Manmohan's initiative is a 'sixer' for peace: Pak media

Manmohan's initiative is a 'sixer' for peace: Pak media

Reports on the invitation extended yesterday by Singh to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani featured prominently on the front pages of all Pakistani dailies today. The News daily ran its report with the headline: "Aman ka Chakka - Singh invites Zardari, Gilani to watch semifinal".

The banner headline in the influential Dawn newspaper read "Singh invites Zardari, Gilani to watch high voltage match," while the headline in The Express Tribune was "India opens fresh bout of cricket diplomacy".

Most reports referred to the invitation as a positive development that would boost the resumption of the stalled peace process between the two countries. "If accepted, cricket diplomacy will provide a fillip to real time diplomacy, where the two countries are set to resume their bilateral dialogue when the Interior Secretaries meet just two days before their World Cup clash," the Dawn reported.

In its report, The Express Tribune said: "Analysts see the invitation as 'a smart diplomatic initiative through cricket' undertaken after the two countries resumed the dialogue process stalled in November 2008 when the Indian financial capital Mumbai was hit by terrorist attacks". Singh yesterday sent identical letters to Gilani and Zardari inviting the two to join him at Mohali on March 30.

"I propose to be at Mohali to watch the World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan on March 30. 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.

"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," he wrote. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said Pakistan welcomed the invitation and a decision would be made after Gilani returned to Islamabad from an official visit to Uzbekistan.

The World Cup match will be played two days after a meeting of the Home and Interior Secretaries of India and Pakistan in New Delhi that will mark the resumption of dialogue between the two sides. The Pakistani media also highlighted Prime Minister Singh's personal efforts to improve ties with Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, which took relations to a new low after it emerged that the assault was carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

"Mr Singh is highly respected in Pakistan for his personal contribution to resuming the peace process, which was suspended following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. "The two prime ministers successfully negotiated a peace document in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009 but their efforts had been scuttled because of strong opposition in India," the Dawn reported.

"They made another breakthrough in Thimphu (Bhutan) last year, setting in motion concerted efforts for the revival of suspended talks even though it took both sides almost a year to agree on resumption of a full spectrum of dialogue starting on March 28 in Delhi," it added. Cricket diplomacy between the two countries is not a new phenomenon.
Former military rulers Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf used cricket matches to improve bilateral relations.

Zia-ul-Haq travelled to India in 1987 to witness an India-Pakistan Test in Jaipur at his own initiative to defuse tensions at that time. Musharraf watched a one-day match between the two teams in New Delhi in 2005.