New Delhi, July 16: The Prime Minister’s Office worked with the foreign ministry to clear Pakistan’s cricket tour of India, keeping the home ministry out of the loop, government sources said.
Officials in the home ministry, which has repeatedly voiced security concerns over hosting a Pakistani team or even allowing Pakistani cricketers in the Indian Premier League, admitted their ministry was not consulted.
Asked about the security concerns, a senior home ministry official said: “We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
The PMO’s move is consistent with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s line on boosting ties with the western neighbour by promoting sporting, media and people-to-people contacts.
Coming at a time tensions have thickened following “revelations” by 26/11 suspect Abu Jundal, the decision reflects the determination with which Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari have been working to improve ties.
India, however, has for now declined to tour Pakistan, which has been bereft of international cricket since the March 2009 militant attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team.
Pakistan had suggested that India play a symbolic, one-off Twenty20 or 50-overs match on its soil before the start of the bilateral series across the border. It said such a match could set the stage for Manmohan Singh’s proposed visit to Pakistan, details of which are being worked out.
But New Delhi cited “security concerns” — including some of its senior players’ unwillingness to make such a trip — and left the matter to be decided by the two cricket boards.
“As of now, there is no possibility of the Indian team going to Pakistan,” a source said.
Given that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has refused to let its team play Pakistan at any neutral venue, either, the only option for Pakistan was to agree to tour India. However, it had a request.
It asked New Delhi to persuade the BCCI to share the revenue from the tour with the cash-strapped Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), since the latter would be forfeiting its right to host the Indians this time.
Traditionally, the boards take turns in hosting bilateral series, and the last was played in India in November-December 2007.
South Block, however, told Islamabad it had no views on cricket revenue-sharing. “This is for the two boards to decide,” a source said.
Given that bilateral cricket ties had been snapped by the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Maharashtra Congress today joined the Shiv Sena in opposing their resumption, saying the BCCI should consider “people’s sentiments”, PTI reported.
“There should not be any difference between what people feel and what the BCCI decides,” state Congress president Manikrao Thakre was quoted as saying in Mumbai.
Even the state Samajwadi Party unit took a similar line. “Pakistan is a culprit (in terror attacks) in Mumbai. How can we have sporting relations with them?” MLA Abu Azmi said, according to PTI.
The Sena, always vociferously opposed to India-Pakistan cricket, said Pakistan should not be allowed to play in India.
“We should consider allowing them to come to our country only after Pakistan clears its policy on international terrorism,” Ramdas Kadam said.
The ball had been set rolling for today’s announcement on July 4, when the two countries’ foreign secretaries met in New Delhi. Pakistan’s Jalil Abbas Jilani requested India’s Ranjan Mathai that New Delhi get the BCCI to agree to revive cricket ties with his country.
Their joint statement after the talks “emphasised the need to promote media and sports contacts”.
“This was a green light to both cricket boards to start working towards resuming bilateral ties,” a foreign ministry source said.
After the 2007 series, India was to play a Test series in Pakistan in January-February 2009 but the tour was cancelled after the Mumbai attacks. After the Lahore attack on Sri Lanka cricketers, boards across the world struck Pakistan off their travel itineraries. Pakistan even lost the right to co-host the 2011 World Cup.
When then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani came to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final in Mohali last year, he requested resumption of bilateral cricket ties. Last April, Zardari repeated the request to Singh.
BCCI president N. Srinivasan and PCB chief Zaka Ashraf held several discussions on the subject this year, the last on the sidelines of world body ICC’s annual conference in June. Ashraf had then said Pakistan was ready to host India but a few senior Indian players had security concerns.
Islamabad, though, remains keen that India play a “symbolic” benefit match, possibly a Twenty20, in Pakistan in November. It argues this would send a positive message to the Pakistani public about India’s desire for friendly ties, and act as the perfect setting for Singh’s maiden visit to Pakistan, in the works since an invite from Zardari in April.
Singh, whose birthplace Gah falls in Pakistan and is a mere 100km from Islamabad, has not visited the neighbouring country after becoming Prime Minister.
A final view on his proposed visit is likely to be taken when foreign minister S.M. Krishna travels to Islamabad in September for talks with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. But the possibility of India playing in Pakistan remains slim for now.