India invites President, PM to watch WC semis


India’s premier on Friday asked Pakistan’s president and prime minister to watch the two arch-rivals’ coming Cricket World Cup semi-final clash, in an invitation dubbed “cricket diplomacy.”

Indian Premier Manmohan Singh said he intended to attend the match, to be held in Mohali in northern India on Wednesday, and had invited President Asif Ali Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani to also watch the game.

It would be the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state or government for a decade.

“I propose to be at Mohali to watch the World Cup semi-final match,” said Singh in his invitation.

“There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket, that will be a victory for sport,” he wrote.

“It gives me great pleasure to invite you to visit Mohali and join me and the millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match.” Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua confirmed Islamabad had received the invitation but could not immediately say whether it would be accepted.

“It is a good gesture. We should take it in the spirit of sportsmanship,” Wajid Shamshul Hasan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner (Ambassador) to London, told Indian TV network CNN-IBN.

Noting “cricket happens to be a religion in both the countries,” Hasan said that whether the Pakistani leaders could accept the invitation “depends on their engagements.”

“This is a very positive step. It gives hope to (peace-loving) people,” prominent Pakistani lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir told CNN-IBN.

“We’re coming back to cricket diplomacy. The point is not to win the game but the fact that we are playing together,” she said. “The politicians have to take this forward in a meaningful way.”

India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram said on Friday that “every (security) precaution is being taken” to protect the matches.

On the cricket field, a knock-out World Cup match on Indian soil is the biggest fixture between the rivals for decades and excitement is already sky-high.

After Thursday’s win over defending champions Australia, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni declared Pakistan the ultimate opponents.

“India v Pakistan in the semi-finals — it doesn’t get better,” he said, while captain Shahid Afridi expressed hope the match “could improve relations”.