Thatscricket - ODI Series - India~~s tour of Pakistan- Cricketers will have to double up as diplomats

Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2004, 19:55 [IST]
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Islamabad:Pakistani and Indian cricketers will have to double as diplomats when India arrive for the first play in 15 years, as both sides hope the competition will aid the ongoing peace moves.

The much-anticipated battle between the South Asian powers has whipped up a frenzied mix of sport and nationalism.

But leaders in the two countries, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947, have called for calm amid the rising excitement.

"Victory and defeat is a secondary matter; what is most important is that cricket makes a contribution to fostering peace and friendship," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said.

The Indians, led by captain Sourav Ganguly, will play five One-day matches and three Tests against the Pakistani squad led by captain Inzamamul Haq during the tour, due to begin on March 10.

Security concerns and pre-election politics in India clouded the tour at one stage, but Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee finally gave the go-ahead.

Encounters on the cricket and hockey fields between the two countries have always reflected their political animosities, but the climate has dramatically changed after mutual confidence-building measures in recent months.

"This will just be a game of cricket; they are not going into war," Ahmad said, underlining the expected diplomatic gains for peace movement between the two countries.

"I am confident the event will boost the unfolding normalization process. The cricket diplomacy will no doubt pay good results in the quest for a new era of peace in relations," the Minister said.

The Government has meticulously set the stage, making comprehensive "foolproof" security arrangements in consultation with a four-member Indian delegation that visited Pakistan recently.

A liberalized visa policy has been adopted to enable several thousand Indian fans to watch the matches, many of them expected to avail of the restored bus and air links between the two countries.

"This series must go ahead. It must go ahead because the objective of this series is to restore a degree of normalization to India-Pakistani relations," said Najam Sethi, political analyst and editor of a leading political magazine.

"If it succeeds in building confidence and trust and goes without mishap, that will be really wonderful," he said.

"The objective is to promote normalization and we hope there will be no hitches, and if any problem arises it will be overcome by the two countries to keep the peace process on track."

Another analyst, Mohammad Afzal Niazi, said cricket diplomacy would certainly have an impact but much more would be needed to turn a new leaf in relations.

"It will certainly create an atmosphere for peace but the real test will come when the diplomats get together in May or June," Niazi said.

Pakistan and India agreed last month to a timeframe and schedule for a composite dialogue to discuss a host of disputes topped by the issue of Kashmir, the Himalayan divided between the two and claimed by both.

"Cricket fans should hope that those talks should go well otherwise they could once again face a long drought of India-Pakistan cricket," Niazi said.

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