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Asia

India, Pakistan snuggle up for cricket

Pakistan's Prime Minister accepts invitation from his Indian counterpart to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal on Wednesday in India. Many hope the cricket diplomacy will help improve strained ties.

Pakistan will play against India in the second semi-final of The ICC Cricket World Cup

Pakistan will play against India in the second semi-final of The ICC Cricket World Cup

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will travel to India to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal on Wednesday following an invitation from his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh. Many hope that cricket diplomacy can help improve the strained ties between the nuclear rivals.

Pakistan team members take a break from training at the stadium in Mohali

Pakistan team members take a break from training at the stadium in Mohali

On Monday and Tuesday, India and Pakistan are also holding home secretary-level talks in New Delhi, which, according to first reports, seem to be making progress.

"This is the start of the dialogue between the two countries," says Pakistan's high commissioner to India, Shahid Malik. "This actually will set the tone for further meetings and I am sure both the home secretary talks, followed immediately by the cricketing encounter, they all bode well for our bilateral relations."

Cricket diplomacy

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invitation to his counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani is a repeat of similar cricket diplomacy that took place twice before.

In 1987, General Zia ul-Haq visited Jaipur on former Rajiv Gandhi's invitation. Almost two decades later, in 2005, then president, Pervez Musharraf, flew to New Delhi to watch a cricket match with Manmohan Singh.

A year before that, the Indian cricket team went to Pakistan for the first full tour after more than a decade. It was called the "Friendship Series."

India and Pakistan have not played cricket against each other since the 2008 Mumbai attacks

India and Pakistan have not played cricket against each other since the 2008 Mumbai attacks

"I won’t belittle the role diplomacy has played in bringing the two countries together," says Shahid Malik, adding that an India-Pakistan cricket match is good for both countries.

India and Pakistan have not played cricket against each other since 10 Pakistani terrorists sneaked into Mumbai in November 2008 and slaughtered 166 people, causing serious tensions between the neighbors.

Not everyone is confident that cricket will prove to be the catalyst in thawing out India-Pakistan ties, though.

'Tried, tested, tired'

"The problem is that we tried it, tested it and tired of it. It has been happening for a very long time. I know when the 2 nations play, the passions are inflamed actually," says Kirti Azad, a former cricketer and now an MP from the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

Azad, who was also part of India's 1983 World Cup winning squad remembers how his house was stoned, "when we lost a game against Pakistan in 1986, when the last ball was hit for a six by Javed Miandad...And the latest I remember, Mohammed Kaif's house was (also) stoned. Cricket is very good; the 2 countries play but how does it help diplomatically?"

Sushant Sareen, an expert on South Asian affairs, also emphasizes that hard-nosed diplomacy is still needed. "Can cricket replace diplomacy? I am not such a romantic to actually subscribe to that."

Security is tight at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali ahead of the India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final on March 30

Security is tight at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium ahead of the India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final

There is "no substitute for good quiet diplomacy" and trying to sort out your problems. "But to expect this will replace diplomacy - I think that’s not quite going to be the case," she adds.

With a galaxy of VIPs descending to witness the high-voltage game, the northern town of Mohali in Punjab has turned into a fortress. Anti-aircraft guns have been installed and Mohali has been declared a no-fly zone. No matter who wins in Wednesday's semifinal, this encounter is going to make history.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning

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