New Delhi: The Indian government is to issue a record 3,000 visas to Pakistani cricket fans attending a series of limited over matches beginning next month, an official in the interior ministry told AFP Thursday.
"We will happily host 3,000 Pakistani cricket lovers for the matches. This is the first time that we have decided to issue so many visas in one go," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
India is to host Pakistan for two T20 internationals and three 50 over matches from December 25, beginning in Bangalore. Matches will also be held in Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi which will host the last game on January 6.
"One thousand Pakistanis will be able to watch the Delhi match and 500 will be allowed to attend each of the other games," said the official.
"The BCCI (Indian cricket board) will be given all the necessary instructions to speed up the visa process."
Another interior ministry official said the Pakistani visitors would have to report to a designated police station immediately after their entry into India.
"Pakistani fans cannot crossover on foot in (the northern state of) Punjab. They can either choose to fly down or board the border train," the official said.
As well as the Thar Express railway link between the two countries, Pakistan International Airlines flies from Lahore and Karachi to New Delhi and Mumbai.
The rivals have not played a series since Pakistan's tour of India in 2007, after cricket ties were broken following the 2008 attacks in Mumbai by militants from Pakistan.
The countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and diplomatic ties remain extremely fragile in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.
Their cricket teams have met in international tournaments since 2007, including a semi-final in last year's ODI World Cup in the northern Indian city of Mohali -- a match which was attended by both countries' prime ministers.
India won the game comfortably then went on to win the trophy.
Next month's series has not met with universal approval and several radical Hindu groups have demanded its cancellation and threatened to hold protests.
The influential Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council has said India should refuse to host the tour until Pakistan brings to justice the masterminds behind the Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead.
"Why should we have sporting links with a country which is directing terrorism against us," VHP spokesman Prakash Sharma told AFP earlier this month. "Pakistan is not even willing to accept evidence provided by India of its role."
Pakistan in 2009 charged seven men over planning the Mumbai attacks, but insists it needs to gather more evidence in India before proceeding further.
Shiv Sena, a right-wing nationalist party based in Mumbai, has branded the tour a "national shame" and said Indian cricket authorities were "betraying the country for sake of money".
Cricket lovers however have welcomed the matches, including Pakistan's Wasim Akram, one of the sport's greatest ever bowlers and now popular in India as a commentator.
"I can't wait for this tour to happen," Wasim told AFP earlier this month.
"I am confident that the Indian government will make this tour a happy and safe one for our team because the whole world is waiting for this."