The ties that bind

Cricket may bore most people, but as long as it excites the Indian sub-continent there is hope for peace

Dateline 26 November 2005

America is, arguably, the world’s oldest democracy. But there is no doubt as to the world’s largest: with more than four times the population of the US, it is India. With over a billion people, India is second only to China in terms of its populace, and even that gap is closing. Its population grew by over 15 million last year – that’s more extra people than the total population of Pennsylvania, and almost as many as Florida.

A federal republic with a complex party structure, India is beset by linguistic and religious divisions. Yet, in the way of democracy, it tends to muddle through. The Hindu majority has become increasingly militant in recent years. This causes friction with the Muslim, Christian and Sikh minorities, and potentially with Muslim Pakistan next door. Muslims are only 13% of India’s population, but that is still 144 million people, making India the third largest Muslim state in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan, but ahead of Iran.

The relationship with Pakistan – another giant state of 150 million people – is smoother than in recent years. After the earthquake in disputed Kashmir, the border was opened to allow access for relief workers. This is in addition to the twice monthly bus service between the capitals of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir which began in the spring of this year, the first civilian border crossings since 1947.

Families divided for more than 50 years by the partition which created the two countries, and by the huge population movements as Muslims fled to Pakistan and Hindus fled to India, can finally renew their acquaintance. Co-operation between these south Asian giants is not merely good on humanitarian grounds. In 2002 these countries came close to war.

Both have nuclear weapons. Their combined population is almost as great as all the combatant countries of World War Two – an astonishing thought, as India and Pakistan were part of the British Empire during the war, so they were combatant countries themselves. Pakistan has traditionally looked to China as an ally. If China was sucked into a south Asian war the total population of the combatant countries would be two and a half billion – as recently as 1950 this was the total world population.

These facts are enough, you would think, to cause both governments to balk at war, but there was another factor: cricket. Cricket is a slow-moving, complicated, game, played seriously in nine countries of the former British Empire. Four of the nine are in the Indian sub-continent. India and Pakistan are both cricket mad. And both countries are among the most proficient in the world. When it came to the crunch, India and Pakistan would rather compete by whacking cricket balls than by firing nuclear missiles. Despite finding the game rather tedious, I’ll certainly not dissent from that judgment.

But cricket is not a permanent solution to the problems of the sub-continent. That solution has to lie in politics. Free trade and a demilitarized border would be a start. The Laissez Faire City Trust, an American non-profit organization is looking for a site to found a new city, built according to the anarcho-capitalist principles of Ayn Rand. A Hong Kong style freeport straddling the India-Pakistan border would be a fine place for such a project. It would generate huge economic returns to both countries. It would be a golden goose that neither would ever dare kill. Here’s to peace and prosperity!

Copyright © Quentin Langley 26 November 2005

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