|Pakistan PM Gilani, centre, with India counterpart Singh, right, says he is happy bilateral talks have resumed [Reuters]
The prime ministers of India and Pakistan are meeting during a World Cup cricket match between the countries, hoping to use one of the world’s biggest sporting contests to rebuild relations shattered by the Mumbai attacks.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch the semi-final match in the northern Indian town of Mohali on Wednesday and to discuss reviving a peace process that was suspended following the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India.
“Keeping in view the sentiments of people of both countries, I’m going there to express solidarity with our team as well as their (Indian) team and to promote cricket,” Gilani said before flying to India for the game.
The Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people dead, heightened distrust and complicated Western efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, where the foes are engaged in a proxy war.
New Delhi blames Pakistani militants in collusion with elements of the government, including Pakistan’s spy agency for the Mumbai assault.
In a major confidence-building measure ahead of the match, Pakistan agreed on Tuesday to let Indian investigators travel there to probe the Mumbai attacks after a meeting of the countries’ respective home secretaries.
“As far as our relations are concerned, I’m happy our talks have resumed and interior (home) secretaries’ talks were held in a positive manner,” Gilani said.
“Dr. Manmohan Singh is very good politician. His approach is very positive and he wants to do something for peace and prosperity of this region so we both are committed that the environment should improve and we could serve people.”
Scores of Pakistanis crossed one of the world’s most militarised borders to travel to the stadium amid tight security and millions of Indians have taken the day off work for the game.
Indian army helicopters and anti-aircraft guns have imposed a no-fly zone over the Mohali stadium, a few hours’ drive east of the Pakistani border, to prevent an attack by militants.
Mohali and the neighbouring city of Chandigarh were patrolled by the local Punjab police with some 1,500 policemen being deployed around the team hotel alone.
Police conducted surprise midnight checks on hotels near the stadium to verify the identity of guests.
Cricket is just one of the many cultural, religious and ethnic ties the two countries share. But the nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars and countless border skirmishes since their 1947 independence from Britain, feeding an obsessive mistrust.
Both sides will hope to ride a wave of goodwill ahead of talks between their foreign ministers in July, but some were sceptical about “cricket diplomacy”, which was tried as long ago as 1987, without bringing lasting peace.
“It facilitates resolution, it doesn’t lead to resolution,” former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf told the Indian news channel Times Now.