Thu, 10 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

Indian PM to welcome cricket visit by Musharraf

Kamil Zaheer, Reuters/New Delhi

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would welcome a visit by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to watch an ongoing cricket series between the two countries, a spokesman for Singh said on Wednesday.

Musharraf said last week he would like to watch some matches during the Pakistani team's current tour of India, the first full series between the teams on Indian soil since 1999, if an invitation was extended by New Delhi.

"The Prime Minister will be very happy to welcome Musharraf if he wants to watch a cricket match in India," Sanjaya Baru, the prime minister's spokesman, told Reuters.

It would be the first visit by Musharraf to India since a failed summit between the nuclear-armed rivals in the northern town of Agra in 2001.

Pakistan is scheduled to play three tests and six one-day internationals, as a cautious peace process between the two neighbors -- which have fought three wars -- slowly gains pace.

The neighbors will next month launch a bus service between the capitals of the two parts of Kashmir they control on a highway shut since the first war over the territory in 1947-48.

India's NDTV news channel said Singh's office had asked the foreign ministry to formally send an invitation to Musharraf, but a foreign ministry official declined to comment.

Earlier, the head of India's cricket board said he had sought permission from the government to invite Musharraf for the popular cricket series.

"We're waiting to hear from them," said Ranbir Mahendra, President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Over 4,000 Pakistani fans are already in Mohali in Punjab state where the first test is underway, and Indian officials expect more than 10,000 to visit during the entire tour.

A previous Pakistani military ruler, the late Zia-ul-Haq, also came to India in 1987 to watch a match at a time of heightened tensions between the two nations, which still have serious disagreements over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The Hindustan Times newspaper said on Wednesday that Musharraf was likely to watch the second test match in Calcutta beginning on March 16.

A tour of Pakistan by India's cricket team last year was hailed as a phenomenal success in fostering good relations between the cricket-mad nations.