It's 'war As Usual' For Kashmiris
24 March 2004
The Times of India
Srinagar: As markets and government offices here were deserted on Wednesday ahead of the crucial fifth encounter between the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams in Lahore, it was 'war as usual' for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Recent television images of Pakistani crowds cheering Indian players appear to have had little effect on the psyche of the Kashmiri people, who have been trained for over 50 years to see every India-Pakistan sports encounter as a war. The battle lines are clearly drawn with entire families skipping important chores to watch the clash of the titans. Residents of downtown Srinagar city, once seen as the traditional hotbed of separatist sentiment, usually wait with firecrackers to celebrate a Pakistani victory in a cricket match. And each time India won during the last four matches, the boom of automatic fire from the bunkers of Indian paramilitary forces usually announced those victories. 'There is a big difference now. It used to be artillery shells on the borders and rocket and grenade explosions in the cities and towns,' said Muhammad Afzal, 42, a bank employee living in the Ali Kadal neighbourhood of Srinagar. 'Now it is harmless firecrackers from a separatist bastion or celebratory gunfire from the Indian security men.' But there is a small silver lining to this otherwise dark cloud. Some of the youth in Kashmir are suddenly re-discovering themselves as 'Indian fans'. Wajahat Hussain, 51, a resident of Sopore town in north Kashmir, said: 'I have always been a great fan of the Pakistani cricket team but I must admit there is something much more than pure enthusiasm in my support for the Pakistani players. 'Interestingly, my children laugh each time I start getting worked up over my support for the Pakistani team. My children are now encouraging me to see these matches through a new pair of goggles.' Hussain admitted there was something totally 'anti- sporting' in his reaction to matches between India and Pakistan. 'I was born like that. Perhaps the trouble is Kashmir has been a battlefield of sorts between India and Pakistan. Cricket hasn't been able to erase those bruises,' he said. It is not that Kashmiris are unable to appreciate a genuine game of cricket. They are great sportsmen but only when it is someone other than India and Pakistan playing each other. 'We are very analytical and dispassionate when it is a game between Australia and England. But we are completely swept off our feet when it comes to India and Pakistan,' said Muhammad Ashraf, 51, a local cricket selector.