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Pakistan's President to Take Part in Cricket Diplomacy

  • Ayaz Gul

Pakistan says India has formally invited President Pervez Musharraf to watch a cricket match between the two countries in India.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani says President Pervez Musharraf has yet to decide when will he go to India.

"We have been contacted by the Indian government. We are looking at the schedule of the president and depending on the convenience of the president we will take a decision," he said.

India extended the invitation after President Musharraf expressed his desire to watch a cricket series between Pakistan and India.

Pakistan's cricket team is now touring India after a gap of six years. The tour is seen as another step toward building confidence between the two nations, whose people are devoted to the sport.

The nuclear-armed rival nations are engaged in a peace dialogue to settle outstanding disputes, including their conflict over the divided region of Kashmir.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jilani says a visit by President Musharraf would help further peace efforts.

"We feel that sporting contacts between countries do help improve atmosphere," he explained. "And specially, in the context of Indo-Pakistan it will certainly help improve the atmosphere. And we also feel that high level contacts no matter what the occasion may be provide further impetus to the normalization process."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday his country would welcome a visit by the Pakistani president and directed the Indian foreign ministry to prepare for such a visit.

Pakistani officials say for the moment there are no plans for Mr. Musharraf to hold any official meetings while in India.

This will be his second trip to India since taking power in military coup in 1999. President Musharraf, however, was born in India, and his family moved to Pakistan after the two countries were partitioned and granted independence from British rule in 1947.

Relentless tension over the disputed Kashmir region brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a fourth war two years ago.

But international diplomacy helped defuse those tensions and bilateral relations have rapidly improved. Both the countries have resumed full diplomatic ties and restored road and rail links.

India and Pakistan are also set to launch a bus service connecting their portions of Kashmir to help thousands of divided families see each other after more than five decades.