Afraid of standing exposed of its tyrannical and discriminatory actions in IIOJK, India’s Hindutva-led BJP government has stooped further low by politicizing KPL, a cricketing event purely meant to provide the AJK youth a platform to showcase its talent.
Kashmir Premier League (KPL) is a T20 cricket League launched by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in 2021. The league consists of seven franchises; six teams represent major cities in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), while one team is representing the Kashmiri diaspora. The league is designed to provide the young cricket talent of AJK with a quality platform through which they can exhibit their skills to the world, and make an identity for themselves, while getting exposure from renowned national and international cricketers. The KPL matches were played in Muzaffarabad, AJK. International players took part in the league and the world community witnessed the difference between the situation in AJK and Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). In the first edition, the teams were captained by Pakistan’s current and former cricketing stars: Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim. With the slogan Play with Freedom, Pakistan invited many international players to play matches in Muzaffarabad under the franchise of KPL. It also showcased the soft image of Pakistan and the opportunities provided by Pakistan to the Kashmiri youth.
This situation was feared by the Indian authorities well before time, which would clearly paint the contrast between the locked down and curfewed IIOJK on the one hand and the ever progressing AJK on the other. India seems afraid that the KPL would expose its oppression in IIOJK and the real situation of freedom and basic rights enjoyed by the people of AJK would come to light.
Just like an expanding black hole swallowing stars and taking in its clutch whatever lies in its way, India has brought RSS ideology to the field of cricket as well. The Indian Cricket Board threatened former international cricketers against taking part in the KPL. Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s political agenda to halt KPL by threatening international players to not become a part of it is completely unacceptable and against the preamble of the spirit of cricket and sets a dangerous precedent, which can neither be tolerated nor ignored.
The Politicization of Cricket by BCCI
On August 2, 2021, BCCI urged International Cricket Council (ICC) not to recognize KPL due to the disputed nature of the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. India had to face a setback when in response, the ICC clarified that KPL doesn't come under their jurisdiction as it is not an international tournament. According to the rules, ICC can only intervene if the domestic matches of a national federation are being held in an associate member’s territory. All board members have the authority to approve and conduct domestic matches within their territory without obtaining ICC’s approval. An ICC spokesperson, while speaking to a Pakistani news channel, said that the KPL is not under the jurisdiction of the apex cricketing body as it has not been recognized as an international tournament. As per certain reports, the BCCI also asked foreign boards to ban their current and former players from taking part in the KPL. Senator Dr. Shehzad Waseem tweeted, “After decades of atrocities in Kashmir, India is now promoting its hatred and prejudice in sports as well. KPL is a reality, it will happen and we are ready to welcome all our guests.”
India seems afraid that the KPL would expose its oppression in IIOJK and the real situation of freedom and basic rights enjoyed by the people of AJK would come to light.
Former South African player, Herschelle Gibbs, tweeted, “[It is] Completely unnecessary of the BCCI to bring their political agenda with Pakistan into the equation and try to prevent me [from] playing in the KPL. Also threatening me saying they won’t allow me entry into India for any cricket related work. Ludicrous”. Gibbs confirmed the developments to Al Jazeera before adding that “the message from Mr. Shah [BCCI Secretary] was sent to Graeme Smith [South Africa’s Director of Cricket] who passed it on to me”.
Former Pakistan captain, Rashid Latif. also alleged that the BCCI was warning cricket boards against allowing their players to take part in the tournament. The BCCI did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for a comment. PCB expressed its displeasure over the reports that the BCCI has called multiple ICC members and forced them to withdraw their retired cricketers from KPL. In a statement, PCB said, “The PCB considers that the BCCI has brought the game into disrepute by issuing warnings to multiple ICC members to stop their retired cricketers from featuring in the Kashmir Premier League”.
Taimoor Khan, director of cricket operations for KPL, said, “There were messages sent to England’s cricketers too. We’ve been told that the players were warned they won’t be allowed to travel to India again if they take part in the KPL.” After veteran South African cricketer, Herschelle Gibbs, blew the whistle against the role of the BCCI to stop him from playing in KPL, the English cricketer, Monty Panesar has claimed that he decided to drop out of playing in KPL at the behest of BCCI.1
Addressing a press conference in London, the veteran England spinner revealed that the BCCI threatened him of visa cancellation through the English Cricket Board (ECB) and the UK’s Professional Cricket Association (PCA). Monty Panesar said that officials at the ECB advised him that there would be serious implications of joining KPL, including the cancellation of his visa to India, depriving him of joining the extended family in Indian Punjab. The veteran England cricketer said that nobody from the BCCI contacted him directly but ECB and PCA conveyed the threatening message of visa cancellation on behalf of the Indian cricket authorities.
While, on the one hand, Pakistan is giving an opportunity to the Kashmiri youth to show their potential to the world by giving them equal rights, India on the other hand, is suppressing the youth in IIOJK with extreme torture, heart-wrenching suppression and indulging in propaganda against KPL.
Monty Panesar said that he was thrilled to learn that he had been selected in the draft and “looked forward to playing cricket in Kashmir, but he had to make a decision after being advised of the consequences.” He said, “I was hoping to play but then I decided to drop out. The consequences are that my grandparents are aged and they live in India. My grandmother is blind and my grandfather is over 90 years old. They said you will not get your India visa and you cannot visit family and friends. My family comes first. I had to put my cricketing ambitions to the side and excuse myself.”
The cricketer added that the decision to drop out was his own as he was not forced to make the decision but he was indeed blackmailed emotionally. It was beyond any doubt that the BCCI made Monty opt between family and his passion. Monty said that he was not aware of what exact conversation took place between BCCI and ECB but he was sure that ECB advised him only after BCCI issued a warning to the UK-based players through ECB. The England spinner said several international players would be taking part in KPL because they do not have family in India and they are not bothered about the Indian visas. However, his case was totally different and he hoped that his fans would understand his decision.
“The cost of me joining the KPL would have been huge as India would have cancelled my visa and I would be unable to meet my family. My heritage is in India and I have strong family roots there. The decision was between playing in Azad Kashmir and being able to visit India. I chose the best option for myself to stay out of trouble in future,”2 Monty added.
The Mirpur Royals owner, Raja Suleman Raza, regretted that the BCCI had politicized the game of cricket and wasted a huge opportunity for other cricketers to engage with Kashmiris through cricket. He said that the people wanted to enjoy the game but the Indian government deprived them by taking an unfortunate hostile line.
Raja Suleman Raza said Monty Panesar’s story vindicated that India used threats and resorted to blackmailing to stop players from taking part in KPL. “The KPL will go ahead at all costs. This year and forever. We have made a commitment that we will promote sports in Kashmir to open the windows of opportunities for the youth of Kashmir and we will stay true to that,” he added.
Tyranny and cricket cannot go together. India thinks the cricket boards of England, South Africa, and Sri Lanka are its vassal entities in IIOJK. It is high time they realized that the cricket boards of England, South Africa, and Sri Lanka are not subject to their will; they will play cricket so would KPL. The KPL matches were played in Muzaffarabad again in 2022 in August and the international players took part in the league. The world community witnessed the difference between the situation in AJK and IIOJK.
The then Prime Minister of AJK, Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan Niazi, on August 19, 2021, announced to name KPL, the National T20 league of Kashmir. He said, “We have dedicated the KPL to the martyrs of Kashmir. I have directed Principal Secretary to name KPL as Official National Cricket League of Kashmir”. “I myself am a resident of the Line of Control (LOC) and I know what it takes to challenge the regime in IIOJK… the KPL was a soft power tool to project Kashmir”, he added.
Holding a successful final match of the first season at AJK manifests that the Kashmiris living in AJK are living in a peaceful and secure environment unlike the underprivileged Kashmiris living in IIOJK. While, on the one hand, Pakistan is giving an opportunity to the Kashmiri youth to showcase their potential to the world by giving them equal rights, India on the other hand, is suppressing the youth in IIOJK with extreme torture, heart-wrenching suppression and indulging in propaganda against KPL. Pakistan is holding KPL in AJK as it has ensured a progressive and secure environment for Kashmiris, whereas India cannot even consider holding a cricket league for the Kashmiris as it is too busy strategizing and faking ‘normalcy’ in the illegally occupied territory. Despite repeated foiled choreographed attempts by the BJP government to project the so-called normalcy in the Valley post-August 5, the international community has expressed serious concerns over the brewing humanitarian crisis in IIOJK. The success of KPL is reflective of AJK as an integral part of Pakistan and speaks volumes for Pakistan as a peaceful country and India as a belligerent country that has illegally occupied Kashmir and has been involved in massive human rights violations in IIOJK.
With KPL 2022 successfully culminated, India did continue to employ the same tactics to prevent the successful conduct of the tournament. The hosting of the G-20 meeting in Kashmir could be India’s idea of an appropriate response who is clearly forgetting that KPL was for the sake of AJK’s development while the G-20 Summit is an international summit that has nothing to do with IIOJK.
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1. Priyam Singh, “Exclusive: BCCI Advised Me To Stay Away From KPL And I Have Got Friends And Family In India-Monty Panesar,” Cricket Addictor, August 4, 2021, https://cricketaddictor.com/cricket-news/exclusive-bcci-advised-me-to-stay-away-from-kpl-and-i-have-got-friends-and-family-in-india-monty-panesar/.
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