Security concerns overshadow cricket diplomacy ahead of much-awaited series later this year

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has made it clear that all extra precautions will be taken before issuing visas to Pakistani fans wanting to enjoy the proposed cricket series later this year.

MHA officials are yet to be sounded on what extra precautions they should take from the security point of view. A senior MHA official said though India had been liberal in granting visas to Pakistani spectators, this time stringent measures would be adopted before granting the same.

“During the investigations into the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, it came to light how Pakistani terrorists and Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] misused visas in plotting terror attacks against India. During interrogations, 26/11 handler Syed Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal has said Sajid Mir and Major Abdurrehman, who were behind the Mumbai attacks, had visited India after they got visas to witness India-Pakistan cricket series in 2005,” the official said.

Notably, Sajid Mir, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander responsible for building his organisation’s international network, and Major Abdurrehman are alleged to be closely linked to the ISI. In fact, they were on a reconnaissance mission to Delhi and Mumbai a year before David Coleman Headley visited Mumbai to identify the targets for the 2008 attacks.

The official pointed out that another area of concern was the disappearance of Pakistan nationals. “It is estimated that there are over 7,000 Pakistanis who are still in India after their visas had expired. They are a potential threat to the nation’s internal security.” The MHA’s official figure of overstaying Pakistani nationals as on December 31, 2009 is 7,691, though many of them are Hindus and Sikhs.

Nonetheless, renewal of cricketing tie tops the government’s agenda today. It is learnt that Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Board of Control for Cricket in India spokesperson Rajeev Shukla is in constant touch with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Home Minister P. Chidambaram in negotiating the details of the proposed cricket series.

Mr. Chidambaram does not want the game to be overshadowed by the ongoing investigations into the Mumbai attacks and Pakistan’s persistent refusal to accept the role of its “state actors” behind the attacks.

MHA officials are awaiting instructions from the Minister to begin the groundwork for the proposed series.

“Our job is to provide security to cricketers, at the venue and maintain overall vigil so that nothing untoward happens…we are ready to take up this task. Similarly, clearing visa applications of Pakistanis is a crucial job…we get a large number of applications. Despite the fact that we have to issue a large number of visas in a short period of time which makes complete profiling of an applicant a difficult task, we will still take maximum precaution before granting any visa,” the official said.

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