SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA – The Hindu
With no regular bilateral engagements in other sports, the ongoing friendly series between the Indian and Pakistani U-23 football teams comes as something of a pleasant rarity. India may have edged the first match on Sunday, but there are no complaints whatsoever from the visiting contingent; instead there are only requests that these two nations should meet on the pitch more often.
“It makes perfect sense for us to play each other,” says Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a marketing consultant with the PFF and the eloquent head of the Pakistani delegation.
“This window looked good because both teams were planning for the Asian Games. India is hosting the 2015 SAFF Cup and we want the AIFF to come and play us sometime before that. India is also hosting the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup and our age-group teams could mutually benefit from that.”
Football, feels Khan, can offer opportunity for interaction where cricket and hockey don’t. “What better way to promote understanding?” he asks. “Football is growing in popularity even in Pakistan. Such exchanges of youth can go some way towards defusing tensions between the two countries.”
Khan is hopeful that an Indian team will not be deterred from crossing the border. “During the turbulence of the last four years in Pakistan, we’ve had matches with Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, UAE, Iran and Palestine without any incident whatsoever,” he says.
“Because this problem exists, should we stop living? Should we stop playing? In this situation, we should make security arrangements to keep sports activity alive.”
During his time in Bangalore, Khan wishes to raise the subject of Pakistani players featuring in Indian competitions with the relevant authorities. “I will definitely ask the Indian Super League franchises to consider our players,” he says. “Some of our players could even play as professionals in the I-League. We will readily give our players an NOC to play here.”
Pakistan’s soft-spoken captain, Kaleem Ullah, nods in agreement. He plays for FC Dordoi Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and is one of Pakistan’s few fully-professional footballers. “Indian players are professionals. Some of our youngsters don’t have that sort of exposure. But we make up for that with our fighting spirit.”
He was surprised, Kaleem admits, by the reaction of the crowd at the Bangalore Football Stadium. “They were young and intelligent. They were supporting their team but they also appreciated good play from our side,” he says.
Kaleem hails from Balochistan and his town, Chaman, is right on the border with Afghanistan. “Chaman is Urdu for garden but that’s got nothing to do with the name,” he says. “It was named after Chaman Das. He was a Hindu dry-fruit trader before partition.”