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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March 2005, 12:28 GMT
Landmark cricket tour prompts contact
By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC News, Mohali

A cricket fan holds a sign in favour of the Indian-Pakistan friendship, in Mohali
Thousands of Pakistani fans are being granted visas to India
The Pakistan cricket team has begun its first full tour of India for six years, in a sign of improving relations between Delhi and Islamabad.

The series, which opened in the northern town of Mohali, follows successful one-day games on both sides of the border last year.

For several years, relations between the countries were so bad that matches could only be played at neutral venues.

Angry rhetoric between the two has been replaced by people-to-people contact.

Sporting chance

When two neighbours have fought three wars since 1947, no encounter really remains a sporting one.

So whether it was cricket or hockey, whenever India and Pakistan played each other in the past, passions ran high on both sides of the border.

Indian soldier in Kashmir
A ceasefire is holding along the disputed region of Kashmir
It was like war, without weapons.

For several years, the relations between the two countries were so tense that they could play each other only on neutral venues - in Sharjah, Canada and international tournaments outside the sub-continent.

But with the political leadership in Delhi and Islamabad talking peace in the last few months, things are changing. And in the changed atmosphere, cricket, too, is playing an important role in normalising relations.

This cricket series coincides with both countries agreeing to start a bus service between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir.

A ceasefire along the border has held for more than a year.

Angry rhetoric between Delhi and Islamabad has been replaced by talks encouraging trade and people-to-people contact.

It is the first time in several decades that thousands of Pakistani fans have been granted visas to come to India.

Many local residents have welcomed their neighbours in their homes.

It is not that the past is forgotten and differences between the two countries are settled. The road to peace will be long and tortuous. So an India-Pakistan encounter on the cricket pitch still retains that extra edge.

But finally, the two sides are playing it more like a game.

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