In the past, there is evidence of the use of sports for diplomatic reasons, and we can all recall the so-called ping pong diplomacy between the USA and China at the time the two countries established diplomatic relations in the early Seventies. Would it be possible to imagine a similar sports initiative here in Kathmandu to help reshape the future of South Asia?
Everybody knows that Pakistan loves cricket and the fact that the Prime Minister of the country is considered one of the best cricket players ever further reinforces the bond between this sport and the people of this nation.
It also happens that cricket is the most popular sport in South Asia, a real connector among people who share so many similarities from religion, history, way of life to shared culture but are often divided by politics.
In the past, there is evidence of the use of sports for diplomatic reasons, and we can all recall the socalled ping pong diplomacy between the USA and China at the time the two countries established diplomatic relations in the early Seventies.
Would it be possible to imagine a similar sports initiative here in Kathmandu to help reshape the future of South Asia? The Embassy of Pakistan might be of real help here.
Perhaps, not many might be aware that the Embassy of Pakistan to Nepal owns a cricket ground in the very heart of the capital, close to Chappal Karkhana, in the Maharajgunj area, where international events can be organised in close coordination among the member states of the region.
Could a small cricket event help re-connect the people of South Asia, and could this happen in Kathmandu? Here is the proposal: have the Pakistani Embassy ground host a cricket tournament where the embassies of each member country of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, with representation in Kathmandu would field teams with their own staff.
This could really become a ground breaking event to rekindle the spirit of a common belongingness in this South Asian region, and, adding a bit of spin to it, why not allow the SAARC Secretariat itself to field its own team? Obviously, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal would field a team of players as well.
While such initiative might not unblock the paralysed or, better, comatose state of regional affairs, it could inject a bit of energy and dynamism, helping diplomats, politicians and the common people as well to remind themselves that the ideal of a more united and integrated region might still prevail one day.
In such a tournament symbolically hosted by the Embassy of Pakistan in partnership with the Government of Nepal and the SAARC Secretariat, you could even have multiple segments.
For example, besides the format with the embassies' employees, you could have even a friendly game where the senior diplomats from all the embassies, including their Excellencies, play together against their juniors.
You can have a female tournament as well, and then you could even have a children's edition with all the children of the diplomats stationed here in Nepal playing together in mixed teams rather than according to their nationalities.
What better way to build cultural bridges and a new understanding among young children that one day might themselves steer not only their nation but also lead in the process of regional rapprochement? Ideally, the first edition could also see children enrolled in the public schools from the Valley of Kathmandu playing in a special segment of the initiative. It will not only be fun for them but also educative because they will learn the basic of the process of regional integration.
If we want to add to all this a bit of imagination and some real money, in the future, why not take the initiative to host junior national teams of each of the SAARC countries by including women's and wheelchair and blind cricket teams?
Apart from good public relations, this could be a very sensible and far-sighted gesture by the Pakistani Embassy here, a way to say "ok for one weekend, let's keep aside politics, let's have some fun and know each other, and let's show the way to our leaders."
I do not see why or how the Indian Embassy could reject such a friendly overture, and after all, if politics again gets in the mix, the SAARC Secretariat and the Nepal government could help broker a win-win solution for all.
Amid so much gloom and doom, we need a positive story from the region.
Moreover the fact that Nepal is nominally the Chair of SAARC could even give a boost to the idea.
After all, Kathmandu, which hosts the Secretariat of the SAARC, has a special role to play, almost a responsibility to "nudge" forward the process of regional re-connection.
Everybody would love it.
The Sri Lankans adore cricket and Bangladeshis, as we all know, have become the "tigers" of the sport.
Some nations like Afghanistan and the Maldives without representation here will miss this out unfortunately, though Bhutan, not too far from here, could send a representation from Thimpu to town.
After all, for the tiny kingdom, this would be a nice way to show that regional integration does matter.
Who knows maybe in 20 years' time from now, the SAARC Secretariat would resemble the offices of the European Commission in Brussels, and Kathmandu would have its own "South Asian" quarter, an area of the town hosting a much bigger array of regional institutions.
The people of the region would not only feel proud of their nations but would also feel bound by a common interest and a common idea of the future that can help prosper the region in an integrated manner.
A sense of regional belongingness would co-exist and thrive with a person's national identity.
It is almost unthinkable at the moment to imagine such a vision, but let's not allow the obstacles of today overshadow future possibilities, no matter how ambitious they are.
A friendly international cricket tournament could surely help not losing hope.
Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Opinions expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com
A version of this article appears in the print on September 8 2021, of The Himalayan Times.