Take note, India, as Asia’s final big-time cricketing powerhouse, might be a leader for the region. But when it comes to punching well above its weight in international perception, you’re fading fast. Over the past five years, not since you crashed out of the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, have you been held up as leaders in the global image contest with the most to lose. A recent loss by India to a lesser-known team from Afghanistan – a country rated by some as the least popular among the many competing in the event – has brought the disaster to a head. In fact, our global reputation-tracker QuantForeign has noticed a tipping point towards becoming the least-well liked in just six of the past 15 years, and as a war-ravaged nation with rising social inequality, it’s poised to top the list.
The decision by you – and Pakistan, which has admitted it is fielding an Afghan team as part of its own proud tradition – to pick up Afghan teams is a remarkable example of tolerance, looking backwards and inspiring others, at a time when our Middle East-obsessed media, and global scholars, are obsessed with our bullheaded and politicized reactions to current events. But in passing on the Afghans, you’ve developed a reputation in the West as a league of enablers for all manner of extremism.
You say it’s all a far-flung game, but the fact that the Mumbai terror attack that killed 164 people took place in 2008 (two months after you decided to let Afghanistan into the World Cup) shows you have known about extremist forces such as ISIS since we know it is here. You blamed our own bad actions for our rough patch, when we’ve actually been part of that huge freefall. You apologized the next year for allowing the likes of Hafiz Saeed, the “international terrorist”, or those tied to the 2008 Mumbai attack, to be allowed back into India. You feel it’s our relationship with Pakistan – the country you once tabled billions of dollars in trade to – that is to blame for our nation’s recent woes. This has become India’s famous “strategic deficiency”.
You’ve opted not to end the military junta in Pakistan, and we, it is widely agreed, have outsourced our economic woes to you. You’ve bought Kashmir out of Pakistani hands. You gave in to terrorism. You are presently taking a hit in the Indo-Pak standoff across the border – the same border that your grandfather played a key role in creating. Our government recently unveiled an action plan to tackle extremism – like the FBI’s Mental Health Parity Act of 1998 – but still only identified 61 targets (even if we include efforts to get teachers to report bullying). Why am I letting this man laugh at us? You have an eroding reputation in the West.