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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Visa for Gilani and none for Pakistan fans:India-Pak semifinal

Day after Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh flagged off his cricket diplomacy, ordinary cricket fans from across the border have been left out in the cold.

All of 120 visas have been issued to Pakistani cricket officials for the high-Profile ICC World Cup semifinal between India and Pakistan at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali on Wednesday. And two-thirds of them have gone to Pakistani officials and cricket board honchos, leaving only about 40 for genuine lovers of the game.

Expected on the stands for the mother of all cricket battles are Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusaf Raza Gilani and the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Latif Khosa. But if captain Shahid Afridi was expecting a rousing reception from his home fans, he would be sorely disappointed.

In their defence, government sources here claimed that since January they had been offering as many as 5,000 (Increased 6500) visas to Pakistani cricket fans, provided they applied for the visa with a ticket in hand.

"There is no scope now for issuing any more visas to Pakistani cricket fans as the tickets for the match have already sold out," a source said, adding: "It is bad luck for Pakistani  cricket fans - they should have bought the tickets on time and applied for a visa."

The source said that because Pakistan had no league match scheduled in India, and their place in the semi-final was confirmed only this Wednesday, most fans from the neighbouring country had missed the bus. All the 16,000-odd general tickets for the Mohali match got sold out by Tuesday.

For those Pakistani nationals who are in India on a tourist visit visa, there might still be a likelihood of watching the match from the stands provided they manage to grab a ticket in the black market. But for those who plan to travel for this high-octane clash, there's virtually no hope. And even if they manage to procure tickets now, the visa procedure won't allow them enough time to ensure their passage to India.

India has been extra cautious on the visa front this time following alarming disclosures by David Headley to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) year 2010.

Headley had told the NIA that in 2005, key 26/11 plotters Sajid Majid Mir and Abdur Rehman Pasha had crossed over to India at the Wagah border on the pretext of watching an India-Pakistan match. Once here, they did a recce of the National Defence College in New Delhi and the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun.

Pakistan VS India Semi Final on 30 March - Highlights of Last game played at Mohali b/w Pak and India





The government, meanwhile, is quite certain that Gilani and Khosa would attend the match. But they won't travel to Delhi.

"No formal talks are expected between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gilani," a government source said. "Pakistan's Prime Minister would not be travelling to Delhi. He is expected to arrive in Chandigarh in a special plane and fly back, probably on the night of the match itself."

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari excused himself because of protocol issues, as the invitation was sent out by the Indian Prime Minister, and not the President. Pakistan is expected to send a formal communication to India after Gilani and Zardari discuss the issue on Monday. Pakistan has also dropped enough hints that it would reciprocate India's goodwill gesture.

"The invitation of love from India will receive a response of love from Pakistan, which will not waste any opportunity to improve bilateral relations," the country's information minister, Ashiq Awan, said. Meanwhile, with several high-profile dignitaries and ministers expected to attend the match, NSG commandos have been given the task of securing the stadium.

The venue has also been declared a no-fly zone, as Punjab is a sensitive border state. Anti-aircraft guns will be stationed for security, even as a dedicated CRPF contingent will guard both the teams.

The NSG will also be responsible for securing Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium for the final as there is a heightened threat perception of a terror strike there. An Interpol team is helping India screen travellers.

Before the action shifts to Mohali, the Centre is planning some hard talk when the home secretaries of the two countries meet on Monday and Tuesday. India is expected to again hand over dossiers citing Pakistan's inaction in the 26/11 probe, besides a list of 40 terrorists, and take up the issue of fake notes being pushed into the country.

India, which will be represented by home secretary G.K. Pillai, will also remind Pakistan that it has not fulfilled any of its promises made to home minister P. Chidambaram during his visit to Islamabad year  2010.

India expects Pakistan to raise the issue of its pending demand that a Pakistani judicial commission be allowed to visit India and ask for details on the Samjhauta Express blast probe.

The director-general of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Waseem Ahmed, who has probed the 26/11 case in Pakistan, will attend the talks as part of the seven-member Pakistani delegation.

Ahmed may also have a separate one-onone session with CBI director A.P. Singh. The spirit of bonhomie on the field may not penetrate the closed doors when the two delegation sit down to play "hard ball".

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