India bathes in sporting, diplomatic victory

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (L) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

New Delhi: Mar 31, 2011

India on Thursday revelled in sporting and diplomatic success after beating Pakistan in a cricket World Cup semi-final that also hosted leadership talks on better cross-border ties.

“After this… the Cup’s a bonus,” read the front page of the Mail Today, hailing an “epic showdown between arch-rivals” as Indians looked forward to the final on Saturday against Sri Lanka in Mumbai.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s move to invite his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the game with him in Mohali, northwest India, gave an added frisson of historical significance to Wednesday’s day-night match.

The two nuclear-armed nations have a bitter record of war and disagreement since British rule of the subcontinent ended in 1947, and Gilani’s visit was the first by a Pakistani leader to neighbouring India in 10 years. “Cricket has been a uniting factor, it has brought our two prime ministers together and I dare say that’s a very good beginning,” Singh said, thanking Gilani for accepting his invitation.

“The message from Mohali is that the people of India and Pakistan want to live in peace,” Singh added after the game was played in a joyous atmosphere that contrasted with the countries’ often difficult political relations. The few Pakistanis present in the ground said they had received a warm and emotional welcome.

“The feeling is as if the bigger brother has won,” said Salma Riyaz, a Pakistani fan leaving the stands after her side lost by 29 runs. There was no angry exchange and tempers were never frayed despite the cauldron-like situation. It shows we have matured and take things in the right perspective.”

The unusual venue for the bilateral talks meant that the two prime ministers held a short dinner meeting in the middle of the Pakistan innings before returning to their seats to watch the final overs. Before the game, they stood side-by-side for the national anthems and then walked onto the pitch to shake hands with both sets of players.

Gilani had earlier told reporters that holding talks at the match would help bring “progress and improvement in relations”. Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India have fought three wars since the division of the subcontinent in 1947, and came to the brink of another conflict as recently as 2002.