Modi renews political contact with cricket diplomacy

  • Indian PM telephones PM Sharif, wishes luck to Pakistani team
  • Says Indian foreign secretary will soon visit Pakistan during a trip to all SAARC nations
  • Indian FO says Jaishankar will ‘push India’s agenda’ during bilateral meetings with Pakistani officials

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi telephoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday to wish the Pakistani cricket team luck in an ice-breaker conversation ahead of a World Cup grudge match between the arch rivals.

Modi also informed Prime Minister Sharif that his new foreign secretary, S Jaishankar, will soon visit all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries and would also like to visit Pakistan.

According to the Prime Minister’s House, Modi called Nawaz on Friday to discuss regional issues. The conversation between the two leaders lasted for 10 minutes. Sharif, recalling his meeting with Modi in May last year, welcomed the foreign secretary to Pakistan.

Modi said “cricket connects people in our region and promotes goodwill “after speaking with Prime Minister Sharif and other South Asian leaders whose country’s teams are playing in the World Cup starting Saturday.

“Spoke to President @ashrafghani, PM Sheikh Hasina, PM Nawaz Sharif & President Sirisena. Conveyed my best wishes for the Cricket World Cup,” Modi also tweeted.

“Hope players from SAARC region play with passion & bring laurels to the region.”

Millions of India and Pakistan fans are expected to watch Sunday’s clash on television, while thousands of others are set to flock to the Adelaide Oval in Australia.

After breaking the ice with cricket, the two leaders went on to discuss diplomacy, bilateral relations, violation of ceasefire on LoC and working boundary, said the sources, adding that the two leaders discussed the possibility of resuming foreign secretary-level talks.

The phone call from the Indian premier came after a telephonic conversation between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Sharif. Obama had informed Sharif about his recent visit to India and enquired about the ongoing military operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Later in the evening, the Indian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the foreign secretary will travel to Pakistan as part of a regional tour in coming months, the first high-level visit since relations between the arch rivals soured last year.

S Jaishankar will travel to Islamabad where “India will push its agenda” during bilateral meetings with officials, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said at a briefing.

“The foreign secretary will visit all SAARC countries, including Pakistan,” Akbaruddin told reporters without giving specific dates and referring to SAARC.

Akbaruddin did not say whether the visit would likely result in peace talks resuming between the foreign secretaries of the nuclear-armed neighbours — talks which India abruptly cancelled last year.

It is pertinent to mention that Sharif – during his talk with Obama – expressed Pakistan’s desire of becoming a member of the Nuclear Supplier Group. PM also said that India does not deserve a permanent seat in UN Security Council.

Relations have soured between the neighbours over increased firing along their borders and India halting the talks in August enraged that Pakistan consulted Kashmiri pro-freedom leaders before the dialogue began.

US Secretary of State John Kerry last month appealed to both nations to resume the talks, saying Washington was “deeply concerned” about a surge in violence on the border in Kashmir.

Modi’s government is seen taking a more assertive stance towards its neighbour since coming to power last May. Modi and Sharif failed to hold a bilateral meeting at a SAARC summit in November.


There’s no guarantee that talking cricket will bring warmer ties.

In 2011, then-Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh sat beside his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani in a World Cup semi-final clash between the two nations, but no real political rapprochement came of that meeting or from similar sporting summits in 2005 and 1987.

In 1987, Pakistan’s president of that time, General Ziaul Haq visited India to meet Indira Gandhi and consequently watered down mutual mistrust and deflected the tensions that they had faced against the Soviet invasions of Afghanistan and Soviet pressure on India by attending a test match between India and Pakistan in Jaipur.

In 2000, Hindu extremists dug up the cricket pitch in New Delhi to protest against the Pakistan’s team’s visit. Following the Kargil conflict and at various other times, there have also been calls to suspend cricketing ties between the two countries.

In 2005, Gen Pervez Musharraf visited India to watch a cricket match and met Manmohan Singh to revive talks on Kashmir. “Nothing brings the people of the subcontinent together more than our love for cricket and Bollywood,” Musharraf had said while addressing the Indian parliament.