In India, some pray for a Pakistan victory

Not everyone in India is hoping for a victory over Pakistan in the cricket World Cup: in Indian Kashmir, allegiance to the rival team reflects bitter feelings in the turbulent region.

Kashmir, a picturesque Muslim-majority Himalayan region that has sparked two wars between India and Pakistan, is split between the two countries but claimed in full by both.

In the highly militarised Indian part, anger over New Delhi’s rule runs deep. An Islamist insurgency has raged for the last two decades and the past three summers have seen huge street demonstrations.

From internet networking sites to social gatherings, most Kashmiris openly acknowledge their support for Pakistan in Wednesday’s semifinal clash with India.

“I am very tense and praying for the victory of Pakistan,” die-hard fan Mohammad Hafiz (65) told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir.

“Supporting the Pakistani cricket team is in our genes. It reflects our anger at India,” he said.

At the quarterfinal stage, Pakistan’s thumping victory over the West Indies was celebrated with fire crackers but India’s win against Australia passed without a murmur.

‘Distrust and alienation’
Security forces, who are constantly on patrol, try to prevent any sign of support for Pakistan, and locals say that hoisting a Pakistan flag would be a life-threatening act.

Cricket has been used as a platform for protests against India in the past.

Two one-day internationals were held in Srinagar in the past: against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies in 1983 and Allan Border’s Australia in 1986.

The Indian team lost both games and faced hostile crowds at the Sher-i-Kashmir stadium. No internationals have been staged there since.

The full-throated support for the West Indians in 1983 prompted Lloyd to wonder if the match had been played in the Caribbean.

“There is huge distrust and alienation among Kashmiris due to the wrong policies of India,” Gul Mohammad Wani, who teaches political science at Kashmir University, told AFP.

“In my opinion, these are the main reasons for the support the Pakistani team enjoys.”

Restoring peace
The match comes at a time when India and Pakistan are again engaging in peace talks with a view to permanently resolving a range of issues that bedevil their relations, including Kashmir.

Measuring public opinion in Indian Kashmir is difficult, but two surveys last year suggested a large majority favoured independence for the region from Pakistan and India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the game with him at Mohali in what will be their first meeting since April last year.

“This is a positive development towards restoring lasting pace in the region,” said Mehbooba Mufti, president of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir.

“The fact that the Pakistani premier has accepted the gesture from his Indian counterpart is a clear indication that both the countries want to resume the highest-level dialogue process,” she said.

India broke off talks with Pakistan in 2008 in the wake of Mumbai terrorist attacks which left 166 people dead.

The gunmen who stormed the city travelled from Pakistan and India suspects they were given help by Pakistani intelligence officers. — Sapa-AFP

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