Palembang: The diplomatic hostilities make India-Pakistan peace seem like a pipe dream but it does turn into a reality at sporting events like the ongoing Asian Games where athletes from the two countries mingle freely and even cheer for each other. The Pakistani tennis contingent was there to back Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan during the men’s doubles semifinals at the Jakabaring Tennis Center. The top-seeded Indian pair went on to win the gold medal on Friday.
Pakistani players were seen making a beeline for a picture with Bopanna, who reached a Grand Slam final with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi back in 2010. The Bopanna-Qureshi pair used to called the ‘Peace Express’ for never missing a chance to stress on the need for peace between the two nations. “I have played some of the best tennis of my life in India, made great friends there, especially Delhi. I remain in constant touch with them. Whenever I played in Delhi, it was like home away from home,” Pakistan tennis veteran Aqil Khan, who won a host of ITF Futures titles in India between 2000 and 2010, told PTI.
“I have also been to Hyderabad, loved the food there. It is exactly what I eat in Karachi. Delhi is the place I miss the most. After matches at DLTA, we used to go out to eat in places like Green Park and South Ex. It was as if I was playing in my own city,” said the 38-year-old, whose last of the many memorable visits to India came during the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Khan is in the twilight of his long career but like him, the Pakistani youngsters, including Muhammad Abid and Muzammil Murtaza, would love to play in India “if they get the visa”.
The same warmth between the athletes of two countries was visible at the shooting range, where India has had a productive campaign so far. Pistol shooter Ghulam Mustafa Bashir, who qualified for the Rio Olympics, says it is only natural that they get along well with their Indian counterparts.
“There is instant connection with the Indians. We speak the same language so there is not even a language barrier which we might face with shooter of other countries. We are always friendly with each other,” the 31-year-old Bashir told PTI.
He often discusses his game with India pistol coach Jaspal Rana, a four-time gold medallist at the Asian Games. “We talk about shooting and we talk about other things also,” added Bashir, who is a marine in Pakistan Navy. But there are times, when one has to be careful, especially in the shooting fraternity.
“Most of the shooters in Pakistan come from the defence forces. We get along well but you have to maintain a distance. Otherwise, there are no issues. I remember going to Karachi once. We were treated very nicely,” said Rana.