MIRANSHAH: The Pakistani Taliban on Monday rejected an offer to swap their guns for cricket bats and play a match for peace, saying the sport was responsible for turning youth away from jihad.
The militant group were responding to a call made earlier in the day by Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan who offered to host a match with the militants to revive stalled peace talks in comments which provoked derision on social media. The government entered into a formal dialogue with the Taliban 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 Taliban’s top leadership, killing dozens.
With talks on a sticky wicket, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Monday that cricket could offer hope. “I have information that the Taliban 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 Taliban follow the Pakistan cricket team with keen interest so this can be a platform.”
But speaking to AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said his group would refuse to play ball. “These secular people want to distance our youth from jihad and Islamic teachings through cricket. We are strongly against cricket and dislike it,” he said. “We are ready to open the deadlock in peace talks created by the government. The government is not sincere in peace talks, but Taliban are ready for it.”
Reaction to the minister’s suggestion that the Taliban could be tempted into talks through cricket was also overwhelmingly negative on Twitter, which is used mainly by the country’s English-speaking elite. In a reference to bloody toll inflicted by the Taliban on Pakistan’s forces over the years, one user called @MidhatZ, said: “Cricket on a red pitch and may be they could bowl with our soldiers heads?” Another user, @kursed, termed the minister a “bloody lunatic” and said “he should invite the families of those beheaded” by the Taliban to the match.
Nisar Ali Khan said Pakistan would be made a cradle of peace and the government would make all-out efforts to achieve this goal. Talking to media persons during the exhibition match played between Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) XI and Commonwealth XI at Saidpur Cricket Ground, he said the aim of cricket match was to convey the message to the international community that Pakistan was a peaceful country. Cricket stars Umer Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Tanvir, Abdul Qadir, Azhar Ali, Sarfraz Nawaz, Intikhab Alam, Ejaz Ahmed and diplomats played from the two teams.
The Commonwealth team was led by Australian High Commissioner Peter Hewyard. Nisar said some elements wanted that no match be played at Pakistani cricket grounds. “The soft image of country would be projected by organising such recreational activities and sporting events,” he added. He said the match was organised for a good cause and to tell the world that cricket could be played in Pakistan. The minister thanked Australian High Commission, European Union and Roots Millennium Schools for organising the event.
Nisar said Pakistan was facing multiple challenges. However, despite that situation, the people thronged playgrounds and stadiums to watch cricket. He said, “It is a wonderful day. I compliment the Pakistani cricketers, who are our heroes. They act as ambassadors of the country wherever they play in the world.” Chaudhry Nisar, who played as a member of the Pakistan Cricket Board XI, scored 28 runs by hitting four 4s. He also bowled two overs.
The spectators and diplomats enjoyed the minister playing. The match was won by PCB XI by two runs in a close finish. Speaking at the end of match, Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Najam Sethi thanked the interior minister for playing from the PCB XI and said Chaudhry Nisar had passion for sports, especially cricket. He said he accepted the post of PCB chairman after he was persuaded by the interior minister to take up the job.
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