Football diplomacy eases Pakistan-Afghanistan tensions

The Afghan and Pakistani national football teams will square off in a friendly football match in Kabul on August 20

Football diplomacy eases Pakistan-Afghanistan tensions

With conventional diplomacy failing to ease tense relations between neighbors Pakistan and Afghanistan, some think unconventional alternatives – especially football diplomacy – might do the job.

"We support people-to-people exchange, including sports links that help build mutual confidence not only among the people but between states as well," Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Chaudry told Anadolu Agency.

The Afghan and Pakistani national football teams will square off in a friendly football match in Kabul on August 20, the first such event to be hosted by Afghanistan in more than three decades.

"This is a very significant development on two counts," Alam Zaib Safi, a Peshawar-based sports reporter, believes.

"First, Kabul is going to host an international football match. Secondly, it has chosen to play against Pakistan, which does not enjoy a comfortable diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan," he explained.

"This means that the two countries are serious and are trying to normalize relations one way or the other," Safi added. "This is good a development for both countries."

The goodwill friendly coincides with an upcoming visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad for talks with newly-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other Pakistani leaders.

Talks are expected to focus on the moribund peace process between Kabul and the Taliban, which began in June in Qatar but broke down after the Karzai regime objected to the hoisting of a Taliban flag above its coordination office in Doha.

Many saw Sharif's election as the beginning of a new era of relations between the two neighboring countries.

Sports diplomacy

Safi, the sports reporter, believes a friendly football match will further boost sports ties between the two neighbors.

"Sports always bring people closer," he said. "I hope it will work here too to bring Pakistanis and Afghans, who already have many things in common, closer."

Foreign Office spokesman Chaudry agrees.

"Pakistan is also happy about increasing sports activities in Afghanistan and will continue to lend its support in this regard," he said.

Pakistan is already helping the Afghan Cricket Board to build its cricket team.

The two previous coaches of the Afghan cricket team – Rashid latif and kabeer Khan – were both Pakistanis.

Various members of the Afghan cricket team began their careers playing for Pakistani clubs, later joining their country's national team.

Sports diplomacy is not new to the people of this volatile region.

Arch nuclear rivals Pakistan and India have time and again used cricket diplomacy to reduce border tensions.

But Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, an associate professor of International Relations at Islamabad's Quaid-I-Azam International University, is not pinning his hopes on such events.

"It's very much like cricket diplomacy and Ping-Pong diplomacy. I do not expect anything extraordinary out of it," he told AA.

Jaspal insists that sports and matters of national security are totally different matters.

"Warm wishes and goodwill gestures have their own place in diplomacy, but matters of national security are not decided this way," he said.

Ikram Sehgal, a Karachi-based security analyst, is more optimistic.

"This match apparently seems to be no different than other sports events. But if we see the record of diplomatic relations between the two countries in the last decade, one cannot deny the significance of this event at this stage," he told AA.

Cross-border attacks have long been a divisive issue, especially in eastern Afghanistan, where thousands of villagers have been displaced and many killed by rockets that the Afghan government says come from Pakistan.

Pakistan, for its part, says it has been hit by similar attacks from Afghanistan.

"Inviting Pakistan's football team to Kabul for a friendly match means the two sides have understood that they cannot safeguard their interests in the region without each other," Sehgal added, "especially in the context of the proposed US pullout from Afghanistan in 2014."



Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Ağustos 2013, 15:36