Pakistan minister offers Taleban a cricket match for peace

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A top Pakistani minister on Monday offered to hold a cricket match with the Taleban as a way of reviving stalled talks on ending the militants' bloody seven-year insurgency.

Pakistan's government entered into a formal dialogue with the Taleban earlier this month, but the process faltered after the militants executed 23 kidnapped soldiers.

The military has retaliated with a series of air strikes in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan and are home to the Taleban's top leadership, killing dozens.

But with talks on a sticky wicket, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said cricket offered hope.

"I have information that the Taleban keep an interest in cricket. So if this message can go through to them, we can have a cricket match with them which can have a better result," he told reporters in Islamabad following an exhibition game.

"The Taleban follow the Pakistan cricket team with keen interest so this can be a platform."

Cricket is Pakistan's main pastime and is sometimes termed the country's "second religion" after Islam.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a diehard fan. And former cricketer Imran Khan now leads Pakistan's third largest political party.

Cricket diplomacy has helped thaw ties between Pakistan and rival India in the past, with a visit by military ruler General Zia Ul Haq to Jaipur in 1987 to watch a Test match seen as key in cooling tensions.