The two-day visit of Mr Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan 27-28 June 2019, is a positive development in the Af-Pak ties. Accepting the invitation of the Prime Minister Imran Khan, Ghani met Prime Minister, Chief of Army Staff and leaders of the opposition parties as well in Islamabad. The visit of President Ghani came in a time when the seventh round of talks between the United States and the Taliban was to begin.

Furthermore, the fact that Kabul consistently accused Pakistan of interfering in its internal affairs in the past, the visit might help in clearing the suspicions of both sides against each other, as both countries agreed on not issuing hateful statements against each other. Probably, both sides have realised the futility of engaging in such exercise. Blaming each other for internal weaknesses and flaws have taken the two sides nowhere.

On the second day of his visit to Pakistan, Ghani visited Lahore. There he met the business community. Indeed, making efforts to establish new business ties other than the already business activity between the two sides mean that trade will enhance further between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is already a well-known fact that the higher the volume of trade between any two countries, the higher is the chances of peaceful coexistence.

Interestingly, Ghani’s visit to Pakistan coincided with a cricket match between the two countries in the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2019. It is exciting that on the horizon of the cricketing world, two teams in the region are emerging fast, i.e. Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It is hoped that no sooner than late they will be equivalent of the other two world-class cricket teams, India and Pakistan, from the region. Cricket is a widely loved sport by the population of the region. Therefore, cricket diplomacy can play a pivotal role in re-shaping the socio-eco-political conditions of the region.

PM Khan, while speaking in the presence of President Ghani, said ‘peace progress and prosperity’ are linked with a good neighbourhood. He rightly emphasised on the need of taking joint actions and concrete steps to take the region out of the vicious cycle of poverty. The Pakistani Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa seconded the ideas of PM Khan for the progress of the region. While speaking at National Defence University Islamabad, Bajwa maintained that no single country in the region would prosper in isolation, but the whole region would have to move forward. This means that both civil as well as military leadership has a single vision of progress for the countries neighbouring each other.

There are at least two avenues Pakistan and Afghanistan can benefit the most from – cricket in the form of BAPI (Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) and Energy Project TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India). The two ideas can prove the harbinger of a new era of cooperation among the countries in the region. On the one hand, cricket, a common sport of the peoples, has the potential to bring peoples of these countries together in the region. Whereas TAPI, on the other hand, is a gas pipeline project, starting from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan to Pakistan and ultimately ends in India. TAPI is an economic project and meant for meeting the energy needs of Pakistan and India, especially. The project can rekindle the closed industries of Pakistan. It can bring prosperity for all the stakeholders; however, its completion hinges on peace and stability in the region and harmonious relations among the countries. Thus all the concerned parties must work hard to make peace for achieving prosperity for their poor peoples.

It is unfortunate to note that regionalism holds enormous avenues of cooperation for countries in this region. However, countries in this region of the Asian continent are suspicious of each other aims and goals. For instance, in the SAARC region, India and Pakistan are two major countries. All other members cannot benefit from this forum in any manner due to the hostilities between Islamabad and New Delhi. Therefore, the two countries have to take serious, sincere and sustainable measures to create a peaceful atmosphere for the better future of the region.

Giving preference to the policy of confrontation eventually leads to wars. Indian PM Modi needs to keep this in mind the most. And wars bring nothing but disasters and miseries to the people. When nations can grow and prosper together, why do the leaders rely on war rhetoric to gain political goals? The countries in the South Asian region need to learn from the mistakes of the European nations. Repeating their mistakes will do no good to any one of us. Instead of repeating their mistakes, we need to learn from the Europe of post-World War II Europe that strived for greater integration.

Among all countries, the responsibility of ensuring long-lasting peace lies on the shoulders of India. India needs to review its harsh stance on Kashmir. New Delhi has no other option but to join Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders on a dialogue table to find a solution for Kashmir. If the Kashmir dispute is settled according to the wishes of Kashmiris is the key to regional peace and stability. However, the Kashmir issue should neither shut other avenues of cooperation nor should it hamper people to people contacts among the cricketing nations in the region.

What else can be a better option than cricket to establish people to people contacts among the citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh? Leaders like Ghani understands the value of cricket. He wants to give a chance to cricket diplomacy as he has expressed his desire to conduct cricket matches between the national teams of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Organising BAPI Cricket Cup will be the epitome of cricket diplomacy.

Regionalism is the new cool. And regionalism means interconnectedness of countries through reliance on each other’s resources to secure win-win situation for all partners. TAPI, IPI, CPEC, OBOR are platforms only to name few that can help every SAARC member in attaining peace and prosperity. It is now up to the leaders of the SAARC countries if they want to solve their disputes and reap the fruits that regionalism offers or to maintain decades-old territorial claims against each other. As said earlier, the responsibility in this regard lies on the shoulders of Indian leaders who are yet to answer PM Khan’s call for opening up a new chapter of peace and prosperity in the region.