Pakistan vs Afghanistan T20I series: Significance of Cricket Diplomacy

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Victory of Afghanistan over Pakistan in the T20I on March 27, 2023, to win their first-ever series against a top-six-ranked Men ICC team is a significant achievement for the state’s cricketing history. The friendly engagement of the players of Pakistan and Afghanistan takes the Cricket Diplomacy to another level. The win and exchange between players not only showcases the talent and potential of Afghanistan’s cricket team but also highlights the strides and positivity that have been made in the development of cricket in Kabul.

As previously, with using cricket as a soft power tool of diplomacy, positive image of countries have been promoted to build bridges, and this victory could be a positive step towards improving relations not only between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but rest of the world also. This victory also holds broader significance in the context of Afghanistan’s political situation. For Afghanistan, which is now under Taliban rule and facing international isolation and sanctions, cricket players can serve as an ambassadors of peace to promote soft image of Afghanistan to the world.

Pakistan Captain Shadab Khan (L) and Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan (R) holding trophy of the Pakistan vs Afghanistan T20I cricket series.
Pakistan Captain Shadab Khan (L) and Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan (R).
Cricket Diplomacy in history

Through the creation of a platform for cultural exchange, the promotion of collaboration, national unity, and reconciliation, and the easing of political tensions between nations, Cricket Diplomacy has significantly contributed to the improvement of bilateral relations at official and unofficial levels.

Cricket diplomacy is basically the use of cricket matches and other events to advance diplomacy and strengthen foreign relations. The phrase was initially used to refer to efforts made by Indian and Pakistani leaders to utilize cricket matches as a means of reducing tensions between their nations in the 1980s.

In 1987, Pakistan’s President General Zia-ul-Haq visited India and he attended a cricket match between the two countries. This led to the resumption of cricketing ties between the two states, which had been suspended for several years due to political tensions.

 

Cricket diplomacy between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Cricket diplomacy has been instrumental in fostering better ties between both neighboring countries in a number of cases. The first international coach of Afghanistan was a Pakistani Cricket Player, Kabir khan, who helped Afghanistan’s squad in reaching three T20 World Cups. Famous Pakistani cricketers Rashid Latif and Inzamam-ul-Haq also served as the Afghan team’s Coaches.

In 2013, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) invited the Afghan national cricket team to play a series of matches in Pakistan. Among the first international cricket team to foot on Pakistan’s soil since the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009, this was a momentous move. The series was seen as an approach to strengthen diplomatic ties and encourage cricket between the two nations.

In a 15-over friendly cricket match between the A teams of the two nations played in Islamabad in November 2014, Afghanistan defeated Pakistan by 54 runs. Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, and Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan also attended the match.

Also Read:  Master of P2P diplomacy- British Ambassador Christian Turner 

On contrary, in June 2017, Afghanistan used cricket as a political weapon. The scheduled games between the states were cancelled by the Afghanistan Cricket Board following the Kabul explosion. In responce, the PCB prohibited cricket players like Babar Azam from participating in the event despite being selected by teams in auction. It was determined that neither side could agree to play friendly matches.

In 2020, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Ex-Prime Minister and Cricketer, used Cricket diplomacy; He met the Afghanistan cricket team and invited the Afghan Cricket team to travel Pakistan, while assuring that both cricket governing bodies will cooperate to create an opportunity for the visits in 2021 or 2022. Moreover, the Afghan cricket team players play in the Pakistan Super League (PSL), a professional T20 cricket league in Pakistan.

Afghanistan team celebrating its win. Source: espncricinfo
Afghanistan team celebrating its win. Source: espncricinfo
Role of Cricket in Promoting Goodwill

Advanced practice of Diplomacy not only include the official ambassadors to promote good relations between states, but also include other actors such as public figures to portray positive message. As cricket is a popular sport in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, so the Pakistan vs Afghanistan T20I cricket series provided a platform for people-to-people contact.

By participating in cricket matches with Afghanistan, Pakistani players and fans interacted with their Afghan counterparts. This helped to promote greater understanding and goodwill between the two countries, and also encourage other countries to engage with Afghanistan on a people-to-people level.

In recent years, Afghanistan has been associated with conflict and instability, and many countries are hesitant to engage with the country. By participating in cricket match with Pakistan, Afghanistan showcased its sporting talent and cultural heritage, and demonstrate that it is more than just a war-torn country. This may contribute to a more favorable picture of Afghanistan and inspire other nations to cooperate with it in ways other than the present political one.

Captains of both teams sharing an embrace after the T20I macth in Sharjah.
Captains of both teams sharing an embrace after the T20I macth in Sharjah.

Also Read: Pakistan: A Sports-Loving Country

Afghanistan vs Pakistan cricket match also provided a platform for diplomatic engagement between countries. Pakistan may be able to use its influence as a regional power to help foster diplomatic contact between Afghanistan and other nations by taking part in cricket match series with Afghanistan. This would pave the way for increased acceptance of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and rapprochement with other nations.

Concluding, the Afghanistan vs. Pakistan T20I has perhaps benefited from the use of cricket diplomacy to advance better relations and communication between the two nations, enhance community understanding of Afghanistan, and create a framework for future diplomatic interactions. While it may not lead to an immediate normalization of relations, it could be a positive step towards building greater ties and encouraging other countries to engage with Afghanistan.