This past Friday, the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan met in Italy to discuss terrorism and strained ties between the two nations. Reuters labeled the development “the second high-level bilateral talks since November’s Mumbai attacks.” Pakistan has been pushing for a resumption of peace talks with India since the attacks, and while state-to-state relations have long been the primary channel of diplomacy [hence the name Track I], citizen diplomacy, or people-to-people relations have also been instrumental in promoting goodwill and improving perceptions between the two nations.
These days, the trend is best exemplified by a Wimbledon doubles team made up of Pakistani player Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi and Indian Prakash Armitraj. Dawn, in an article entitled, “Indo-Pak Tennis Duo Defy Traditional Rivalry,” wrote, “The pair believe their tennis doubles partnership shows sport can transcend the boundaries between people — and say the warm response to their joining forces shows how the situation has shifted in recent years.” Armitraj, in an interview with the AFP, said,
You find a big international event like this, you find an Indian and a Pakistani playing together, and all differences — color, creed, everything — go out the window. You’re fighting for a common cause on the court and it’s a beautiful thing. The only thing you have to lean on is each other.
This is Qureshi’s second time partnering with an Indian player, [he previously played with Rohan Bopanna.] Pakistan’s number one ranked player told Reuters, “These guys are my best friends on the tour. We have the same taste and same culture and I love hanging out with them.” He asserted to the AFP, “…there has been so much going on between India and Pakistan politically but I never once thought of that when I’m playing with Prakash…I just hope I can send a positive message.”
In 2002, Qureshi teamed with Israeli player Amir Hadad during Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Although the partnership was denounced by the Pakistani tennis federation, who threatened to ban him from the Davis Cup, the pair were awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year award for continuing to play together despite pressures from both communities. This time, Qureshi and his partner are facing less backlash, a sign that attitudes have shifted, he noted. He added, “People in Pakistan have been wishing me all the best…I’m glad they’re able to realize that sport is bigger than all the religions, colors, cultures.”
The Qureshi-Armitraj duo have moved on from Wimbledon’s second round to face the fourth seeds in the third round match on Monday [1200 GMT]. As Qureshi noted to reporters, “My goal is to promote tennis in Pakistan and the only way is to do well in the biggest tournaments in the world. I’m very pleased that he’s [Armitraj] the guy next to me.” His partner echoed, “You’re fighting for a common cause on the court and it’s a beautiful thing. The only thing you have to lean on is each other. A lot of people can benefit from that attitude.”