pakistani cricketer was ‘purchased’.
As some believe, the owners of the various teams thought that including a Pakistani player might prove problematic. First, there was the security angle; second, the uncertainty about the players actually coming to India; third, the uncertain public response given that tempers were running high over the usual problems between the two neighbours. It is of course the team owners’ prerogative to buy who they like because it is after all a question of huge financial investments. What if the player were not allowed or did not play? No one, it seems, wanted to run this risk. But ignoring a Pakistani cricketer was fraught with equal danger because Pakistan is the current 20/20 World Cup Winner.
This decision created a furore in Pakistan with its players and even ministers accusing the Indian Government of meddling in the auction. Predictably, cricket lovers in Pakistan demanded ‘revenge’, a tit-for-tat treatment. Others wanted Pakistan to sever all its sporting ties with India; don’t send the hockey team, they said, for the forthcoming world cup. Any amount of explanation by the Indian Government that it had no hand in the affair did not cut ice. To make matters worse some Indian commentators also found this insulting to Pakistani cricketers. The ‘Great Khan’ said it was humiliating for Pakistan without himself giving any reason for not betting his money on Pakistani players. By the end of four days there appeared some reconciliatory moves with, ‘may be we will get a few stand by players’, and an Indian minister also lending his weight by declaring that Pakistan was after all the best 20/20 team and so on.
Smarting under India’s continued refusal to resume the stalled ‘composite dialogue’ until Pakistan brought the 26/11 masterminds to book, that country’s establishment could not take this insult. It proved much worse than all the official statements that the Indian government has been making for over a year. To Pakistan this was a blow below the belt. This is surely not cricket, they seemed to say. Although this incident will soon be consigned to history there are some lessons for both India and Pakistan.
Soft power is often more effective. However much you may hate your neighbour you cannot afford to displease and ignore the sentiments of your own people. Kashmir is perhaps very important but the self esteem and pride of Pakistani people in their own cricketing heroes is far more valuable.
To the foreign office mandarins in South Block it was a windfall because they had failed to convey India’s displeasure and unhappiness to the Pakistan government through the usual diplomatic channels. As if on cue, within days Pakistan admitted the role of Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi and ten other LeT members in the Mumbai carnage without of course including Hafeez Sayeed, the Jamat ud Dawa Chief. But who knows, given time and some unintended employment of India’s soft power that too may happen sooner than later.
In the future the Pakistani establishment is unlikely to take such matters lightly. They must recall how Indian music lovers were hurt when some Pakistani musicians were not allowed to perform in India. To protest the continuing attacks on Indians ‘down under’, a radical fringe group has issued a warning that it would disrupt any cricketing event in Mumbai if it included an Australian player. While the group certainly has no business to issue such warnings, who knows cricket might once again do what the governments couldn’t.