DUBAI: While India and Pakistan’s fierce cricket rivalry has been on display at the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, some families in the country have divided loyalties.
The UAE is home to many cricket-loving cross-border couples from India and Pakistan who find it an easier option than living on the subcontinent, where Pakistanis have trouble getting visas for India, and vice versa.
Cross-border ties have been strained ever since the violence and upheaval that accompanied the creation of modern India and Pakistan at the end of British rule in August 1947.
The two have fought three wars since becoming independent, deepening mistrust and suspicion of each other, while thousands of families remain divided by the border.
Relations further soured after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and cross-border unions are now few and far between.
One rare high-profile example is Indian tennis player Sania Mirza and her husband, Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, who have a home in Dubai.
Indian national Kasim Vakkil and his wife Ghazala, from Pakistan, are also part of the UAE’s large South Asian community.
“My marriage would not have been possible if we were not living in UAE,” Kasim told AFP.
“Ghazala is from Lahore and I am from Mumbai but living at this neutral venue made our marriage possible.”
They came together through cricket when Kasim met his future father-in-law at a game between Pakistan and South Africa in the UAE, where Pakistan hosts games owing to the risk of terror attacks on home soil.
“I went to watch a match between Pakistan and South Africa in 2014 where I met Ghazala’s father which became the first step towards our proposal,” said Kasim, a former college-level fast bowler in Mumbai.
“I would not have imagined watching Pakistani cricketers like Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq and Mohammad Amir before my own eyes but it became possible since UAE became a neutral venue for the Pakistan team.”
– ‘Double joy’ –
Ghazala, who works in human resources, said watching India and Pakistan play made her think of home.
India thrashed Pakistan by eight wickets in the group stage and they are set to meet again in the Super Fours on Sunday.
“Now with India and Pakistan playing in UAE for the Asian title it has given us double joy as we get to see players from both the countries which gives us a nostalgic feeling,” said Ghazala.
India is playing in the Emirates for the first time since 2006, sparking huge interest among the country’s large number of Indian expats.
Club-level cricketer Naveed Siraj hails from Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir, while his wife, Nida, is from the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
“My uncle and aunty lived in Kuwait and Nida’s family were their neighbours so they initiated the talk for our marriage,” said Naveed.
“UAE is a neutral venue for all the expats from Pakistan and India so everyone lives here in comfort and enjoys everything including cricket.”
Dubai taxi driver Sunil Manohar, from India’s Karnataka state, married Nunda from Pakistan’s Sindh province after their families met in the UAE.
“UAE is a nice place for cross-border families,” he said. “In the past, a few couples were stuck in Pakistan because they were not getting an Indian visa.”