ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif still wants cricket between Pakistan and India despite apparently slamming the doors on bilateral series in India, close aides said yesterday. The premier is an ardent fan of cricket. Vetoing a mouth-watering series between Pakistan and India can never be a desired decision for him. The recent incidents in India, however, can force anybody at the top seat to think twice before allowing his men to take the field in a hostile environment.

“The decision to bind PCB to seek permission from the government for India series is just because there are no positive signals from India. Shiv Sena is promoting hatred and the PM is concerned about the players’ safety,” said a close aide of the prime minister. He said PM Sharif was a strong advocate of Pak-India cricket like millions of fans on both sides of the border.

The close aide told The Nation, Sharif was hoping for improved ties with India where cricket could be taken as a sport not war. “Yes, there are political tensions but it was India who suspended cricketing ties with Pakistan. We have never wanted this. They should take a sport as a sport. We hope we will be able to solve this issue,” he added. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, however, is strongly against playing with India on their terms. Last day, Khan said, he will oppose Pakistan’s visit to India because the Indian government was backing Shiv Sena’s extremism. The minister said Shiv Sena’s attacks on visiting dignitaries proved it had the backing of the Indian government.

Pakistan and India have not played a full series since the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which India blamed on militants based across the border. However, Pakistan visited India for a short limited-over series in December 2012, which was regarded as a stepping stone in reviving cricketing ties between both the countries. Given the sensitive relationship between the governments of the two countries, a fresh government Non-Objection Certificate will be required before each series. Interestingly, the chairman of PCB’s executive committee Najam Sethi said he would advise the Board not to accept any offer from the BCCI to play the series in India.

“In my personal opinion we should not go to India as it is our home series and the BCCI should honour the MoU they signed with us which states Pakistan will host this series,” he said. Sethi was chairman of the board when the PCB and BCCI signed the MoU to play six series between 2015 and 2023 with Pakistan hosting the first series in December this year in the United Arab Emirates. Defence analyst Lt. General Talat Masood (retd) said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi should realise that backing extremist groups cannot work.

“Modi should realize his current policies need reforms and he should revise them as early as possible. This decision of Bihar state (where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party lost elections) has shown that Modi has made wrong choice by not adopting secularism based policies.” He said the BJP did very well in Bihar elections in past but this time the people demonstrated they were not happy with the extremist policies. Another defence analyst Dr Mohammad Khan said Narendra Modi and his cabinet have supported RSS, Shiv Sena and extremism in India.

“Many writers, showbiz celebrities and others have returned the awards to government as protest against Modi’s extremist activities,” he added. The analysts believe the two nations must engage in sports and improve ties to the benefit of the millions of people in the region. They argued India must ensure a conducive environment for Pakistanis to visit the neighbouring country.