India, Pakistan PMs meet at cricket match

Updated: 2011-03-31 07:33

(China Daily)

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MOHALI, India - The prime ministers of India and Pakistan, mixing business with pleasure, joined tens of thousands of cricket fans in a northern Indian stadium on Wednesday to watch a key match between their nations.

India, Pakistan PMs meet at cricket match
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right) and Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani stand near cricket players ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup semifinal match between their respective countries in Mohali, India, on Wednesday. [Photo/Agencies] 

Greeting the players on the pitch, India's Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's Yusuf Raza Gilani shook hands first with the visiting Pakistani team. They then switched positions, with Gilani and then Singh shaking hands with the Indian players before the two retreated to their seats in a private box.

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Their attendance at the World Cup semifinal coincides with a resumption in talks toward restoring trust between the nuclear-armed neighbors, who for decades have viewed one another as major threats to their national security.

Gilani said earlier on Wednesday he hoped his visit would improve relations and looked forward to watching an exciting match.

He urged citizens in the two countries to enjoy the performances of both teams - an attempt to mitigate the inevitable disappointment one side will feel in losing the match.

"I am going there to show solidarity with our team, with their team and to promote cricket," Gilani told reporters at a military base outside Islamabad before flying to India along with a 20-member delegation that included many senior ministers.

The prime ministers' meeting was expected to give both men a chance to speak candidly on a range of tense issues without the pressure of public expectations, as all eyes across South Asia were focused on Wednesday's cricket clash.

Singh was also to host a dinner for Gilani on the sidelines of the match in Mohali, in the border state of Punjab.

It is Gilani's first visit to India as prime minister, and echoes a similar effort at so-called cricket diplomacy in 2005 when Pervez Musharraf, then president, joined Singh for a match in New Delhi.

Little was expected from Wednesday's meeting, however, as the nations remain in staunch disagreement over key issues, including the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Nevertheless, the meeting marks a tentative return of good will, after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks blamed on Pakistan-based militants led to a suspension in peace talks.

On Tuesday, officials from both sides agreed to a range of small measures to improve trust and cooperation in fighting terrorism, including setting up a hotline between their home secretaries and allowing Indian authorities to visit Pakistan for their investigation into the Mumbai attacks.

Indian newspapers said Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, would also attend the cricket match - a trip that would underline the governing party's support for the renewal of dialogue with Pakistan. The party refused to confirm the reports for security reasons.

Associated Press


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