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Embracing uncertainty in Pakistan and cricket

By Salman Ahmad

(March 30, 2011) – Both cricket and life are unpredictable.

Pakistan’s journey – from yesterday’s “no-hopers” to today’s semi-finalists against World Cup favourites India – has been a startling revelation to many pundits, experts and fans.

The team’s World Cup transformation reflects the mercurial strength and potential of Pakistani culture and society – all that was required was for Pakistan’s team captain Shahid Afridi’s men to finally get their act together.

The 13th century Sufi poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi once said, “Give up your cleverness and embrace uncertainty.”

Having purged itself of the stain of corruption by expelling tainted players – Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif – who accepted bribes to fix matches, Pakistan was liberated to play collectively as a team once again.

The 2011 World Cup has held up a mirror to the Pakistani people. We are at our best when we engage positively with the world on an even playing field. We are at our worst when we let our fears and divisions defeat us. That message is much needed for a suddenly re-awakened nation.

Over the past five weeks the game of cricket has provided perhaps the most powerful description of the Pakistani psyche. Despite being overwhelmed by political uncertainty, natural disasters , international scandals, unholy violence and crushing poverty – not to mention an existential debate on national identity – the whole country has been riveted by the superlative performances of Afridi’s men in Green.

Billed as the most unpredictable team, Pakistan has stumped everyone by losing only once against New Zealand. In its bid to repeat a 1992 World Cup triumph, Pakistan has gone from one success to another by beating previous World Cup holders Sri Lanka, West Indies, and the three-time reigning champion, Australia.

On Wednesday, in the match against India, Afridi’s men will be hoping to continue their resurrection and declare a day of deliverance by defeating their arch rival and sub-continent neighbour. It was no mean feat for Pakistan to have reached this stage of the tournament. But conquering India in Wednesday’s match will require a supreme team effort – one that is both physical and psychological.

During this clash of the titans, life will come to a standstill – from Lahore to Calcutta and from Karachi to Srinagar. A sea of humanity will be breathlessly waiting to see what drama is enacted on this day in Mohali, a city in northern India. Close to a billion people will focus all their hopes, passions and aspirations on the cricket ground by watching 22 players test their courage, skill and passion against each other.

The reward for the team that can best handle its nerves in the face of indescribable pressure will be the rite of passage into the finals.

It’s the power of the game of cricket and Pakistan’s love for it that young men in skull caps and shalwar kameez (traditional clothing of South Asia), or reverse baseball caps, t-shirts and jeans, will come together with rich and poor, men and women, old and young, liberals and conservatives, to be transported to a state of excessive cricketing devotion or, as Pakistanis say, fanaa.

The power of sports, arts and culture to humanise what politics demonises can never be underestimated. Always a potent brew, music and cricket have been the glue for Pakistani identity. Throughout this World Cup, fans have tweeted, texted and Facebooked YouTube videos of patriotic songs, Jazba Junoon, Dil Dil Pakistan, Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan and a plethora of cricket-themed songs to show their love of team and country.

These are all natural expressions of national pride that no terrorist or extremist can ever take away from the people. Where the extremists want to sow fear and division, cricket and music have proved to be powerful catalysts in bringing the nation together. No wonder that arts and culture is the intended target of terrorists.

These fleeting moments of unity are precious because they offer a glimpse of the deepest desires of a nation. On the evidence provided by Afridi’s team the jazba (spirit) and junoon (passion) of Pakistan is very much alive and bubbling to the surface.

It’s time to harness this passion and strengthen national identity through education, arts and culture, pluralism, rule of law and leadership at all levels. The cricket team has shown that when you play without corrupt and self-serving players, you play like champions not chumps.

If similar merit becomes the criterion for other public posts, Pakistan has the potential to transform into an Asian tiger, perhaps even during our lifetime.

Now is the moment to amplify the voices of reason and hope and bravely move forward with a unity of purpose.

Regardless of who wins today, this resilient Pakistani team has already provided an important lesson for the country: play naturally, play fair, have fun and be free of fear. As the song, Juzba Junoon goes:

If you have the spirit of passion never give up/

Those who struggle always touch the skies/

Pakistan is yours/

Pakistan is ours.

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* Salman Ahmad is a Pakistani musician, UN Goodwill Ambassador for peace and AIDS awareness, and author of Rock & Roll Jihad (Simon & Schuster). Click on this link to watch a fan video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6uFjryZZ5g. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author.

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