Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Monday his visit to India to watch the World Cup cricket semifinal between the two arch-rivals was in the “national interest”.
Gilani accepted an invitation from his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh to attend the match after a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday.
“I have decided to avail of this opportunity in national interest,” an official statement quoted Gilani as telling a meeting of the federal cabinet in Islamabad.
“It is also a timely opportunity for the two governments to show to the world that the two nations can play together as well as sit and deliberate together on issues of national importance,” he said.
Gilani telephoned Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi on Monday and “wished him and other members of team best of luck in the semifinal”, an official statement said.
“Irrespective of the result, the team should demonstrate the best of sportsmanship and dedication to contest,” he said.
He added that while accepting the invitation of his Indian counterpart, “it was in his heart to be present on the occasion to express solidarity with the players of the Pakistani cricket team”.
“Afridi assured the Prime Minister that each member of the team would put in his best performance for a favourable result,” the statement said.
A knock-out World Cup match on Indian soil is the biggest fixture between the rivals for decades and excitement is already at fever-pitch.
Wednesday’s match in Mohali will showcase one of the world’s most intense sporting rivalries, fuelled by nationalism and a shared history.
Relations are still tense following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead and stalled a fragile four-year peace process between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals.
Top officials from India and Pakistan are holding talks in Delhi focusing on counter-terrorism, narcotics control and humanitarian issues.
The two countries announced the resumption of peace talks last month after a meeting between Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu.
Relations between India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars since the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, have been plagued by border and resource disputes, and accusations of Pakistani militant activity against India.
The two countries embarked on a formal peace dialogue in 2004, which continued until the rupture caused by the Mumbai attacks.
They began to explore a resumption of structured talks last year, and Singh and Gilani met in Thimphu in April 2010. — Sapa-AFP
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