World | Fri Mar 25, 2011 8:31pm IST

Manmohan Singh invites Zardari, Gilani for Mohali semi-final

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited the Pakistani president and prime minister to watch Wednesday's cricket showdown between the two South Asian rivals in what is being dubbed "cricket diplomacy".

The two teams will meet in the semi-final of the cricket World Cup in Mohali in a hotly anticipated match after India knocked out Australia on Thursday.

A foreign office spokesman in Islamabad said no decision had been made on whether to accept the invitation. Ties between the neighbours remain tense since the 2008 Mumbai attacks blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

"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," Singh wrote in a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, according to a government statement.

"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."

India and Pakistan have slowly tried to repair relations and in February agreed to resume formal peace talks that were broken off in the wake of the Mumbai assault in which 166 people died. The talks are expected to start again in July.

Singh has pushed the peace process between the two nuclear-armed rivals, who have gone to war three times, despite scepticism from within his own government.

In 2009, the American ambassador to New Delhi observed that Singh was isolated within his government in his "great belief" in talks and negotiations with Pakistan, a Wikileaks cable recently released by the Hindu newspaper said.

The concept of "cricket diplomacy" between the two countries is not new. Former President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan made a similar visit to India as far back as 1987.

(Reporting by Matthias Williams; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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