Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani will travel to India this week to watch a cricket match between the two South Asian rivals in what is dubbed as “cricket diplomacy”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday invited Gilani and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to watch the hotly contested World Cup semi-final to be played in Mohali on Wednesday.
Gilani, who was on a visit to Uzbekistan when the Indian invitation came, met with Zardari late on Saturday on his return.
“We have welcomed the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh and it has now been decided that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani will visit India to watch the match,” Zardari’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said on Sunday.
Analysts said the move would help improve ties between the rivals, but would not lead to any major breakthrough. Ties between the neighbours have been tense since the 2008 Mumbai attacks blamed on Pakistani-based militants.
The two countries have been slowly trying to repair relations and in February agreed to resume formal peace talks broken off in the wake of the Mumbai attack in which 166 people were killed.
“Cricket diplomacy” between the two countries is not new. Pakistan’s former president Mohammed Zia ul-Haq visited India in 1987 to watch a one-day match when the two nations’ armies were eyeball-to-eyeball on the border.
In 2005, then Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf travelled to India to watch a similar match but the trip effectively turned into a summit with Singh with both leaders agreeing to open up the militarised frontier dividing the disputed Kashmir region.
Analysts said Gilani’s visit would help improve the “environment” for the peace talks expected to start in July.
“I don’t expect any breakthrough during the visit because Manmohan Singh’s government is also facing domestic pressure but the talks between the two leaders will ease tensions and improve the environment for the talks,” commentator Hasan Askari Rizvi said.
Singh has pushed the peace process between the two nuclear-armed rivals despite scepticism inside his own government.
In 2009, the US Ambassador in New Delhi observed that Singh was isolated within his government in his “great belief” in talks with Pakistan, a WikiLeaks cable published in the media said.
On Monday, a Pakistani delegation led by the home secretary will arrive in New Delhi to lay the groundwork for July’s expected talks.
A senior Pakistani government official said matters relating to militancy, including the Mumbai attack, exchange of civilian prisoners and fishermen held by both countries, drug trafficking and easing of visa restrictions would be part of the agenda of the two-day talks.
“We are going to India with a very positive and open mind,” the official said.