India and Pakistan will embark on their first cricket series since snapping sporting ties following the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, building on a peace process that has already transformed trade relations.
Cricket is the most popular sport in both countries and Pakistan kicks off its tour of India with a Twenty20 game in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. The countries will play four other matches around India over the next two weeks.
“This is the most interesting sporting rivalry in the world,” said Boria Majumdar, a cricket historian and author. “It is war minus the shooting. Because of the history of partition, every match is a test of national supremacy.”
Tomorrow’s match is the latest step in recent efforts by the nuclear-armed neighbors and rivals to restore ties that were shattered by the guerrilla raid on India’s financial center four years ago. Earlier this month, India and Pakistan agreed on a new visa regime that will make travel between the two countries easier, a measure meant to spur regional trade and establish trust between the nations that have fought three wars.
Leaders of the two countries have in the past tried to use cricket before to grease the diplomatic process. The prime ministers of India and Pakistan watched their nations contest last year’s semi-final of the sport’s World Cup in the subcontinent.
India will give 3,000 visas to Pakistani fans and an additional 300 permits to dignitaries for the matches, the Indian government said in parliament this month.
Pakistan hasn’t been able to play cricket at home because of security concerns after terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009 with guns, grenades and rocket launchers.
In a move aimed at normalizing economic ties, India and Pakistan said this month businessmen from both nations can obtain one-year, multiple-entry visas, while people over 65 will be issued travel permits at the main border crossing point between the two countries.
India broke off talks with its neighbor after Pakistani militants killed 166 people in the attack on Mumbai. India says the strike was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrilla group with the support of some members of Pakistan’s security establishment. The government in New Delhi has criticized Pakistan for failing to prosecute those it holds responsible for the carnage.
Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947 after winning independence from the British and the two have fought two wars over the territory of Kashmir.