Gilani heads to Mohali with ‘message of peace’

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ISLAMABAD – With “cricket fever” completely gripping Pakistan and India, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will reach Mohali today (Wednesday) with a strong delegation of leading politicians and senior members of his cabinet to hold talks with his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Cricket World Cup semi-final match between the two rival nations.
Gilani will be accompanied by ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan, MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar, PML-N’s Abdul Qadir Baloch, and PML-Qu President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has also been invited to join the entourage but he has not confirmed if he will travel to India with the prime minister yet.
The cabinet members who will visit India with the PM are Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan, Sports Minister Engineer Shaukatullah, Postal Services Minister Muhammad Gorgage and Foreign Affairs Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
Leaders from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) who will accompany the PM are former minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and party lawmaker Sherry Rehman, and several other parliamentarians across the political divide will also visit India as a part of delegation.
“The purpose of [this] broadly-represented delegation is to send a clear message across the border that Pakistan is serious in its resolve to settle all its disputes with India including the core issue of Kashmir,” said a senior official, who asked not to be named, here on Tuesday.
He said Gilani would discuss all issues with the Indian prime minister with an open mind but the basic purpose of the meeting was to give a much-needed thrust to the peace process from the top level of the government.
On the eve of Gilani’s visit to India, the Foreign Office (FO) said that the two premiers would meet at the important sports event and watch the match together. Singh would later host a dinner in honour of the Pakistani premier, the FO said.
“Prime Minister Gilani’s presence in Mohali signifies the tremendous enthusiasm of the people of Pakistan for cricket. It also coincides with the resumption of the Pakistan-India dialogue process,” Foreign Office Spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said in a statement. “The two prime ministers are expected to have a conversation on all issues of mutual interest on the sidelines of the cricket match,” she added.
The political parties have also welcomed the PM’s visit to India to attend the cricket match and hold talks with his Indian counterpart. However, they have also asked for a meaningful dialogue, saying it is vital for normal ties between the two nations.
MQM leader Raza Haroon told Pakistan Today that “cricket diplomacy” should be carried forward if it helped in the settlement of Indo-Pak disputes but a meaningful and sustained dialogue was a must for the resolution of Kashmir and other disputes.