Musharraf agrees trade deal with India at cricket match

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Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, used a rare visit to India for a cricket match as an excuse for an apparently successful summit with Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister.

The cricket diplomacy began when General Musharraf took the step of announcing he would appreciate an invitation to India to watch one of the matches on Pakistan's tour. But he stayed for only an hour of cricket yesterday, and rushed off to two hours of talks with Mr Singh. It was General Musharraf's first visit to India since an abortive summit in 2001, and it appeared to confirm a new warmth in relations. More than a week ago, the Line of Control that divides Indian and Pakistani Kashmir opened for a bus service allowing people to visit relatives on the other side.

That was the first substantive result of peace talks and the signs were that General Musharraf and Mr Singh want more. They agreed to set up a joint council to improve trade links, start a rail link between Rajasthan in India and Sindh in Pakistan by December, and hand over to each other citizens who stray across the Line of Control. India also agreed to release 156 Pakistani fishermen who were held for crossing into Indian waters to fish.

"I am happy the talks were held in a positive atmosphere and with an optimistic note," General Musharraf said. "In my view there has been progress on all issues." Before the talks, there were colourful scenes at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground, when General Musharraf walked on to the pitch to cheers, and met the teams. Just three years ago, the idea of General Musharraf being cheered in India was unthinkable, with the countries on the verge of war.

Cricket fans had to take their seats by 7.30am, hours before play, to allow extra security; there have been three attempts to assassinate General Musharraf in his own country.

Of the new measures agreed, better trade links are of fundamental importance to Pakistan. Pakistanis used to sneer at levels of poverty in India; today, with India the world's second-fastest growing economy, Pakistan is fast being left behind.

The proposed rail link between Rajasthan and Sindh has particular resonance because India is building a rail link to its part of Kashmir, in an effort to integrate it with India.

The key to Indo-Pakistani relations is Kashmir. Of all disputes, only this remains intractable. Yesterday both countries reiterated their claims to all of Kashmir, although most Kashmiris favour independence.

Both leaders said they would work to improve the lives of Kashmiris, but India refused to agree to a deadline to resolve the issue.

As for the cricket, the atmosphere deteriorated after General Musharraf left, with India slumping to a humiliating defeat. Angry Indian fans pelted the pitch with empty water bottles, and play had to stop briefly.

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