In Mohali clash, Prime Minister bats for peace | delhi | Hindustan Times
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In Mohali clash, Prime Minister bats for peace

delhi Updated: Mar 26, 2011 01:15 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
Jayanth Jacob

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began the second innings of his cricket diplomacy on Friday, inviting Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal in Mohali on March 30.

The match will come a day after the home secretary-level talks between the two countries on March 28 and 29.

The Pakistani authorities will take a final decision on the trip to Mohali, offered as dessert after the talks, after Gilani's return from his Tashkent tour. Pakistan has never been able to defeat India in a World Cup match.

Singh said in his letter of invitation to Zardari: "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 invited Gilani and his "gracious wife" in a separate letter.

If either of the Pakistani leaders arrives here - which is very likely - it will be the first major summit-level bilateral event in either of the countries since the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. But summit-level meetings have taken place in third countries in the meanwhile.

Singh has so far indicated the need for "greater engagements" with Pakistan to address all issues of mutual concerns, including 26/11 investigations.

He has even overruled reservations from members of his own government, who wanted more tangible actions from Pakistan before proceeding on engagements.

Although cricket matches between the traditional rivals are known for acrimony, this is Singh's second attempt at cricket diplomacy. He had invited former Pakistan president Gen Pervez Musharraf to watch a one-day match in New Delhi in April 2005.

And the results proved to be positive.

Musharraf said in his book, In the Line of Fire, that the visit that had begun as an informal one, ended in a "very positive joint declaration".

Later, he said at a banquet hosted by Singh: "I come in an environment of harmony and cordiality... an environment of which, historically, Pakistan and India have never seen the kind before."

India-Pakistan cricket diplomacy goes back to 1987 when prime minister Rajiv Gandhi invited then Pakistan president Gen Zia-ul-Haq to watch an India-Pakistan Test match in Jaipur.

Gen Zia watched the second day's play of the Jaipur match as part of his "Cricket for Peace" initiative.

But nobody missed the rancor, as the match ended in a draw amid a controversy over the alleged deposition of sawdust on the wicket.