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Indian prime minister attempts 'cricket diplomacy' with invite

The Indian prime minister wants the Pakistani leaders to watch cricket World Cup game with him.
The Indian prime minister wants the Pakistani leaders to watch cricket World Cup game with him.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Indian prime minister has sent an invitation to Pakistani leaders to attend World Cup
  • Two rival countries meet in the semifinals of the tournament in Mohali on Wednesday
  • Pakistan prime minister and president have not confirmed if they are going to accept
  • It would be a Pakistani's first state visit to India for more than 10 years

(CNN) -- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sent letters of invite to both the Pakistani president and prime minister for them to attend the semifinal of the Cricket World Cup between the two nations next week.

The match between the two Asian rivals -- two of most passionately supported cricket nations in the world -- takes place in Mohali, India on March 30, and will provide the biggest clash of the 2011 event.

And, with tensions between the nations having been high in recent years, Prime Minister Singh has taken the opportunity to prove India and Pakistan can show unity on what is likely to be a passionate and dramatic occasion.

Wajid Shamshul Hasan, Pakistan's High Commissioner to London, confirmed the invitations to CNN, although he could not confirm whether prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani or president Asif Ali Zardari would be able to take up the Indian offer.

Hasan told CNN: "We consider it to be a step forward and a confidence building measure. Cricket is a religion in India and Pakistan, so there will be a lot of rising passion.

Cricket is a religion in India and Pakistan, so there will be a lot of rising passion
--Wajid Shamshul Hasan
RELATED TOPICS
  • Cricket
  • India
  • Pakistan
  • Manmohan Singh
  • Asif Ali Zardari

"Both nations love good cricket so it will be a tough contest. I'm hosting a lunch so that all of my office can watch the game, but I hope the team that plays the best cricket wins."

Wednesday's showdown will be the biggest fixture between the sporting and political rivals in recent years.

The countries have fought three wars since becoming independent from Britain in 1947 and tensions are high after the 2008 attacks carried out by Pakistani militants on the Indian city of Mumbai which killed 166 people.

It is not the first time that cricket has united the country's leaders -- in 2005 General Prevez Musharraf watched a match with Singh in Delhi and in 1987 General Zia-ul-Haq accepted Rajiv Gandhi's invitation to watch a game in Jaipur.

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

"This is a very positive step. It gives hope to people," prominent Pakistan lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangi told Indian television network IBN.

"We're coming back to cricket diplomacy. The point is not to win the game but the fact that we are playing together. There is excitement on both sides. The politicians have to take this forward in a meaningful way."