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Twin security fears on Pak pitch

Feb. 15: Pakistan has responded to Indian concerns about security in Karachi and Peshawar, hinting that the period of stay of the team in these two cities could be curtailed.

“We will try to accommodate the Indian concerns in the itinerary. But Peshawar and Karachi will remain as venues,” Sami-ul Hassan, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)’s media manager, said.

Indians are worried about security in Karachi because of the frequent sectarian violence there. Peshawar is too close for comfort to the border with Afghanistan where al Qaida and Taliban remnants are still believed to be active.

It’s not the Indian team alone, but other touring sides, too, have refused to play at these grounds.

Hassan said the three-member Indian team that is visiting Pakistan now to make a security assessment has not objected to matches being hosted in Karachi and Peshawar. But because of its concern over the period of time the cricketers would be expected to spend there, the PCB might consider holding a one-dayer, instead of a Test match — as has been the tradition — in Karachi.

Until yesterday, it had looked like the tour might not even take place after security fears were voiced by the home ministry of .K. Advani. After a meeting in the Prime Minister’s house on Saturday, the tour was cleared, but given the backdrop, it would not be out of line to expect Pakistan to do everything it can to calm fluttering Indian hearts before the country goes to the polls.

Hassan said the Indian team would play three Tests and five one-day internationals as decided and there was no question of shortening the tour, though this has been cited as a possibility in India.

The visiting Indian delegation and PCB officials met in Lahore today. PCB chief Shaharyar Khan said a joint assessment of all issues relating to the tour, including security, was made at the meeting. The Indian team returns home tomorrow.

“As the tour was formally cleared by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee yesterday, the PCB foresees no hurdles and expects the BCCI to finalise the entire programme by February 19,” Shaharyar said.

The Indian team is expected to arrive on March 4 in Lahore.

In a measure of how seriously Pakistan is taking the security concern, Abdul Rauf Chowdhary, the additional home secretary, was present at the meeting.

Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has asked the governors and chief ministers of the provinces where the matches will be held to head the ad hoc committees to oversee the security and administrative arrangements for the Indian team.

The government has also decided to issue visas liberally to Indian fans.

In Ahmedabad, Advani said: “I met the team members in Lucknow yesterday and they were very happy that they have got a chance to tour Pakistan and prove their prowess.”

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