Shaharyar meets Natwar, breakthrough likely

Published: Thursday, February 17, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Islamabad:Pakistan's cricket chief met Indian foreign minister Natwar Singh in a bid to sort out a dispute over venues that could scupper the first tour by Pakistan across the border in six years.

"It was a friendly meeting and Mr Singh has assured us that he will convey the talk to Board of Control for Cricket for India (BCCI)," Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Shaharyar Khan said after the breakfast meeting on Thursday.

Singh was in Islamabad for peace talks and on Wednesday he agreed a historic deal with Pakistan's foreign minister to start a bus service between the two countries' sectors of divided Kashmir.

But he has now turned his attention to the row over Pakistan's refusal to play a Test in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, where more than 2,000 mainly Muslim people were killed in riots some three years ago.

With cricket closely linked to politics in South Asia, Pakistan's decision -- purportedly on security grounds -- has delayed the announcement of the tour schedule and threatened to spark a diplomatic spat.

But Singh was "specific in saying that sports and politics should be kept apart and said the question of the venues should not be decided by the governments but by the two Boards," Khan said.

The PCB chairman said the Indian foreign minister agreed that a postponement of the tour should not be an option as both countries are willing to play.

Khan also denied reports that Pakistan had agreed to play a One-day match instead of the proposed Test.

"Our stance on not playing in Ahmedabad is based on security. Reports that the government has cleared Ahmedabad or we are ready to play a One-day match there are baseless," he said.

He added that Pakistan had given Mumbai as an alternative for Ahmedabad.

A BCCI working meeting is being held in India which is likely to announce a final tour itinerary later on Thursday.

Pakistan, who are due to arrive in New Delhi around February 25, will play three Tests and five One-day Internationals on their first full tour of India since 1999.

Khan said he had also talked to former BCCI chairman Jagmohan Dalmiya and told him that the PCB's request to swap Ahmedabad as the Test venue has not yet been replied to.

"It's hypothetical to say what the next step will be. Once we get a counterproposal from the BCCI on Ahmedabad we will take the next step," he said.

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