It is not Yusuf Raza Gillani or Asif Ali Zardari but Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, if at all, who should be invited to watch the high voltage India-Pakistan semi finals at Mohali.
After all it is not the titular president Zardari or pawn prime minister Gillani but the chain smoking chief of the army staff General Kayani who wields actual power in Pakistan.
Prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh would do well to press home the point with Kayani about the importance of maintaining stability in the region - which is now as much in Kayani's interest given the war with their home grown, trained and armed terrorists on their western flank.
Pakistan's military dictators from General Zia-ul-Haq (Jaipur,1987) to Pervez Musharraf (Delhi, 2005) have in the past used cricket diplomacy to talk to India in a less structured environment. Those talks may have momentarily reduced tensions but did not help bring about a change expected of a summit level meeting - aimed at cutting through the diplomatic red tape and stated positions.
Let me at the onset say I am not against talks. I am not an opponent of warmer Indo-Pak ties. I think both India and Pakistan stand to gain with friendly relations between the two nuclear weapon states. But the million dollar question is - who will tell the Pakistan army that?
Will Dr Manmohan Singh travel to the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul and tell the young cadets that India is not their enemy. Terrorists are. That threat to Pakistan does not come from its eastern flank but from its western flank and now within. That the Pakistan army desperately needs reforms in military affairs (it just bypassed the region) to re-orient itself to take on terrorists it gave birth to, armed, trained and launched both in Afghanistan and in India.
The situation is far more desperate and radicalised now. The US, with all its clout -money and muscle power had to literally go down on its knees to gets its spy Raymond Davis out of Pakistan. Do we actually expect to move forward after one cricket match? If so, our understanding and appreciation of Pakistan army is very poor. Hating India is in Pakistan army's DNA. That DNA restructuring will not happen through these cricket matches. For that India will have to engage the Pakistan army directly in military-to-military contacts - off the battlefield. And seeing the US having limited success, we should really set very realistic goals.
These Mohali-type talks are more for the sake of talks. More like talking at each other - or just talking to keep the Americans happy. Indo-Pak engagements follow a pattern. It is almost like theatre. There is a script. The prime minister here, the president/military dictator there are just characters in a play. And it is almost as if someone is directing the play, ordering the characters to follow the script sitting across the seven seas.
Lets just go back one decade. Lahore bus journey in Feb 1999 was seen as a turning point in Indo-Pak relations. A new dawn, many fawned. It was followed by a devious war in Kargil masterminded by General Pervez Musharraf. More than 540 brave soldiers laid down their lives just to restore the Line Of Control.
In 2001, India let Pakistan off the hook and became the first country in the world to give legitimacy to a military dictator; Pervez Musharraf. India gave him a ceremonial tri-services guard of honour, reserved only for heads of state, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Agra summit that followed was a complete disaster.
The same year terrorists trained, armed and launched by Pakistan attacked the J&K state assembly and then in December the Indian Parliament.
The same script was followed. India's desperate breast beating and sulking. A military stand off - Operation Parakram for 10 months and then again it was business as usual. Reports say more than 800 soldiers were killed during Operation Parakram without a single bullet being fired.
In 2004 Vajpayee travelled to Pakistan. Once again Pakistan was off the hook. The Indian cricket team traveled to Pakistan for the so called friendship series. In 200 Musharraf wrangled an invite to India to watch the cricket match at the Feroz shah Kotla grounds in Delhi. All for laying the foundation for better ties with India.
Did it bring peace in the sub continent? Delhi, Mumbai and several other cities across the country were repeatedly targeted by Pakistan sponsored terrorists. The Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore was targeted by terrorists. Tehre was a terror attack at Ayodhya and a serial bomb blast in Delhi on Diwali eve that killed almost 70 innocent people.
In 2006 the Sankat Mochan temple and the Railway station at Varanasi were attacked and in July, the same year, a serial blast in the Mumbai suburban train system killed almost 200 innocent Indians.
2007 again saw a series of blasts and terror attacks across the country. The government claimed it was Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamat-ud-Dawa and other Pakistan sponsored terror groups that were responsible for these terror attacks.
In 2008 terrorist attacks increased. Not only were several Indian cities like Ahmedabad, Surat and Bangalore targeted but the ISI targeted Indian embassy in Kabul before the biggest ever terror attack on India in Mumbai 26/11 2008.
To all these terror attacks what has Pakistan's response been ?
Pakistan signed an agreement saying it will not permit its territory to be used for terror attacks against India. Now that agreement is not worth the paper it is written on since even post 26/11 not only are terror factories up and running in Pakistan but they are mushrooming along the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir and in Punjab.
Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Illyas Kashmiri, Dawood Ibrahim are flourishing in Pakistan. Now that is an open secret. You do not need R&AW inputs for that. But Pakistan refuses to acknowledge that. What does that show? invite Pakistan for as many cricket matches - it will remain hostile to India.
Forget the past. Post 26/11 India's home minister P. Chidambaram cried himself hoarse telling Pakistan to give voice samples of alleged terror masterminds who were directing the 10 Pakistani terrorists during the 26/11 attacks. Has Pakistan delivered ? No.
Twice the Indian embassy in Kabul was targeted. Not just R&AW - intelligence agencies ranging from CIA to MI-6 to French and German agencies blamed Pakistan's ISI. Any action against even a low ranking non commissioned officer (NCO) let alone the mastermind - Director General of ISI ? No.
The civilian establishment needs to be strengthened in Pakistan no doubt. But the foundation cannot be laid on dead bodies of innocent Indians killed in terror attacks in India and Afghanistan. India should talk to Gen Kayani and tell him next time India is targeted - the nation will not turn the other cheek.
India should say exactly the same to the United States. While US interests in the Af-Pak region are important, Indian interests are far more important and cannot be sacrificed at the altar of US war on terror.
If India can do that then Gen Kayani would be equally desperate for that ticket at Mohali. Our Prime Minister would do well to keep that in mind while hosting Gilani at Mohali.