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Politics on pitch, Pak ball in Delhi court

Feb. 6: Politics has again invaded the India-Pakistan cricket pitch.

Pakistan today made it clear that “political reasons”, not security concerns, were behind its reluctance to play in Ahmedabad, one of the worst-hit places in Gujarat during the riots of 2002.

In India, too, the political leadership will now decide the future course of action.
As the first step, the Manmohan Singh government is expected to request Pakistan to reconsider the reservations about playing in Ahmedabad.

“The external affairs ministry will take up the matter with Pakistan’s foreign ministry and ask it to reconsider the decision,” a source said in Delhi. “The government said it is committed to providing full security and did not envisage any problem with the match being played in Ahmedabad,” he added.

Chennai, Pakistan’s favourite venue after its victorious team was treated to a rare standing ovation in 1999, is on the drawing board as an alternative venue.

The BCCI will meet on February 16 to finalise the schedule for Pakistan’s tour of India — the first in six years. The tour, slated to begin on February 25, involves three Tests and five one-dayers.

The Centre prefers sticking to the original plan because it feels that a Pakistan match in Gujarat will go a long way in sending the signal that the country has put the riots behind it.

Such compulsions are playing on Pakistan’s mind, too. “We do not want to do anything that will affect the goodwill generated by India’s tour of Pakistan last year. However, if we play in Gujarat, it will be construed by hardliners in our country as a gesture that condones the riots. We are helpless,” a Pakistani diplomatic source said.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan today indicated as much. “Yes, we have expressed our inability and our reservations are based on political reasons,” he told PTI in Karachi.

“Since our objections are politically based, we thought it better to completely ignore the centre (in Ahmedabad), instead of agreeing to play a shorter version of the game there,” the former diplomat said.

“India had security concerns and not political concerns about Peshawar and Karachi (in 2004). Therefore, it was mutually agreed that limited over internationals could be played at these centres.”

Jagmohan Dalmiya, the BCCI’s immediate past president, told The Telegraph that the board would be guided by what New Delhi says.

He pointed out that when security concerns had cropped up in the run-up to India’s tour of Pakistan last year, the board had taken the same stand and referred the matter to the Centre. “The government has to decide,” Dalmiya added.

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