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Launching cricket diplomacy to give a fresh impetus to bilateral ties, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday invited President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch the India-Pakistan cricket encounter in Mohali on March 30 when he will also be present.
In identical letters to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, he said he proposed to watch the Indo-Pak World Cup semi-final. "It gives me a great pleasure' to invite them to watch the match, Dr Singh wrote.
Text: Onkar Singh in New Delhi
"There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket that will be a victory for the sport," wrote the PM.
"It gives me great pleasure to invite you to visit Mohali and join me and millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match," he said in the letters to both the leaders.
"The prime minister will be watching the game at Mohali on March 30," said a top official of the Prime Minister's Office.
Asked if the government has received any response to the letter, sources replied in the negative, but said they were hopeful about getting a positive response.
Home Minister P Chidambaram would personally ensure security arrangements at the stadium is the Pakistan PM and President decide to watch the match, said sources.
A number of Parliamentarians, headed by Agriculture Minister and International Cricket Council president Sharad Pawar, will also watch the much-anticipated match.
Dr Singh's cricket diplomacy will be the first major bilateral event at the summit level between the two sides since 26/11 attacks -- when relations between the two countries plunged to a new low.
Cricket diplomacy between the two countries, which have often witnessed acrimonious ties in the last over two decades, had brought the late President Zia-ul Haq and former President Pervez Musharraf to watch cricket matches in India.
Haq, a former alumini of St Stephen's in Delhi, had come to watch a test match in Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur in February 1987 at the invitation of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The two met and held discussions after the event in Delhi.
Musharraf, who also has his origins in Delhi, came to watch an Indo-Pak encounter at Ferozeshah Kotla ground in New Delhi in 2005 when he was in power.
In the last two years, prime ministers of India and Pakistan have met in third country locations, like Bhutan and Egypt.
A meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries in July last year turned out to be a fiasco.
However, the two countries had recently decided to intensify contacts and a meeting between home secretaries of the two countries is slated on Monday and Tuesday.
The full text of the letters to the Pakistan leaders:
Letter to President Zardari:
"I propose to be at Mohali to watch the World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan to be held on 30th March. There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket, that will be a victory for sport. It gives me great pleasure to invite you to visit Mohali and join me and the millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match."
Letter to Prime Minister Gilani:
"I propose to be at Mohali to watch the World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan to be held on 30th March. There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket, that will be a victory for sport. It gives me great pleasure to invite you and your gracious wife to visit Mohali and join me, my wife and the millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match."
With inputs from PTI
Pakistan has welcomed Dr Singh's invitation to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to watch the cricket World Cup semi final in Mohali on March 30 and a decision on the matter may be taken on Saturday
"We welcome the invitation," Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar told PTI.
"The PM is out of the country and a decision will be taken when he (Gilani) returns from Tashkent," Babar said, shortly after the Indian government extended the invitation to the two Pakistani leaders.
Gilani is expected to return to the capital on Saturday.
His flight from Tashkent to Islamabad at the end of two-day official visit on Friday was cancelled due to bad weather over the Himalayas. Official sources said the invitation would also be discussed by the Foreign Office before a decision is taken.