21 February 2004

How the cricket tour was cleared

21 February 2004
The Times of India

How the cricket tour was cleared

By Siddharth Varadarajan

Islamabad: An eleventh hour meeting on Friday the 13th between Pakistani high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan and foreign secretary Shashank set in chain a sequence of meetings which led to Prime Minister Vajpayee decreeing that the Indian cricket tour of Pakistan should proceed as planned.

With news swirling around the city on February 13 that the home ministry had ordered the tour called off, Khan tried desperately to reach Shashank for an emergency meeting. The foreign secretary was, however, part of the discussions external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha was having with visiting French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin, and couldn’t take Khan’s calls.

Khan phoned again several times during the official lunch for Villepin and finally succeeded in prising Shashank out of Hyderabad House.

Khan conveyed to Shashank the fears Pakistan had that the Indian tour would be called off.
He said Pakistani president Musharraf was concerned at the impact this would have on the process that he and Vajpayee had agreed to embark upon during the Saarc summit. He also communicated Musharraf ’s assurances.

Meanwhile, in Islamabad, India’s high commissioner to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon, was told the same thing by Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar.

As soon as he was informed of the extent of Pakistan’s concerns, Sinha apparently decided to place matters in the court of the Prime Minister. He spoke to Vajpayee and a meeting was hastily convened.

Had Vajpayee ruled out the tour, say sources, Musharraf would likely have picked up the phone to counsel a rethink.

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