Pakistan accepts India's cricket invite

Prime minister Gilani says he will travel to Mohali to watch a World Cup semifinal between the two nations.

    Manmohan Singh, India's PM, on left, has pushed strongly for "greater engagement" with Pakistan [AFP] 

    Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistan prime minister, has said he will travel to India to watch a World Cup cricket semifinal between the two nations.

    "Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had accepted the invitation of his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, to watch the match," a government statement said on Sunday.

    The Indian prime minister on Friday invited Gilani and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to watch the match to be played in the northern Indian town of Mohali on Wednesday.

    "There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket, that will be a victory for sport," Singh wrote in a letter to Asif Ali Zardari.

    "It gives me great pleasure to invite you to visit Mohali and join me and the millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match."

    'Cricket diplomacy'

    Media in both countries hailed the decision of the Indian prime minister and dubbed it "cricket diplomacy".

    Singh has pushed strongly for "greater engagement" with Pakistan to address issues of mutual concern.

    His invitation comes as ties between the countries are still tense following an attack by a Pakistan-based group on Mumbai in 2008 that left 166 people dead.

    Wednesday's match is the first time the two nations have played each other since the attack.

    "Cricket diplomacy" between the two countries is not new. In 2005, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president then, travelled to India to watch a match and the trip effectively turned into a summit. Zia ul-Haq, another former Pakistani president, paid a similar visit in 1987.

    After Thursday's win over defending champions Australia, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India captain, declared Pakistan the ultimate opponents.

    "India versus Pakistan in the semi-finals -- it doesn't get better," he said, while Shahid Afridi, the Pakistani captain, expressed hope the match "could improve relations".

    Meanwhile, officials at the Punjab Cricket Association have said tickets for the 30,000-capicity stadium have been sold out. Despite that fans continued to queue at the ground on Saturday.

    Officials are anxious to avoid a repeat of incidents in 2005 when some Pakistan fans in India disappeared only to be arrested for alleged involvement in terror activities or overstaying their visa.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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