The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pervez stumps India
- President bowls 'invite-me' googly

New Delhi, March 4: Trust the wily General to slip in a googly at South Block.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has set the cat among Delhi's mandarins by saying he would love to watch the Indo-Pak war of the willows but would drop in only if he is formally invited.

The foreign ministry is formally downplaying the matter saying it has not heard of any such statement, reportedly made by Musharraf to newspersons in Islamabad. 'I am not aware of any such report,' spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

But informally, the officials are caught between the devil and the deep sea. If they don't invite Musharraf, they will be accused of bad taste, let alone hampering cricket diplomacy. After all, Islamabad had only last year invited Delhi's biggies ' from then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to then leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi ' for the Revival Series.

If they do, they fear Musharraf will steal the show. Moreover, they might also have to think about uncomfortable and sticky matters like setting up a meeting between the general and the Prime Minister.

When Zia-ul Haq had taken a shot at cricket diplomacy in February 1987 during Rajiv Gandhi's regime, the then Pakistan President had hopped over for a match at Jaipur with a 60-member team. Although there were no formal talks with the Indian leadership then, discussions did take place.

Political experts say Musharraf, whose propensity for grandstanding is not unknown, could be aiming for a similar 'diplomatic coup'. Given he was ready to take the trouble to come to India, chances were he would not limit his interest to matters cricketing only.

South Block has yet to take a decision on the invite and could have been taken unawares by the suddenness of Musharraf's remarks. But senior Left leaders H.S. Surjeet and A.B. Bardhan --- who returned today after a nine-day visit to Pakistan --- said no opportunity to convert the ongoing peace process to permanent peace should be thrown away.

Already, over 4,000 visas have been issued to Pakistanis coming to watch the Mohali Test, starting next week. The number is likely to go up as the series progresses, Sarna said.

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