ABU DHABI: Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Monday called for the resumption of bilateral cricket ties with India, which had been stalled by the latter following terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
“Pakistan pushes for cricket ties with every country, especially with India,” Khar told reporters while watching the third and final Twenty20 between Pakistan and England.
“I remember that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that it (cricket) is a great way to build bridges and if both the governments feel the same way then we should work to promote it.”
Khar said the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was also endeavouring to revive the ties.
“The PCB chairman has written letters to the Indian board and when I was in India (last year) I noticed a great deal of keenness on the part of India and the International Cricket Council (ICC) to revive this brand of cricket,” said Khar.
“Let me clearly articulate that the Pakistan government not only supports this, but is also determined to push for international cricket between all the countries.”
India stalled all bilateral cricketing ties with Pakistan, following the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008, which New Delhi blamed on militants based across the border.
Both countries are slated to play in 2012 under the ICC Future Tours Programme, but India’s hectic touring schedule has been the main hurdle.
Pakistan last toured India in 2007, while India featured in the Asia Cup held on Pakistani soil in 2008.
Khar said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who attended the World Cup semi-final in Mohali on Singh’s invitation in March last year, also wants Indo-Pak cricket to be revived.
“Our prime minister has always talked about it and India is also very enthusiastic. The only problem is scheduling and that is why there have been problems, but cricket plays a huge role in bringing the people of both the countries together.”
“We have always believed in cricket diplomacy. We both are good cricketing nations and possess much love for the game. People in Pakistan are bound by cricket and we need that unity at the moment.”
Khar said the security situation in Pakistan was conducive to hosting international cricket.
“The situation in Pakistan has improved considerably in the last few months. The year 2009 and 2008 were bad, but 2011 and 2012 have seen a lot of the normalcy return. I don’t think there is as much of a security risk as is perceived.”
International cricket has been suspended in Pakistan since the terrorist attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore three years ago.
Khar said Pakistan was ready to provide top-level security to international teams.
“International Polo players come to Pakistan and they go unnoticed. The high profile nature of cricketing events obviously makes the difference, but we can provide the required security,” said Khar.
Pakistan has promised to place high-level security for the Bangladesh team’s tour for a three-match one-day series in April.
Khar said cricket and other cultural activities will improve Pakistan’s image. “We have always maintained that cultural outreach is needed. The way Pakistanis are portrayed is not correct; we need our cultural heritage to create a good impression.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2012.