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The ugly incidents on the Line of Control, by no means the first, are unsettling and coarsening the discourse on Pakistan, while the UPA government stands by, and succumbs. Over the past few days, as an increasingly jingoistic clamour has been worked up in television studios and outside, the government has passed up every opportunity to underline the imperative of keeping the bilateral dialogue process separate. Its passivity may now be allowing the belligerent chorus to undercut one of its few undeniable achievements — a substantive running conversation with Pakistan. Instead of defending the process, acknowledging the complexities of Pakistan's current situation and the necessity of greater economic integration in the long run, the UPA is itself seen to be caving in daily, resorting to a more blustery vocabulary. And so it happens that Pakistani hockey players in Hockey India League (HIL) have been asked to return home, and the Pakistani women's cricket team will not be invited to the world cup beginning in India next month. While the Shiv Sena, unsurprisingly, has congratulated itself on "banishing" the Pakistani players, it is the government that allowed intimidatory tactics to hold sway. It would do well to pause and consider the long-term costs — to the dialogue process between the two countries, and indeed, to its own image — of a weak-kneed response to Sena-style brandishing of muscle and venom in a delicate India-Pakistan moment.
In its best and mature version, the larger bilateral project has stressed on richer cultural and sporting ties that can endure and survive the occasional diplomatic lows. After a 15-year lull, normal cricket ties between India and Pakistan were revived in 2004, the result of a deliberate effort. They have helped in shoring up and stabilising the conversation between the two countries since. Be it Musharraf's 2005 visit for a match, which provided the tailwind for talks on Kashmir, or the world cup semifinal in Mohali that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Zardari watched together, cricket diplomacy has found resonance on both sides of the border.
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