Cricket, which is a passion in both India and Pakistan, is a platform where the two countries could engage each other at the levels of sportsmen, lovers of the game and the people. The tours of cricket teams in each other’s territory have even been political events. The invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to watch the World Cup semifinal between the two countries at Mohali on Wednesday is therefore welcome. Gilani has accepted the invitation, though Zardari may not accept it for reasons of protocol.
Two Pakistan presidents, Gen Zia-ul-Huq and Gen Prevez Musharraf, have visited India to witness India-Pakistan cricket matches but these visits cannot be said to have made any substantial impact on the relations between the two countries. Gilani’s visit and any talks he may have with Singh at Mohali may also not make any big difference. But in relations between countries gestures of good will and symbolic statements of friendship are also important. India-Pakistan relations have broken out of a logjam after the meeting in Thimphu between foreign secretaries last month. They are ready to engage themselves again. The home secretaries are meeting in Delhi from Monday to Wednesday as part of that process. The meeting between the heads of government on Wednesday is therefore timely and appropriate.
The top leadership of both countries has been politically weakened in the recent past for different reasons. So it will be too optimistic to think that the outcome of the Singh-Gilani meeting will be more exciting than the engagement between M S Dhoni and Shahid Afridi on the ground. But the presence of the two leaders at the venue will give a new dimension to the match and raise it from the level of a pure sporting event. It can place it in a bigger framework of confidence-building which the two countries direly need. It can also drive home the message that rivalry is not enmity. One team might lose and the other win, but both countries have the chance to emerge winners.