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Musharraf Mixes Diplomacy With Cricket

Sunday 17 April 2005, by SULLIVAN*Tim

The Associated Press

NEW DELHI, India — Mixing cricket with diplomacy, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf arrived in India on Saturday for his first visit there since 2001, a three-day journey to bring "a message of peace and unity."

Musharraf last visit four years ago for a summit with then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to reach any agreements. The new trip comes at an ideal time as India-Pakistan peace talks, stumbling along since early 2004, seem to have found their footing.

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Indian Muslim pilgrims exit the shrine of Dargah in the Indian city of Ajmer as soldiers clear the area awaiting the arrival of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf Saturday April 16, 2005. Musharraf begins a tour of neighboring India with a visit to the shrine, which contains a tomb of a Sufi saint, Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, on the anniversary of the saint’s death. (Ap Photo/David Guttenfelder)

On landing in New Delhi, Musharraf said the current visit offered a "unique opportunity to address all our bilateral issues," including the dispute over Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between the two nations and the cause of two of their three wars.

"We have prayed that in the times to come, all differences between India and Pakistan are resolved and peace returns," he told reporters after visiting the shrine of a Muslim saint in the desert city of Ajmer.

"We have come here with a message of peace and unity," Musharraf said "We want people in my country, Pakistan, and your country, India, to prosper. This can be only done through peace."

Kashmir, claimed by both nations, is expected to be the focus of discussions between Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday.

Singh welcomed Musharraf warmly at an official dinner Saturday night.

"The journey of peace must be based on a step-by-step approach, but the road must be traveled," he said. "Mr. President, let us travel together on this path, to realize our shared vision of what the future holds."

While the meetings with Singh, other top Indian officials and Kashmiri separatist leaders are the focus of his trip, Musharrar’s visit was also scheduled so he could attend a cricket match, the last in a monthlong India-Pakistan series.

In New Delhi, authorities had cordoned off roads leading to the Ferozeshah Kotla stadium, where Musharraf and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched the first half of a cricket match on Sunday. Police and paramilitary soldiers closely monitored the tens of thousands of cricket fans who have crowded the stadium more than two hours before the match began.

Cricket may have been born in Britain, but it is played and followed with a passion that borders on fanaticism in both India and Pakistan, and the recent series has been an opportunity for shared goodwill.

Earlier this month, the two countries launched a bus service across divided Kashmir, linking families split by decades of violence. That followed a drop in militant attacks, rapidly rising trade and gestures such as the treatment of sick Pakistani children in hospitals in India.

While there is little sign of impending breakthroughs on Kashmir, there may be a new common meeting ground.

Both sides have recently mentioned replacing the heavily militarized Line of Control that now divides Kashmir with a "soft border," which would allow for comparatively free travel and trade.

"We are looking at a vision of a relationship between the two countries where the border becomes less and less important," Saran said Saturday.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars - two over Kashmir.

The long-simmering dispute again became the focus of world attention after the two countries conducted nuclear tests in 1998, raising fears that another conflict could escalate into a nuclear war.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of arming and training Kashmiri insurgents. Pakistan says it gives political and moral support to the rebels, but denies providing military aid. More than 66,000 people have died in the conflict in the past 15 years.

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