Cricket: Tension mounts as India awaits visit of Pakistan

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The Independent Online
INDIAN POLICE have arrested 14 people and are making plans to take over cricket stadiums as part of extraordinary security measures for the Pakistani national side's first tour of India for more than a decade, it was reported yesterday.

Seven activists arrested on Monday night were affiliated with the Hindu far-right Shiv Sena party and worked with a private airline at New Delhi airport, where the Pakistani team is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted police as saying. A further seven people were arrested after throwing bottles and shouting anti-Pakistani slogans outside the Pakistan embassy in New Delhi yesterday.

Pakistan are scheduled to play two Test matches in India, at Madras, beginning on 28 January, and New Delhi, starting on 4 February. A spokesman for the Board of Control for Cricket in India said the tour would still go ahead despite protests by Hindu militants. But the BCCI has decided to move its headquarters from Bombay, where suspected Hindu nationalists ransacked its office on Monday. The headquarters are to be moved to Calcutta, on the other side of the country in West Bengal.

Shiv Sena objects to any attempt to improve relations between India and Pakistan while the latter supports insurgency in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which currently belongs to India. The official Pakistani line on the issue is that it only provides moral and diplomatic support to Muslim militants fighting for Kashmiri independence.

The political tension has prevented the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams from playing one another, and although they met in - and jointly staged - the 1995 World Cup, they have not contested a Test series in either country since Pakistan toured India in 1987, when the visitors won the series 1-0.

While the visit of the Pakistani cricket team is the subject of considerable debate, there are plenty of people determined not to allow the tour to be sabotaged by right-wing activists. An opposition party legislator has been on a hunger strike in Bombay, demanding the arrest of those who vandalised the BCCI offices, while yesterday, there were also street protests in the city against the attack. "Watching cricket is our democratic right," demonstrators chanted.

In Bombay, Shiv Sena denied responsibility for the BCCI attack. "We condemn the incident. When we do something we admit it; when we haven't, why should we?" Raj Thackeray, a leading party figure, said.

But Shiv Sena has admitted responsibility for vandalism carried out on the New Delhi stadium where the second Test will be played, while police say they have discovered a note, signed by a Shiv Sena activist, threatening Pakistani diplomats. Police have said they will be in sole charge of security in the stadiums for each Test match.

Cricket is by far the most popular sport in both India and Pakistan. The two countries have fought three wars in the last five decades since independence from the British, and continue to dispute territory, with exchanges of gunfire still common along their shared borders.