Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bopanna-Qureshi Partnership and Indo-Pak Relations

Tennis Diplomacy?

The Indo-Pak doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi went down fighting in the final of recently concluded US Open Grand slam Tennis Championship. But the duo won hearts of millions of viewers worldwide. Emotionally charged appeal made by Qureshi at the prize distribution ceremony, not to treat every Pakistani as terrorist and to help generously to the flood affected people of Pakistan, was well received by everybody, including their opponents, the Bryan brothers, who donated from their prize money.

Bopanna and Qureshi have been playing together for a while now. It is only their recent successes that their unusual partnership has attracted media attention. All along, the players, especially Bopanna, have maintained that this was a purely professional alliance. However, now the duo seeks to use their popularity to bridge the cross-border divide and promote peace between their respective nuclear power enabled home countries who are arch rivals for more than six decades now. They plan to play Tennis on the Wagha Border, that separates India and Pakistan by wearing T-Shirts with slogans like 'Stop War, Start Tennis, Love India / Love Pakistan'

Tenniswise, both of them have done immense service to their respective countries as much as (if not more) they have done together for being so called peace ambassadors. Pakistan sports is in the news for all the wrong reasons of late. Cricket and Hockey are two of most popular sports in Pakistan. While four time world champions Pakistan had to undergo ignominy of finishing last in the world cup held a few months ago, Pakistani Cricketers are facing flak from everybody for their repeated involvement in corruption. Qureshi's twin success at US Open (Qureshi is also runner-up in Mixed doubles this year) has certainly given the Pakistani sports fraternity something to cheer about.

No Pakistan had ever reached the finals of any Grand slam event. India, on the other hand, has a better track record in international Tennis. However, Indian Tennis seems to have stagnated and there's nothing to look beyond Paes and Bhupati who are approaching twilight of their careers. In Bopanna, India have certainly found somebody to keep country's flag afloat.

Reading the excerpts of interview of the Indo-Pak express, as the Bopanna-Qureshi pair is being nicknamed, is quite interesting. Bopanna seems to be looking at the partnership more objectively when he says that we are not here to make any political statement. Qureshi, on the other hand doesn't hesitate to make his views clear about the involvement of politics in sports etc.

There's no doubt that Bopanna and Qureshi form a formidable doubles team. Earlier this month, they had defeated Brayan brothers, world's top ranked combination. On the Arthur Ashe stadium the other night, they displayed great skills, only to be pipped at the post by the awesome Bryans. They look set to achieve more success in years to come. It remains to be seen if their bond remains intact in the face of strained relations between India and Pakistan.

Aisam Qureshi has habit of attracting controversies. Earlier in his career, he was banned from Pakistan's Davis cup team for partnering with an Israeli player Amir Hadad. Muslim-Jew animosity is bitter as Hindu-Muslim hatred. So, it is surprising that the extremist elements in Pakistan haven't so far raised objection to Rohan-Aisam partnership.

In India too, there's no dearth of anti-Islamic elements. Sooner rather than later, right wing parties like shiv Sena or BJP may raise this issue. We might even see protests against Bopanna just as we witness calls of boycott on Pakistani artistes and players.

In the past India and Pakistan has seen many piece initiatives like Cricket Diplomacy, Bus diplomacy etc. In addition, melodramatic TV serials like Chhote Ustaad try to promote BhaiChara by featuring Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sonu Nigam on one stage. But they have failed to bring normalcy in the relations between the two countries. This duo, and especially Qureshi, aims to use Tennis diplomacy as the vehicle to promote peace. One cannot help becoming skeptical about the response the people of both countries might give to their slogan 'Stop War, Start Tennis, Love India / Love Pakistan'!