Musharraf pushes cricket diplomacy

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has expressed interest in engaging in cricket diplomacy with India, as the sporting and political rivals prepare for a much-anticipated cricket test match next week.

    The two countries have been sporting and political rivals

    Indian officials expect more than 8000 Pakistani fans to cross the border to watch the first test, and Musharraf told the Pakistan Observer newspaper he was also interested in taking in some of the tour of India, which will run to three five-day tests and six one-day games.
    "I love watching any sport. I would love to watch cricket," said Musharraf, a keen sportsman, but he added that the initiative would have to come from New Delhi.
    "I don't believe in going without an invitation anywhere. If there is an invitation, one would like to consider."
    A tour of Pakistan by India's cricket team last year was hailed as a phenomenal success in fostering good relations between countries that have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

    India won that test series. 

    Cricket balm
    A previous Pakistani military ruler, the late Zia al-Haq, also engaged in cricket diplomacy in 1987 when he flew to India to watch a match at a time of heightened bilateral tensions.

    Pakistan is hoping for a visit

    from India's PM Manmohan Singh

    "Sporting ties between the two countries help improve the overall atmosphere," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said in Islamabad. 

    Indian officials said they would issue more than 8000 visas to Pakistani fans so they could attend the first test, which starts on 8 March in Mohali in northern Punjab state, near the Pakistan border.

    An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said 4000 visas had been issued so far.
    Improved relations

    Indian railways will run special trains for visiting fans.

    "Sporting ties between the two countries help improve the overall atmosphere"

    Jalil Abbas Jilani
    Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman

    Musharraf has often said over recent months that he was ready to meet Indian leaders to accelerate a peace process the two countries began just over a year ago. 
    Pakistan has issued a standing invitation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit.
    Last month the governments agreed to start a bus service across a ceasefire line in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region at the centre of two of the wars between India and Pakistan.


    SOURCE: Agencies


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