Security ramped up for India-Pakistan clash


MOHALI – Around 3,000 police will patrol Wednesday’s high-profile India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final, the first match between the two arch-rivals on Indian soil since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Some 2,000 security personnel are expected to be deployed in and around the 30,000-capacity PCA Stadium on matchday.
An estimated 1,000 police have already descended on the luxury Hotel Taj in nearby Chandigarh where both teams are staying, a force which includes Indian army commandos.
The game, which takes place in the border state of Punjab, has already sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity.
India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh engaged in a little “cricket diplomacy” on Friday by issuing an invitation to the match to his Pakistan counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari.
The invitation comes while relations between the two nations are still tense following the attack by Pakistan-based Islamist militants on Mumbai in 2008 that left 166 people dead.
It would be the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state or government for a decade, while even the presence of Singh alone creates an additional security problem.
“I propose to be at Mohali to watch the World Cup semi-final match,” said Singh in his invitation.
“There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket, that will be a victory for sport,” he added.
“It gives me great pleasure to invite you to visit Mohali and join me and the millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match.”
Elsewhere, the race was on to secure scarce tickets and hotel rooms.
Fans continued to queue at the ground on Saturday even though the local Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) had insisted as early as Tuesday that the 14,000 available tickets at the 30,000 capacity stadium had been sold, with the rest in the hands of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
But some supporters simply refused to believe tickets were no longer available.
“I have been coming here since Monday, but have not been able to get any ticket,” said Vikas Sharma, a businessman.
However there have been numerous reports of a thriving black market in tickets for the showpiece encounter with prices rocketing 10-fold.
“The tickets for 250 rupees ($5.60) are available at 2,200 rupees ($49) while a 1,000-rupee ($22.30) ticket can only be bought for 8,000 rupees ($179),” said Mohali student Sahil Kapoor.
Local businessman Vikas Sharma added: “The semi-final is going to be the mother of all battles, in a way even bigger than the final.
“Genuine fans should not be deprived of watching the match and police should take tough action against those selling on the black market,” he said.
But even if this match was being played at the 70,000-capacity Eden Gardens in Kolkata, police and officials would have a job on their hands to combat the black market, such is the passion for cricket in both India and Pakistan and the rivalry between the nuclear powers.
Meanwhile, with most local hotels already booked out and the Airports Authority of India inundated with requests from the country’s super-rich to land their private jets, there are concerns as to how Pakistani fans, scrambling for visas, will be supervised.
Officials are anxious to avoid a repeat of incidents in 2005 when some Pakistan fans in India disappeared only to be arrested for alleged involvement in terror activities or overstaying their visa.