India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have made the quarter-finals of the ICC World Cup 2015 in Australia and New Zealand. This is the first time that the maximum number of members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) have made the last eight of the quadrennial tournament.
The previous time this had happened was in 1996 when India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka had made the quarters.
Before the beginning of the World Cup, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reached out to heads of all other Saarc nations (the above four plus Afghanistan) playing in the World Cup and wished them luck as an initiative to strive for South Asian harmony.
Indian PM had hoped that cricket connects South Asian region in WC
Modi had posted a series of tweets on this topic before the World Cup kicked off on February 14. In one of them, he said: "Cricket connects people in our region & promotes goodwill. Hope players from SAARC region play with passion & bring laurels to the region."
Saarc nations eclipsed Europeans in the World Cup: A big feat
Modi's idea of regional harmony through cricket diplomacy has certainly paid off till this point of time. The Saarc sides have eclipsed Europeans in the tournament (Afghanistan though could not make the quarters still they earned their first win in the World Cup over Scotland, Bangladesh shattered England's hope while Pakistan ended Ireland's run) and the four Saarc sides that have made the last eight of the tournament have made an emphatic point before the cricketing world.
Can the same be translated into an impact in other fields like regional cooperation as well?
The Saarc is one of the least-performing regional groupings in the world despite having a huge potential. The rivalry between India and Pakistan has hindered the Saarc's progress over the years. Indian PM Modi invited the heads of the other Saarc nations to his swearing-in ceremony in May last year and took interest in touring countries like Nepal and Bhutan soon after taking charge of the office.
In November, he also took a strong initiative to push the Saarc forward during its summit but Pakistan had put up obstacles there again to block the plans.
In such a situation, cricket perhaps remained the only avenue to help the Saarc nations come closer and work together for a united goal.
How can the success in the cricket World Cup help the Saarc?
A confidence-boosting success
First, the unprecedented success of four Saarc teams reaching the quarter-finals of a big event like the World Cup will certainly boost the confidence of the regional forum.
The way the Saarc nations have eclipsed Europe in the tournament and that too in alien conditions like Australia and New Zealand, it is bound to make teams like Bangladesh more confident. Can they translate this success into a platform for greater harmony with neighbours in South Asia?
One side's success will erase the rigid borders
Second, the success stretches beyond the rigid borders of South Asia. Four Saarc nations in the World Cup quarter finals mean the common cricket lovers of South Asia have more option to support.
Saarc never had an external challenge but the WC success should cement the bond
Even if a Bangladesh or Sri Lanka lose in the quarters, the supporters of those countries will back sides like India or Pakistan so that the trophy ultimately comes to the sub-continent. In the 1992 World Cup, when Pakistan were the only Asian hope against the white powers, even supporters in India backed the arch-rivals. This can do a world of good to trans-nationalism which in turn can boost South Asian harmony.
If a Saarc nation lifts the trophy, it should be celebrated as a victory of South Asia
Third, if one of the Saarc nations can finally go on to win the trophy, the governments of each of the members should make it a point that the success is celebrated across the region.
Saarc lacks an external challenge to cement its bond unlike in Southeast Asia or South America, but instances like World Cup victory in the most challenging part of the world can be utilised to generate the much-needed encouragement to bring the minds of the fragmented region and its people together.