The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cricket spin to Bangla ties
- India loses match but pins hope on diplomatic gains

New Delhi, March 27: Cricket makes for strange bedfellows.

Many Indians may be struggling to live down the World Cup debacle to Bangladesh but at least one Bengali in South Block is relishing the prospects of an unlikely diplomatic godsend.

Pranab Mukherjee is no less patriotic than any other Indian cricket fan but the foreign ministry under him feels that the cricket high will offer Bangladesh a chance to thump its chest and approach the negotiating table with more confidence.

Cricket does do strange things to adults. In keeping with the spirit, hard-nosed diplomats are now entertaining a tantalising thought: what if the bounce on the pitch rubs off on the negotiating table, sweeping away niggling problems and giving elbow room to more pressing matters.

“After all, a cricketing coup over India is of much more consequence than issues like Ganga water,” an analyst said, tongue firmly in cheek.

Many analysts feel that bilateral relations have got bogged down in grudges largely because of the giant neighbour’s “big-brother” shadow over the subcontinent.

Cricket has now delivered an opportunity to help Bangladesh, dogged by months of domestic strife, regain some of its self-belief.

The game has brought in a sense of feel-good in South Block but the first ball was bowled sometime ago and the optimism is based on reasons more hard-nosed than cricket.

The determination with which Dhaka’s new government, led by chief adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed and backed by the army, has set about cleansing the system at home has been much admired in India — all off the record, of course.

Ahmed will be in Delhi soon for the Saarc summit on April 3 and 4, where his bilateral talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will probably be the most watched event.

Considering Ahmed will be competing for attention with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, this is no mean achievement in itself.

Delhi realised that the tide was turning when Tarique Rahman, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s son who was allegedly involved in anti-India activities, was arrested after the new regime took over.

The crackdown has considerably endeared to Delhi the Bangladesh Army chief, Moeen U. Ahmed, who had already been invited to India.

Ahmed also praised “the Father of the Nation’’, Mujib-ur Rahman, in his Independence Day speech yesterday — a few hours after Bangladesh defeated Bermuda, knocked India out of the World Cup and made the Super Eight.

Quick to applaud Ahmed’s “courage”, Indian analysts pointed out that Bangladeshi politics had been so divided that Khaleda Zia’s BNP was even contesting whether Mujib or Zia’s husband, Zia-ur Rahman, was the real hero of Bangladeshi independence.

In recent weeks, India and Bangladesh have even cooperated on terrorism, via Britain. According to sources, Faisal Nayeem, a Lashkar-e-Toiba militant believed to have been involved in an attack on the British high commissioner last year, was sent back by Dhaka to Pakistan, where he is in custody now.

It is believed that India and Britain came together to persuade the Bangladeshi authorities that this would be seen as a good step to curb terrorism.

Dhaka has since iterated its commitment to curb terrorism, including taking action against Indian insurgent camps in Bangladesh.

Cracking down on terrorism isn’t as easy as winning a cricket match but Delhi is reading the pitch for signals that Dhaka will play ball.

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