India to issue record 3,000 visas to Pakistan cricket fans




NEW DELHI, Nov 29, 2012 (AFP) - India will issue a record number of visas to Pakistani cricket fans when the arch-rivals meet to play their first series since ties were broken after the 2008 Islamist attacks in Mumbai, an official said Thursday.

The Indian government is to issue 3,000 visas to fans attending the series of limited over matches beginning next month, an official in the interior ministry told AFP.

"We will happily host 3,000 Pakistani cricket lovers for the matches. This is the first time that we have decided to issue so many visas in one go," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

India is to host Pakistan for two T20 internationals and three 50 over matches from December 25, beginning in Bangalore. Matches will also be held in Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kolkata and the last game will be played in New Delhi on January 6.

The rivals have not played a series since Pakistan's tour of India in 2007, after cricket ties were snapped following attacks by militants from Pakistan in Mumbai four years ago that left 166 people dead.

However, the teams have met in international tournaments, including a semi-final at last year's ODI World Cup in the northern Indian city of Mohali -- a match attended by both countries' prime ministers.

India won the game comfortably and then went on to win the trophy.

"One thousand Pakistanis will be able to watch the Delhi match and 500 will be allowed to attend each of the other games," said the official. "The BCCI (Indian cricket board) will be given all the necessary instructions to speed up the visa process."

Another interior ministry official said the Pakistani visitors would have to report to a designated police station immediately after their entry into India.
"Pakistani fans cannot cross over on foot in (the northern state of) Punjab. They can either choose to fly down or board the border train," the official said.

As well as the Thar Express railway link between the two countries, Pakistan International Airlines flies from Lahore and Karachi to New Delhi and Mumbai.

The countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and diplomatic ties remain fragile in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Officials said extra precautions will be taken before granting visas as several Pakistanis in the past have gone missing after arriving in India to watch cricket matches. "As many as 12 Pakistani men who came to India to watch the last India-Pakistan bilateral cricket series in 2007 did not return home and are yet to be traced in India," the second official said.

Next month's series has not met with universal approval and several radical Hindu groups have demanded its cancellation and threatened to hold protests.

The influential Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council has said India should refuse to host the tour until Pakistan brings to justice the masterminds behind the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan in 2009 charged seven men over planning the Mumbai attacks, but insists it needs to gather more evidence in India before proceeding further. "Why should we have sporting links with a country which is directing terrorism against us," VHP spokesman Prakash Sharma told AFP earlier this month. "Pakistan is not even willing to accept evidence provided by India of its role."

Cricket lovers, however, have welcomed the match-up, including Pakistan's Wasim Akram, one of the sport's greatest ever bowlers and now popular in India as a commentator.

"The whole world is waiting for this (tour) and wants it to be a series-reviving one," Wasim told AFP earlier this month.

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