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Five-day pad-up for Pervez

New Delhi/Islamabad, March 9: Last Friday when President Pervez Musharraf let it be known that he wanted to see one of the Pakistan-India matches, it was apparent that New Delhi had no option but to invite him.

So poor has been the Indian leadership's footwork that it has taken it five days to offer a straight bat to the President's googly by issuing an invitation.

After days of speculation, it was officially confirmed today that Musharraf was being invited at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's initiative.

Although Calcutta, where the second Test beginning on March 16 will be played, could be the choice, the venue has not been confirmed.

'The Prime Minister would welcome a visit by the President of Pakistan to witness one of the India-Pakistan cricket matches,' foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said. 'The governments of India and Pakistan are in touch with one another.'

In Islamabad, information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of a visit, saying the matter is still under consideration. 'But I can assure you that the thinking here is positive.'

Officials in the Indian high commission told The Telegraph that the two countries were working out the dates and the venue.

The visit will not be a state visit but a 'friendly visit', which means there will not be a summit between Musharraf and Singh.

'Every visit does not have to be a state visit,' said Sanjay Baru, the Prime Minister's media adviser.

In the spirit of the new-found subcontinental camaraderie, he said: 'All our neighbours should feel free to come to India any time they want.'

Officials in the Pakistan high commission were not aware of the invitation, but admitted that since the decision was taken by the Prime Minister only today, it could be conveyed to Islamabad directly by the Indian high commissioner, Shiv Shankar Menon.

One reason for the uncertainty about Calcutta hosting the President is that on March 16 US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is visiting Delhi and top government leaders will be busy attending to her. At the same time, however, though a guest of the status of the Pakistan President is expected to make his appearance on the opening day of a Test match, he can come on any other day, too.

Even Delhi could be the venue where a one-day match is scheduled on April 17.

Last week, Musharraf stumped India by telling a Pakistani newspaper that he would want to see a match, if invited.

'I love watching any sport. I would love watching cricket. [But] I don't believe in going without an invitation anywhere. If there is an invitation, one would certainly like to consider,' he had said.

For the past five days, officials in the Indian external affairs ministry had been trying their best either to dismiss the fact that they had to make their response known or maintaining ambiguity.

One reason was the worry that Musharraf's presence here could be interpreted by the Pakistanis and sections in India as a summit.

President Zia-ul-Haq had visited Jaipur in February 1987 to watch a match in Jaipur on an invitation from the Indian cricket board.

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