Cricket diplomacy: Will it work?

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New Delhi:  Come March 30 and India-Pakistan will play one of the most important matches of their lives - the World Cup semi-final at Mohali. Witnessing the match from the VIP stands will be no less Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani. The question now on everyone's mind is, will cricket prove to be the catalyst in bringing about a thaw in Indo-Pak ties. (Read and watch: Gilani will watch India-Pak game at Mohali)

"This is not a question of diplomacy. People on both sides are coming together for the games. We hope this togetherness stays in the political sphere also," said Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal.

The first instance of cricket diplomacy dates back to 1987, when Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq watched an India-Pakistan Test match in Jaipur in the company of Rajiv Gandhi.

In 2004, the Indian cricket team went to Pakistan for the first full tour after more than a decade. It was termed as the Friendship Series, and the next year Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf watched an India-Pakistan One Day International match at the Ferozeshah Kotla in New Delhi.

However, despite these efforts, the critics say cricket diplomacy has not had a lasting impact on the bilateral ties, and opponents of the current Pakistani regime, such as Imran Khan, aren't too hopeful of the latest initiative too.

"It will be feel good factor. I don't think anything concrete will come out of it," said cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

Nothing concrete so far, but the two countries are not shying away from making an effort to ease tensions and improve ties.

After the foreign secretary-level talks in Thimphu in February, Pakistan's Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman Chaudhry is in New Delhi to meet his counterpart G K Pillai to carry forward the dialogue process.

"You know cricket is vastly popular in both our countries and anything which has got a commonality and which is equally graded on both the sides should lead towards creating further commonality and harmony," said Mr Chaudhry. (Watch: Trying our best to satisfy India on 26/11, says Pakistan's Interior Minister)

The winner of the Mohali encounter will advance to the final, but all eyes are on whether cricket diplomacy will advance peace between India and Pakistan.

Also read: After invitation to Gilani, Pak remits jail term of Indian convict


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