PM revives cricket diplomacy

And guess whom Singh has invited to join him and his wife in Mohali for the World Cup semifinal—Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.

Singh on Friday revived India-Pakistan cricket diplomacy, when he wrote to Zardari and Gilani inviting both as well as the latter’s wife Fauzia Gilani to come to India and join him and the millions of cricket fans of the subcontinent to watch the match.
And, according to the sources, the Pakistani Foreign Office indicated that Gilani might accept the invitation from his counterpart in India.

“I propose to be at Mohali to watch the World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan. 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 and your gracious wife to visit Mohali and join me, my wife and the millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match,” Singh wrote to Gilani.

He wrote a similar letter to Zardari, too. Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq had introduced cricket diplomacy between India and Pakistan. He had invited the Indian Test team to a tour to Pakistan in 1978. Nine years later, Zia had taken his cricket-for-peace campaign to a new height when he had come to India watch a match between the two countries’ teams at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur along with the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The Team India had been led by Kapil Dev and the Pakistani side by Imran Khan in the Test, which had resulted in a draw.

Zia had formal bilateral talks with Gandhi in New Delhi after watching the second day’s match.

In 2005, the then Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf had tried to revive cricket as a tool for diplomacy between the two neighbours. He had come to watch a Test match between India and Pakistan in Delhi and later also had formal parleys with Singh.

Singh’s invitation to Zardari and Gilani for the cricket match came just ahead of the Home Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan, scheduled for  Monday and Tuesday.

The talks between Home Secretary G K Pillai and his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhary Qamar Zaman will mark the formal re-launch of the dialogue between the two countries,  almost two-and-a-half years after New Delhi had suspended its Composite Dialogue with Islamabad in the wake of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.

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