Manmohan Singh’s World Cup appeal upheld, Yusuf Raza Gilani says yes

Mohali gets set for games on and off the field as India and Pakistan face off in a World Cup semi-final clash in front of their respective PMs.

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Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has accepted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket semi-final in Mohali on Wednesday, said government sources. He is likely to land at Chandigarh airport and leave for Islamabad after the match.

Gilani, along with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, were on Friday invited by the prime minister to enjoy the match along with him. A senior home ministry official said that Gilani will not be traveling to Delhi, thereby ruling out possibility of any further interaction with either the Indian prime minister or other authorities in New Delhi.

Pakistan high commission sources said the composition of the delegation accompanying Gilani will only be clear after his visit is officially announced. Gilani’s visit will be preceded by the two-day home secretary level talks between the two countries beginning on Monday. The meeting could pave the way for resumption of bilateral dialogue between the two countries at higher levels.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 Pakistani visitors are expected for the high voltage match. A home ministry official said that a multi-tier security network will be in place to guard Chandigarh and adjoining areas in view of the prime ministers of both the countries deciding to watch the match. Apart from Central Para Military Forces and Punjab and Chandigarh police, the elite National Security Guard commandos and the Special Protection Force that protects PM Singh will be manning the security.   

India, as a confidence building gesture, has decided to increase the stay period for the persons visiting Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to six months.

At present, the validity of the entry permit is for four weeks and the Designated Authorities for cross-LoC travel (Passport Office, Srinagar and Passport Office, Jammu) extend the stay period by another two weeks. Based on the recommendation of the Government of J&K, the ministry of external affairs (ME) extends the stay for a further period of two weeks in certain cases such as health or family emergencies.

While MEA officials said that the move is to encourage more people-to-people contacts across the Line of Control (LOC), it can have a direct impact on the Indo-Pak talks that resume almost after two years on Monday.

The home secretary-level talk will mark the opening of high level discussions which were suspended following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao last week spoke to her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir over telephone, setting the stage for wide-ranging talks between the two countries. The two foreign secretaries agreed to avoid rhetoric and negative comments that can derail the talks which are beginning.

The talks will focus on counter-terrorism, including the progress made by Pakistan in the Mumbai terror-attack trial; peace and security, including confidence-building measures and promotion of friendly exchanges, Siachen; Jammu and Kashmir; trade exchanges and the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project.

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