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Cricket and Pak- Australia relations


By Imtiaz Gul

 Weekly Pulse, April 05, 2013


(Based on Imtiaz Gul’s recent visit to the Australian capital Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney)

Any discussion on Pak-Australia relations will remain incomplete without cricket. And Pakistani’s visit to Australia will probably be equally incomplete without a visit to the majestic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It’s virtually the sports district of Melbourne where soccer, tennis, squash, racing tracks and cricket playing facilities are located, and practically all of them are within walking distance of each other.

But the telling reason for a yatra to MCG is much more than this complex of sports facilities, with the MCG at its crown; the name of Sarfaraz Nawaz, the fast bowler who took 9 wickets for 86 runs to ensure a victory for Pakistan at this ground, stands out on a major wall of the huge entrance to the MCG. Quite an exciting view that instantly takes you down the memory lanes to that emphatic victory when Sarfaraz seemed to have mesmerized the Australian batsmen, and conceded just to two runs to capture the last seven wickets in the 1978-79 test. 

Australia were then 305/3 with Allan Border (105) and Kim Hughes (84) at the crease needing only 77 runs to win. Sarfaraz took 7/2 in 33 balls and dismissed Australia for 310 to give Pakistan a surprise 71 run victory. Sarfaraz had also scored 35 runs, coming in at 99/6 in the first innings and took a total of 11/125 in the memorable match. It was therefore indeed a pleasure to be at the MCG. 

Pakistan-Australia cricket also resonates in political discussions, and often even members of parliament reminisce relish names of Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younus (Australian citizen now), Sarfraz Nawaz and above all Imran Khan. Australian cricket fans still remember these great names and for many they are synonymous with Pakistan. 

“Cricket matters a lot in the Pak-Australian relationship,” said Richard Marles (ex parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs) during a meeting at the Parliament House in Canberra. 

But Australia in 2013 is not only about cricket and tennis; it’s about a proud, rising nation that wants to be noticed globally. It’s about the craving from within to be counted among the lead nations of the world and to position itself in an age of increasing geo-commercial interests which big nations are striving to protect through geo-political games. It’s a country conscious of responsibilities that befall an expanding economy, and aware of challenges that lie ahead in a world driven and defined by trade and terrorism. 

During much of the last 20 years Australia tended to look at South Asia as an “add-on-to China,” but now officials and politicians concede South Asia with over 1.5 billion inhabitants carries its value as an economic partner and potential market for Australian expertise and hardware. Most Australian leaders on both sides of the political divide are conscious that growing global competition necessitates that Australia position itself as best as it can. 

Since Australia, with just about 23 million inhabitants is not very large, the only viable option, officials and analysts believe is to foster relations centering on economic cooperation and commercial expansion. Health, education, agriculture and agricultural technologies are some areas where Australia can easily upstage other foreign competitors. That is why increasing focus on China, India and Pakistan. 

One of the challenges stems from the ethnic diversity that Australia is home to; one in four Australians born overseas. It has accepted nearly 800,000 refugees since World War11 and ranks second in refugee settlement issues. 

Once accepted, citizens get plenty of opportunities and can rise to any levels; three Afghan-born Australians, for instance, recently joined the ministry of foreign affairs. It is the result of the Australian policy-making centres’ acknowledgement of cultural diversity, and the need for integration of all those who choose to turn Australian into their homeland. 

With over 1,500 soldiers deployed in Uruzgan as part of the US-led ISAF troops in Afghanistan, Australians, Marles said, remained committed to Afghanistan’s security and political transition even beyond the Dec 2014 foreign troops withdrawal. 

“Foreign policy never subject of a big public debate and the engagement in Afghanistan enjoys a bipartisan consensus,” remarked Julie Bishop, the opposition leader. 

Australia currently commits over 5 billion in foreign aid and wants to jack it up to 9 billion in the next few years. That would be roughly 0.5 percent of its GDP, a commitment to the developing world. Indonesia with over 550 million dollars is Australia’s biggest aid recipient, followed by Papua New Guinea (ca 500 million), followed by Afghanistan, which gets about 250 million annually. 

Afghanistan remains a significant preoccupation of the Australian government and opposition politicians. It provides about 250 million dollars annual assistance to Afghanistan, making it the 3rd top aid recipient. 

One reason for this engagement, it appears, is the presence of the big Afghan community in Australia beside a conscious effort to match other nations’ contribution to Afghanistan, so trying to appear as good as possible, said experts at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, a prestigious think tank. 

Pakistan is also seen and debated in the context of Afghanistan. But it catches attention also because Australians are looking increasingly towards south and west Asia for its long-term political and commercial engagement 

Pakistan-Australia relations are driven by contemporary political and economic realities. Trans-national threats emanate from countries of origin drugs and religious terrorism. As of 2013, Pakistan gets about 90 m dollars annual development assistance, up from 26 m in 2002, and 60 million in 2005.

Both have held intensive discussions on counter-terrorism (CT) during Pakistan’s presidentship of the UN Security Council in January. Both now believe in the need for moving away from hard CT to softer CT approach targeting youth, vulnerable. Australia’s CT dialogue also includes a special focus on Indonesia, a Muslim majority nation practically next door, where the Australians focus not only on institutional capacity-building, but also on rehabilitation of all those arrested in the last ten years. 

Cooperation with Pakistan is also picking up in forensics’ training, defense cooperation, agriculture, security studies, with special focus on education in terms of 50 scholarships per year ( health, nutrition in (KPK, Balochistan), agriculture, rural development, security and governance. At the moment, 30,000 Pakistani students are reportedly studying at various Australian institutions, most of them privately. 

As a result of army to army cooperation, senior Australian officers also regularly visit Staff College, Quetta. 

While Canberra supports capacity building, democratization, rule of law, in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, it also expects transparency and accountability in the recipient countries. “We expect effective aid management and best practices in all spheres of life because after all it is our tax-payer’s money that we extend in development aid,” said an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade(DFAT) in Canberra. 

Australian politicians and officials also appear more empathetic to what Pakistan has gone through in the last decade. “We have conveyed on multiple levels the Australian acknowledgement of Pakistan’s suffering and losses as a result of its involvement in the questionable war on terror, and also admit that the world has not acknowledged this aspect enough,” said an official at the attorney general’s office.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk