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The Song Of Hysteria

The defeat at Bangalore throws Pakistan out of stride, and a thousand wild theories bloom

The Song Of Hysteria

For Pakistan, the loss at Bangalore was more than a national disgrace. It was the victory of the 'cultural invasion' launched by the 'Hindus and Jews'. This was the conclusion drawn by Maulana Samiul Haq, who heads his own faction of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). Andhe minced no words while voicing his opinion in the National Assembly soon after the stunning defeat. So strongly did the Maulana feel about the subject, that he used words that had never been heard in the House before. To criticise one wrong, he was committing another.

For the last one month, cricket has been the common topic in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. But in Pakistan, there was little expectation that domestic political battles would also be fought over a purely sporting issue.

The religious parties have done just that. Their main target has been the cultural and musical programmes which the government and the Pakistan Cricket Board organised in various cities to promote the event. They feel that these musical programmes, which were aired by Pakistan Television (PTV), were not only un-Islamic, they were part of a wider conspiracy against Islamic values launched by the Hindus and Jews. The Benazir Bhutto government was accused of acting as an agent and implementing the anti-Pakistani agenda of the western powers. Besides Maulana Haq, other frontline parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Fazlur Rehman's JUI faction which otherwise supports the government in Parliament, also joined the growing chorus against the government, taking it to task for subverting the country's cultural values.

India had won a battle through a cultural invasion which "it could not have won otherwise through weapons," said Senator Hafiz Hussain Ahmed of the JUI(F). He told Outlook that for him, the defeat has come as a punishment for all "the dancing and singing that was going on the streets." He also lambasted the chairman of the World Cup Committee in Pakistan and Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, for promising Rs 50 lakh and a plot of land in Islamabad to every member of the cricket team if they retained the Cup. Zardari was criticised for asking players to play for the money and not for the country's pride.

In Lahore, the Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Senator Qazi Hussain Ahmed, claimed PTV's World Cup campaign was all part of an insidious scheme of the western countries and India to change Pakistan's social and cultural values. "The government, which believes in the philosophy that the world should soon transform into a universal home, is playing into the hands of its external masters. They want a Hindu version of western culture in Pakistan, they want us to be secular, a system through which Hindus have ruled the 160 million Muslims in India." Qazi Hussain Ahmed believes the government has used the World Cup to carry out these designs. "We are not opposed to the sports event. But the way they have used the players and actors to portray something which does not belong to our values is unacceptable. I do not agree with the stand of the government that these activities were part of our society." He also blamed a particular class of people, "who have bags full of black money", for encouraging such trends. "These few families are having the fun of their lives at the expense of the rest of the nation which rejects this sort of vulgarity." Confident that the government would have to pay a heavy price for its 'anti-Islamic' approach, he said: "The behaviour of the ruling circles is ultimately going to lead to countrywide reactions and the government would soon be facing a mass movement."

Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan Senator Maulana Abdus Sattar Niazi even went to the extent of saying that there was no room for music and dance in Islam. What caused further agitation was an alleged statement of Sonia Gandhi halfway through the tournament. In Pakistani press reports, she was quoted as having said that "Pakistan has already lost to India by adopting the latter's culture". Though Federal Information Minister Khaled Ahmed Kharal condemned the statement, it failed to satisfy the hawks.

The government also came under severe criticism for trumpeting victory songs even before the tournament really got going. The general perception was that the offi-cial media did the wrong thing by creating euphoria about Pakistan winning the Cup for the second consecutive time. "It was a strategic mistake on the part of the rulerswith the obvious result that the nation was left in shock after the defeat," said Qazi Hussain Ahmed.

But while the religious angle failed to cut much ice with the man on the street—who finds nothing wrong with the PTV pro-grammes—the furore raised by the zealots in Parliament has led to a number of enquiries being ordered into the organisation of the World Cup. They also include one against PTV's 'anti-Islamic' programmes. President Farooq Ahmed Leghari is also said to have ordered an investigation into the handling of funds and other alleged bungling by the Pakistani Cricket Board.

The Bhutto government is unlikely to be unduly worried by this onslaught by the religious parties. From the government's side, the argument is that winning or losing is part of the game and it should be taken in that spirit. The Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Senator Raza Rabbani, insisted that what ever was shown on PTV was part of the country's culture. "To call it vulgarity is like insulting the wishes of the people. It was during Qazi Hussain Ahmed's own election campaign that music cassettes were used. How can he oppose it now? Besides, we lost to India because our team could not play well on that day. It was not because of the dancing or singing."

The man on the street seems to agree. For him, the World Cup began—and ended—at Bangalore. Pakistanis felt more than betrayed by their team's performance, they felt humiliated. Since the '92 World Cup victory, there have been many problems within the team, especially regarding its captaincy. There have been five changes since Imran Khan relinquished the position. There have also been allegations of betting.

A writ petition was filed against Wasim Akram in the Lahore High Court, even as he was forced to move his family from their Lahore home as death threats began to come in. "Pakistan lost the match to India for no other reason than want of leadership. Imran was not there. I am constrained to dilate on the episode to point out that what happened at Bangalore is symptomatic of the general scenario in the country. We are suffering from a marked sense of debility in all spheres of life," said Z.A. Suleri, veteran journalist and ardent Imran Khan supporter.

The 'lota', representing a turncoat, was much in evidence at the angry demonstrations in Lahore against Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram. "For Allah's sake, let us all endeavour to accept sport as it should be," Bishen Singh Bedi wrote in Lahore's The News . "Winning and losing is part of the game. Let me assure you that if India loses, the Ganges will not be on fire. And now that Pakistan has lost, the Indus won't stop flowing."

 For Pakistan, the dark clouds of gloom and despair lifted partially—after India's defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankans. It was as if the Sri Lankans had avenged the Pakistani defeat. And the kind of jubilation seen on the streets was as if Pakistan had won. 

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