World Cup cricket boosts India and Pakistan ties

Yousuf Raza Gilani and Manmohan Singh in Mohali on 30 March 2011 Mr Singh's invitation to Mr Gilani was described as cricket diplomacy

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India and Pakistan's prime ministers vowed to repair relations between the countries, as they watched India beat Pakistan in the cricket World Cup.

Manmohan Singh hosted his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani for the semi-final in the city of Mohali.

Mr Singh said cricket had been a "uniting factor" and that they should cast aside "ancient animosities".

Relations between the nuclear-armed rivals plummeted after the 2008 Mumbai (Bombay) attacks.

More than 170 people were killed when gunmen launched a co-ordinated assault on various targets across the city. The planning and execution of the attacks were blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Wednesday's match was the first time the two sides had played in either India or Pakistan since then.

The two leaders shook hands with both sets of players before sitting down together to watch the game, with Mr Singh hosting a dinner in honour of his guest during the match.

More than a billion people around the world are thought to have watched the historic match. Both countries largely ground to a halt as the sides battled each other.

Celebrations erupted across India once their victory was confirmed. India now play Sri Lanka in the final in Mumbai on Saturday.

'Encouraging spirit'

On the diplomatic front, Mohali was hailed as a "win" for the dialogue process by a Pakistan foreign office spokesman, reports Pakistan's APP news agency.

Mr Gilani described the talks as "positive" and also invited Mr Singh to visit Pakistan. He said he hoped that the Indian cricket team would play in Pakistan soon.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, centre back, and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, fourth from left at back, shake hands with Pakistan players ahead of the Cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan in Mohali, India, Wednesday, March 30, 2011. The prime ministers met the players before the game

At the dinner, Mr Singh said that the two countries should "put our ancient animosities behind to attend to the problems of our nations".

"We have the will to persevere; we have the will to overcome. We should be working together to find co-operative solutions."

Mr Singh later said "the beautiful game of cricket" had united the two prime ministers.

After the game, the two leaders returned to their respective capitals, Delhi and Islamabad.

Mr Singh said: "The message from Mohali is that the people of India and Pakistan want to live in peace."

He said that the joyous atmosphere of the game contrasted with the often strained relations between the sides.

Mumbai probe

Officials had met earlier in the week as part of intermittent efforts to put the peace process back on track.

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Cricket has suddenly sprung in what could turn out to be a season of bonhomie between India and Pakistan. ”

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Before the Mumbai attacks, the two sides held formal peace talks known as a "composite dialogue" for several years but made little headway, apart from a number of confidence-building measures.

Peace moves were put on hold after the 2008 attacks, which left at least 174 people dead, nine of whom were the gunmen. One attacker was caught alive and has been sentenced to death.

The main disputes between the two sides centre on counter-terrorism and the Himalayan territory of Kashmir - which both countries claim.

But there are also a number of economic issues and smaller territorial disagreements which divide the sides.

Correspondents say the latest talks in Delhi were bolstered by Mr Singh's invitation to Pakistan's leaders to watch the match in Mohali.

Significant progress was made when the two sides agreed to let their officials visit each others' countries to investigate the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan's foreign minister is due to visit India by July to review progress in the dialogue.

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