Written by Staff Writer, CNN Kabul
Kashmir, the disputed state on the western side of India and the southern tip of Pakistan, has seen immense rivalry between its two nuclear-armed neighbors over the decades. Now, on the cricket field, its teams have pulled their support.
When the Indian team defeated the Pakistan team by 124 runs in their first semifinal of the Champions Trophy on Sunday, a group of supporters in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, which India claims as its own, celebrated by cheering and crying, infuriating a security establishment in the Muslim-majority region.
Police used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, injuring seven people, reported the Press Trust of India news agency. The Kashmir Independent Review Board (KIRB), a monitoring body for the rights situation in the region, said Sunday’s clashes left 36 people injured.
But there are limits to the police response.
“We have not deployed such a huge number of people, which would lead to a situation of aggravation,” Naeem Akhtar, president of the Kashmiri People’s Conference — a separatist organization — told CNN. “Although the Kashmiris rejoiced after the victory of the Pakistani team, the government does not want to let that happen in public.”
The India vs. Pakistan cricket rivalry has been around for 50 years, and this weekend’s showdown brought out the most fans yet. As fans packed up at 3 a.m. local time in order to get a good vantage point to watch the match on the big screen, Pakistani government forces began blocking all internet connections in the area.
Indian police, on the other hand, took a tougher stance.
A senior police officer said the scene in Sopore, where part of the match was held, was particularly tense. “The situation could have become worse if some inflammatory slogans or acts were being chanted,” the officer told AFP.
Indian television networks aired a live broadcast of the match with subtitles in English and Urdu — the primary language spoken in the disputed territory of Kashmir — ensuring that even cricket-fan Indians would understand what was going on.
The following day, crowds continued to gather in the streets of Sopore to cheer on the visitors. A group of supporters — some of whom had come from as far as Karachi and Gilgit-Baltistan — tried to reach J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s residence, but were blocked by police.
Such efforts raise the question of why the authorities are not seizing on the opportunity to normalize relations in the region.