Updated: March 20, 2021 1:40:54 pm
Until six years ago, Usman Chand routinely made weekend trips to India. And it never took more than a couple of hours for him to cross the border: hit the expressway from his hometown Sialkot to Wagah, drive for an hour and a half, park the car and simply walk over to the other side.
“I had a multi-entry visa,” Chand says. “My business partner would pick me up from Wagah Border on Thursday. We spent a day talking business, party over the weekend and on Sunday, I returned to Pakistan.”
This time, the shotgun shooter’s journey to New Delhi, for the shooting World Cup, was not so easy. First, there was an anxious wait for the visa. Then, the tricky issue of international travel in the middle of a pandemic. A road trip was not possible because he had to carry his weapons and ammunition for the competition. So, he hopped on to a flight to Dubai, spent 18 hours waiting for a connection before finally reaching the Indian capital.
“A flight from Lahore to Delhi is just 45 minutes. But that option is not available because of the current restrictions due to the pandemic,” Chand says. “But I am happy to be back.”
Chand is the only shooter from Pakistan to participate at this year’s World Cup. In February 2019, a three-member Pakistani shooting team was denied visas to compete in the Delhi World Cup, which almost led to India’s sporting isolation.
Charging India with violating the principles of ‘non-discrimination’, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended talks with the government and Indian Olympic Association for hosting sports events. The dialogue resumed only after the government gave a written assurance that sportspersons from Pakistan would not be stopped from coming to India.
Politically, too, things have changed. In February 2019, when the visas were denied, India had conducted airstrikes in Balakot in the aftermath of the Pulwama attacks. This time, the mood is different, with both countries issuing a joint statement last month to adhere to the ceasefire agreement signed in 2003. “The peace talks are good. The tension affects my business and sports both,” Chand smiles.
Business between neighbours
His relationship with India extends beyond sport. Shooting, in fact, is incidental. For years, his company has been supplying medical equipment to India.
In 1947, soon after Partition, Chand’s grandfather started two new businesses: the Punjab Music House and Chand Manufacturing Company. Over the years, Chand Manufacturing Company became their main business, manufacturing equipment used for cardiovascular and dental surgeries. Their main export destination? “India,” the 36-year-old says. “Seventy per cent of our business was done in India. But the market is closed right now.”
Chand is responsible for the production side of the company while his father, Rahat, takes care of the marketing side. And while taking care of the family business, Chand inherited something else from his grandfather as well: “The gun,” he says. “My grandfather and father were both hunters. I did some hunting, too, but this was more interesting. In hunting, you just have to shoot. But here, we have to show our skills.”
What began as a hobby soon became an obsession. In 2008, a friend took Chand to watch Pakistan’s National Championship. After that, he set up a shooting range near his home in Sialkot, practised endlessly and by 2012, became the country’s champion. “For the last five years, the gold medals for all events – skeet, trap and double trap – are with me,” Chand says, flaunting a picture on his mobile phone where all his gold medals are stacked up on the barrel of his rifle. “There are very few shotgun shooters in Pakistan because it is so expensive. My thing is self-funded.”
Dominant at home, Chand hasn’t quite made a mark in Asia or globally in his limited appearances – his best is a fifth-place finish at the 2018 Asian Games, where he says Indian shooters Angad Vir Bajwa and Mairaj Khan cheered for him. “I have known Angad for four-five years. We first met in Italy and hit it off since then. Mairaj, too, is a dear friend. If my brother is in the final, I have to support him,” Chand says. “At the 2018 Asian Games final, Angad and Mairaj were cheering for me. It’s a game after all.”
Chand recently received a scholarship from the IOC, which fuelled his ambition to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. “Ranking points earned in Delhi could help me with qualification. My target is to at least reach the final of my event,” Chand says.
But even though chances of his qualification hang in the balance, the Pakistani shooter is glad just to be back in India. “I have seen almost the whole country because of my business trips,” he says. “It’s good that there is a dialogue between India and Pakistan right now. It will help both, business and sport.”
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