India-Pak thaw faces early test: visas for T20 World Cup

India-Pak thaw faces early test: visas for T20 World Cup

AMONG THE first tests of whether the latest thaw along the Line of Control (LoC) will lead to wider easing of tensions between India and Pakistan will be in another arena where the two remain bitter rivals: cricket.

An official source in Pakistan told The Indian Express that the country’s cricket board wants a “guarantee” from the BCCI that the Government will grant visas to Pakistani fans to watch the T20 World Cup to be played in India later this year.

Official sources in India said that if there are no “incidents” that would upset or bring the ceasefire agreement at the LoC to an end, there are plans to open up cricket and other sporting ties between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani has already written to the International Cricket Council (ICC) asking it to ensure that apart from the team and the squad, visas are granted to all “stakeholders” and others interested in watching the matches.

The T20 World Cup is to be held in October-November, but the PCB wants an early “Indian guarantee” that Pakistani audiences, as well as journalists and board officials, will be granted visas. “If visas are not guaranteed, then PCB will ask ICC to shift the venue from India,” the source said. During media interactions in Pakistan, Mani has said that if he does not get a “written assurance”, he would ask the ICC to shift the venue to the UAE.

On Sunday, Mani told The Indian Express that “it is the responsibility of ICC” to ensure that visas are granted to all stakeholders as per the Members Participation Agreement. While he is learnt to have raised this with the ICC repeatedly over the last three months, the February 25 LoC agreement has given rise to optimism that the visas could be granted.

A BCCI official, who did not wish to be named, said the decision would be made by the Government keeping in mind all factors, including Covid. “The Government has to take a call on allowing fans to the stadium. The BCCI has no jurisdiction when it comes to issuing visas. If the Government allows, we have no problem. At the same time, these are not normal times. No country can give an assurance that they will keep their obligations under the Members Participation Agreement during a pandemic,” the official said.

The last time the Pakistan team played on Indian soil was in the T20 championship in March 2016, two months after the Pathankot attack. On that occasion, the Home Ministry gave multi-city visas to Pakistani fans who had tickets for the matches.

Before that, India granted visas to Pakistani fans for the 2011 World Cup semi-final at Mohali. The then Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani also came to Mohali and watched the match with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The last time the two countries played a bilateral home series was in 2007-2008 in India. And the 2019 World Cup in England was when the two teams last met at a neutral venue.

(With Shamik Chakrabarty)

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