Thank you for inviting us, India!

I want to thank India for taking that first step, that most difficult decision, to tell the terrorists to their face that they refuse to let them hold billions of people hostage to their ideology of hate. PHOTO: AFP

It’s official: the most exciting cricket series of the year will kick off on December 25, when arch-rivals Pakistan and India meet in a Twenty20 International match in Bangalore.

Promptly, and almost expectedly, chief of Shiv Sena, India’s equivalent of Pakistan’s assorted anti-India groups, Bal Thackeray came out with an asinine statement calling the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s invitation to the Pakistan cricket team a matter of “national shame”.

For me, his statement has done little more than set the stage for a series I have craved sincePak-India ties came to an abrupt halt in 2007.

But my worry extends beyond Shiv Sena. Following the Mumbai attack of November 2008, it’s not just the crazies on both sides of the border who have opposed a resumption of Pak-India ties – cricketing and otherwise.

When speculations first surfaced that Pakistan may be touring India, veteran cricketer Sunil Gavaskar – who has always expressed open appreciation for Pakistani talent – had opposed the decision. As a Mumbaiker, he said, he was hurt by the BCCI’s decision to revive India-Pakistan cricket ties despite what he called Pakistan’s non-cooperation in the probe into the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, most of them Indians. Pakistani national Ajmal Kasab has been sentenced to death for his involvement in the attack and is waiting on the Indian president’s decision on his appeal for clemency.

I remember that statement vividly, because as a Pakistani and a cricket fan, it had hurt me. But as a supporter of peace and non-expansionist foreign policy, I agreed with him. And with every Indian citizen who feels that way.

I hang my head in shame.

In such a situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pakistani players feel a little more thanunwelcome on Indian soil. As a citizen of a country where terrorists from various nationalities seem to feel at home and where they violate territorial sovereignty at will, I can feel the Indians’ pain perhaps with more clarity than they think many Pakistanis can. It is never a good feeling to see the piece of earth from where you derive your identity soaked in the blood of its own people.

This is why, I want to thank India. I want to thank the BCCI and I want to thank every single Indian government official who was involved in making this tour possible. I want to thank them for at least trying to overcome their absolutely legitimate anger over the Mumbai atrocity and their disappointment with Pakistan. I want to thank the Indian cricket team for finally upholding the spirit of cricket.

And, most of all, I want to thank India for taking that first step, that most difficult decision, to tell the terrorists to their face that they refuse to let them hold billions of people hostage to their ideology of hate.

As the newly-appointed Indian external affairs minister Salman Khurshid put it,

“It is a conflict (deadlock over the Mumbai attack) on which there must be delivery of expectations that we have but we don’t want the clock to come to a standstill, clock does move forward…”

I have never been one to buy into the ‘it’s a South Asian victory’ view, but in this series, the victor will truly be the two nations who have remained estranged for way too long.

Let the games begin!

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