Rejecting Pakistan's suspicions about New Delhi's hand in the absence of Pakistani cricketers from the Indian Premier League, India on Thursday asked Pakistan to introspect on the "reasons" that have strained bilateral ties and clarified that 17 Pakistani players were given visas.
The renewed diplomatic slanging between India and Pakistan, this time over the world's richest cricket tournament, comes days before a likely meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at a conference on Afghanistan in London later this month.
As Pakistan escalated rhetoric over the perceived snub to Pakistani cricketers, Indain External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said, "(The) government has nothing to do with IPL, on selection of players and various exercises that are connected with it."
"So, Pakistan will have to draw a line between where government of India is connected and where government of India is an actor," he told reporters when asked about the strong words used by Pakistani leaders linking New Delhi to the alleged exclusion of Pakistani cricketers by IPL team owners.
Krishna was responding to a question on Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik's remarks that the manner in which the Pakistani players were "insulted" showed that India was not serious about the peace process.
"Blaming the government for the absence of Pakistani players from the next edition of IPL is unfortunate," the external affairs ministry said in a statement in New Delhi.
"The participation or absence of Pakistani cricketers in a commercial event of the nature of IPL is, thus, a matter not within the purview of the government," it said.
"Pakistan should introspect on the reasons which have put a strain on relations between India and Pakistan, and have adversely impacted on peace, stability and prosperity in the region," the ministry said, a veiled reminder to Islamabad about the urgent need to act against the terrorists linked to the Mumbai mayhem.
The government also rejected reports about Pakistani players not getting Indian visas. "Such apprehension is completely misplaced," the ministry said.
The ministry clarified that 17 Pakistani cricketers were issued requisite Indian visas at very short notice in December 2009 and January this year to participate in IPL 2010.
"Two visas were issued in Islamabad, while three were issued in Wellington (New Zealand) and twelve in Sydney (Australia), where the concerned Pakistani cricketers had applied while touring New Zealand and Australia, respectively," the ministry said.
Based on a request from the Pakistan Cricket Board to High Commission of India in Islamabad, the ministry said it facilitated necessary clearances from other ministries in India.
The latest spat has further weakened the prospects of any resumption of bilateral dialogue that stalled after the 20-2008 Mumbai attacks.
The Indian government's clarification came a day after Pakistan's National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza announced in the National Assembly the decision not to send a parliamentary delegation to India to protest the "treatment meted out" to the country's cricketers in the IPL tournament.
Furious over the surprise rejection of Pakistani cricketers, Malik told some TV channels in Pakistan: "India or any other country that does not give respect to Pakistan will be treated the same way by us."
"If there is a desire to improve Indo-Pakistan friendship, respect should be given to Pakistani sportspersons," Malik said.
A sense of shock and outrage gripped Twenty20 champions Pakistan after none of the country's 11 players, including Shahid Afridi who had played for Deccan Chargers in the first season, were signed up during the IPL auction on Tuesday. The IPL matches have a huge fan following in cricket-crazy Pakistan.
Effigies of IPL chief Lalit Modi were burnt on streets of Pakistan.
"The way India behaved with us is highly condemnable. We will give a befitting reply. When there is a question of Pakistan's pride, we all are united," said Pakistan Sports Minister Ijaz Jakhrani.
Cricketers from Pakistan had participated in the first edition of IPL in 2008 but not in the second edition in 2009, which was held in South Africa.
In the past, both sides have resorted to cricket diplomacy in times of diplomatic tensions and to boost people-to-people contacts.