Dr. Singh’s cricket diplomacy
In inviting Pakistan's civilian leaders to witness the World Cup cricket semifinal at Mohali next week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rolled the dice again. Much like his predecessor and the BJP leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Dr. Singh is not willing to give up on Pakistan.
Whether the PM's initiative is successful or not, the opportunity that the India-Pak world cup semifinal presented was too good to be missed. That the match was taking place in the Punjab--which arguably might hold the key to eventual Indo-Pak reconciliation-- added a very special dimension to the occasion.
Cricket diplomacy is now very much a part of Indo-Pak diplomatic tradition. In 1987, Gen. Zia ul Haque invited himself to witness a cricket match in India as part of his effort to defuse tensions following a military confrontation. Gen. Musharraf did much the same in April 2005, when he wrangled an invitation from Dr. Singh to witness an Indo-Pak cricket match in Delhi. The talks during that visit produced the basis for a serious bilateral negotiation on resolving the dispute over Jammu & Kashmir.
This time it is India's turn at cricket diplomacy. Dr. Singh today wrote separate but identical letters to Pak President Asif Ali Zardari and the Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani inviting them to join him at Mohali on March 30.
"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," Dr. Singh told Zardari and Gilani.
For Vajpayee, persistence paid off. Will Dr. Singh will be lucky this time?
Recall Vajpayee's invitation to Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2001 to visit Delhi and Agra to renew the dialogue between the two nations that was stalled in the wake of the Kargil war in the summer of 1999.