Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dream of Pakistan's Cap (Part 8)

Ahmedis in Pakistan

There is indeed little proof on paper that an anti-Ahmadi policy exists to disenfranchise cricketers, from the PCB down to local tiers, but religious bias is rarely articulated as public policy. The possibility that other factors play a role in Rabwah's players not being selected cannot be discounted. As Haye acknowledges, there is a culture of politicking and favouritism and lobbying at every level of Pakistani cricket, which mistakenly denies and rewards players all the time. But with Ahmadis, the "religious label", as Haye sees it, cannot help but add another layer.

Given that cricket is synonymous with a conflated sense of nationalism as well as Islamic identity, it doesn't seem possible in the current climate that an Ahmadi would be selected for the Pakistan side without causing some kind of furore. (By contrast, hockey is so ignored now that it seems to have largely escaped attention that an Ahmadi has captained the national side in the modern age.)

In Pakistan, the idea of selecting an Ahmadi for a job can become an issue of national concern; a key demand of the anti-Ahmadi movement was to fire Ahmadis from government jobs. As the noted physicist and writer Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy once recalled, Benazir Bhutto refused to meet Dr Abdus Salam after he won the Nobel Prize in 1979. Salam, who was Ahmadi, had helped advise Pakistan's nuclear programme during the government of Benazir's father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In 2014, Imran Khan said he wanted the prominent economist and Princeton professor Dr Atif R Mian in his cabinet. Imran, apparently, had no idea that Mian was an Ahmadi; after a backlash from the right wing, Imran appeared in a video contritely professing that he had only read about Mian in a magazine, and that he did not believe that anyone who followed Mian's faith was a Muslim.

Mian pithily responded on Twitter: "Stop trying to play God."

June 7, 1975 was no ordinary day. This was no ordinary match. It was Pakistan's first game in the inaugural World Cup, against Australia at Headingley. A 25-year-old debutant right-arm fast bowler would bowl the first ball of the match for a side that included the core of Pakistan's great mid-'70s team. He was, by common consent, a promising prospect, especially suited to conditions in England.
He had actually begun life as a batsman, until, at a training camp, the great Fazal Mahmood told him he should become a fast bowler. He debuted for lowly Khairpur but soon moved to Karachi and found employment and a cricket career with the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). Across two domestic seasons - 1973-74 and 1974-75 - he took 90 wickets; in between this spell he won selection on the tour of England in 1974, ahead of the veteran Saleem Altaf, and took 20 wickets there, though he did not play a Test.

This man was Naseer Malik, and as Haye reveals, he was an Ahmadi. Haye says this almost as a casual fact, as if it is normal, as if it isn't a big deal.

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