A joint venture of Balochistan government, Southern Command and Frontier Corps Balochistan, an All Pakistan T20 Cricket night tournament was successfully held at Quetta’s Bugti cricket stadium for the second consecutive year. What was laudable on the part of provincial sports ministry was importance given to local cricket.
The first phase of cricketing event involved 34 cricket teams from Balochistan, representing all provincial districts. It cost provincial government some 2.4 million rupees. Out of these, 14 teams from Balochistan qualified for the tournament at Bugti stadium. The second phase commenced when cricket tournament began on June 27 and ended on July 4. Overall, 26 teams participated in the tournament including 12 from the three provinces and FATA. Malik Cricket Academy Peshawar won the final match held on July 4. All matches were live telecast on PTV Bolan. In all, it cost the FC Rs35 millions to be financed by the provincial sports ministry.
The idea of T20 cricket was the brainchild of Corps Commander Southern Command, financed by Balochistan government with security arrangement being the responsibility of the FC. That collaborative effort lasted till the end. At the inaugural ceremony, Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, Governor Muhammad Khan Achakzai, provincial senior minister Sanaullah Zehri and Corps Commander Major General Nasir Khan Janjua were all in attendance.
The purpose of the cricket tournament was to give a strong message that Balochistan, especially Quetta city, was peaceful. The successful conduct of the whole undertaking in an orderly manner was not lost upon the dwellers of the city either. The objective now should be continuing with the exercise.
“I fear the winding up of the cricket scheme once the incumbent corps commander is posted out”, said a concerned cricketer. “During summer season, due to its moderate temperature, Quetta is an ideal place for the holding of cricket events on national level,” contended another cricketer. “Although Balochistan government arranged for free entry, cricket lovers in Balochistan will pay for any reasonable fee to watch a cricket match” stated a cricket fan.
Of special importance was the presence of Pakistan’s national players both retired and serving ones. Aamir Sohail, Ejaz Ahmed, Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan and Aizaz Cheema among others adorned the event. In addition to cricketing, the inaugural and closing ceremonies of the tournament offered for musical concerts. Abrar-ul-Haq, Akhtar Channa, Rahim Shah and Gul Parna were some of the prominent singers to grace the occasion.
A beautiful aspect of the tournament was public’s immense interest right from the beginning to the very end. In majority matches, the crowd exceeded the 22000 capacity of the stadium. Besides, long queues of people were seen beyond the confines of the stadium only to return back to homes due to the lack of any space. Impressed by the deafening response of the full house crowd, national singer Abrar-ul-Haq remarked: “I literally cannot differentiate whether I am performing in Quetta or Lahore.” Thus, there was no denying the fact that the conduct of cricket tournament in Quetta was a very popular decision from government level down to the public.
That such sporting events not only of cricket but of every other game in Balochistan should be organised throughout the year not just in Ramzan is useful for a host of reasons. For one, sport is beneficial not only for mental and physical health, it also helps reduce sense of deprivation among the youth in Balochistan. “There is not a single player from Balochistan in the national cricket team,” lamented a local cricketer.
In addition, under the current situation of Balochistan, whereby sectarian strife is rearing its ugly head, sports provide not only for entertainment but also distraction from extremism. More, sports are intimately associated with unlocking — what Psychologists call — “positive energy,” a bunch of socially desirable attributes such as tolerance, empathy, and cheerfulness and among others courtesy.
Religious extremism, as an ideology, should be dealt with from all sides. Combating it through hard means of military only speaks of the limitation of such a strategy. Sport, on the other hand, provides for the soft means to combat extremism of any type. Although cricket frenzy knows no bounds in Balochistan, the province has a huge potential for other sports as well. Whereas in martial arts, especially in Judo, Karate and Taekwondo, the Hazaras have almost no match, Chaman remains well known for football.
When I interviewed officials from a local cricket club so as to know about their feedback, the thrust of their anger fell upon the PCB. “We are thankful to Balochistan government, Corps Commander and FC for the tournament; PCB made every hurdle so that the T20 tournament could not be held”, said a very senior cricketer of a club who requested not to mentioned for the fear of retribution. “Ironically, when the PCB invites international cricket teams to Pakistan, it says that the security situation is stable; but the PCB would deny us NOC for cricketing events in Quetta citing security concerns,” he lamented. “The problem is that PCB has no representative from Balochistan who might speak on our behalf,” regretted another club cricketer.
Pakistan Cricket Board along with provincial sports ministry should seriously look into these grievances and patronise cricketing events in Balochistan. Similarly, the provincial sports ministry should encourage all other games as well. The provincial government should come forward to invest in recreational facilities. Quetta city is known for its huge lack in leisure facilities.
The great lesson to learn from the successful holding of T20 tournament in Quetta was that any joint effort will pay off wherever Balochistan’s civil and military leadership are on the same page. Without exhibiting close coordination from across the civil-military divide on eliminating sectarian terrorism from Balochistan especially Quetta city, the scourge is there to stay.