Cricketing ties to resume

Cricketing ties to resume

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik and other dignitaries during a dinner hosted in the honour of the visiting Prime Minister at PCA stadium in Mohali on Wednesday. PTI

Although before leaving for dinner at 7:30 pm, Singh and Gilani sat quietly through the match, at the table the two leaders agreed to strengthen confidence building measures, including cross-border trade and people-to-people contact. The talks were held in the backdrop of the home secretary-level deliberations in New Delhi on Tuesday.

At the dinner table, UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi sat between Gilani and Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik who, before the start of the match, had committed a faux pas by saying that he had warned his country’s cricket team against match fixing. Pakistan Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar took a seat next to Singh.

Tonight’s meeting and nascent talks are being billed as a modest restarting of the diplomatic dialogue that had stalled after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The discussions, however, were only as informal as Gilani’s semi-formal attire he wore as he landed in Chandigarh around noon on Wednesday. The contentious issue of Kashmir was not raked up during the talks.

A brief dialogue on terror, the Samjhauta Express blasts and the 26/11 Mumbai attack were broached on the sidelines of World Cup semifinal match. “The dialogue has been set in motion. PM Gilani has extended an invitation to the Indian PM to visit Pakistan,” Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said late Wednesday evening. She said, “just as we spoke of a Thimpu spirit last April, it would be appropriate to say today there is a Mohali spirit. Positive and encouraging spirit generated today. Cricket has a truly constructive spirit.”

Pointing out that the Mohali match had reaffirmed intentions to take forward the dialogue process, Rao said “the goal is to normalise relations. The prime minister reiterated the need for an atmosphere free of violence, a sentiment PM Gilani shared,” she said.

Less than an hour before start of the match, the first hand-shake between the two prime ministers was at the PCA entrance. Both leaders then walked to the elevator to go to the second-floor level to watch the match together with their family members. Returning to watch the match after dinner, Gilani and Singh applauded India’s impressive victory over Pakistan.

Secretary-level talks

Rao said a wide range of issues were discussed and it was decided to hold commerce secretary-level dialogue in April, followed by talks at the defence secretary-level sometime around the middle of this year. “The foreign secretary-level talks will be held thereafter,” she said.

After landing at the Chandigarh airport, Yousuf Gilani, who was accompanied by wife Fauzia, went straight to Taj Hotel where Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh’s sister and daughter waited to meet him to renew their appeal for Singh's release.

“As far as our relations are concerned, I am happy that our talks have resumed. The talks between the home secretaries were conducted in a positive manner. I appreciate that,” Gilani said before boarding the Pakistan Air Force flight to Mohali.

Sonai, Rahul mingle

Mother-son duo Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were nowhere in the corporate boxes. Instead, they were seen sitting in the terrace stands with the general public. With a couple of balls remaining, as India bowled out Pakistan to chinch a place in the finals, Sonia Gandhi was the most ecstatic, clapping and smiling all the way. So was Rahul Gandhi.

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