New Delhi: After a hiatus of six years, the Indian cricket team is likely to tour Pakistan next year.
The move comes two weeks after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistan counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch the cricket world cup semi-final played between the two countries in Mohali.
“The government has decided to resume cricket ties with Pakistan,” a government official said on condition of anonymity. “It is a political decision. Indian cricket team will tour Pakistan next year. Pakistani team would visit India after that.”
The last cricket series between India and Pakistan was held in 2007-08, when the Pakistani team had visited India.
According to a tour schedule prepared by the International Cricket Council, Pakistan should visit India for a three test and five one-day international series in March 2012. No team has toured Pakistan after an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on 3 March 2009.
India suspended diplomatic dialogue and has not played a series with Pakistan after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, where 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists had gunned down at least 166 people.
India blamed Pakistan and said the conspiracy was hatched in the neighbouring country.
Home minister P. Chidambaram held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik in June last year. Singh spoke with Gilani on the sidelines of a conference in Thimpu in April last year. Home and foreign secretaries, too, have held talks this year to revive relations between the two countries.
India’s principal opposition the Bharatiya Janata Party would like to keep cricket and politics separate, spokesman Prakash Javadekar said.
The Congress party, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance government, could not be immediately reached for comment.
G. Parathasarthy, a former ambassador to Pakistan, said cricket is not the best way to bridge the confidence gap between the two nations.
“I am astonished by the move,” he said. “India is risking lives of its cricketers by sending them to Pakistan. This comes at a time when no other country is sending their teams to Pakistan.”
Kalim Bahadur, a former professor of South Asian studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, was more welcoming of the government initiative.
“This is a positive step, like the gesture by India to invite Gilani for the Mohali match,” he said. “The government of India wants to make a positive gesture towards Pakistan. But will India be able to go there and play is doubtful given the security situation in Pakistan is so delicate.”
“Team India’s going to Pakistan completely depends on BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) as the latter is not dictated by the government of India. Government cannot send a team on its own,” said Kadambari Murali, editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated India magazine. “But this is a good initiative...”
The Indian team’s schedule to Pakistan depends on BCCI, said the government official cited earlier. “For this year, the Indian team calender is full,” he said. “They will visit Pakistan next year, depending on how BCCI plans.”
“The 26/11 Mumbai attack issue will not impede India-Pakistan cricket ties,” the official said. “But in case of a terror strike, the decision could be reversed.”
BCCI has not received any information from the government in this regard, chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty said.
Foreign minister S.M. Krishna, too, on Wednesday indicated dialogue and cricket between the two nations will continue.
“Peace talks will go on, cricket matches will go on, and simultaneously, our relentless efforts will continue to bring to justice all those responsible for the heinous crime against India in Mumbai,” Krishna said.
PTI and Mint’s Gouri Shah in Mumbai contributed to this story.