PAKISTAN: Militancy, Security Fears Defeat National Games

  • by Ashfaq Yusufzai (peshawar, pakistan)
  • Tuesday, March 30, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

To residents of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the postponement of the games is just the latest evidence of how their daily lives continue to be disrupted by the violence that is a legacy of the Taliban’s ouster in Afghanistan not too far away from here.

'I am really shattered by the government’s decision to postpone National Games because we have been waiting for this mega-event for the past two years,' said Shazia Mubarik, the champion woman cyclist in the NWFP.

'I was in a strict dietary regime to maintain my fitness and improve my ranking in the 31st National Games, but I am extremely disappointed at the decision,' Sundas Bibi, who won a bronze medal in the last edition of the games, told IPS.

The games were scheduled to be held from Mar. 25 to 31 here in Peshawar, the NWFP capital, but were postponed to December 2010 due to security concerns. The games had already been postponed from November 2009.

'It was a tough decision and players felt disappointed after this but as minister I can’t take responsibility for the safety of 6,000 participants in the event,' NWFP Sports Minister Syed Aqil Shah said.

There have been several violent attacks lately, as areas of Pakistan close to Afghanistan continue to experience militant activity since 2001 when the Taliban government was toppled by the U.S. forces. Subsequently, Taliban sneaked across the border to the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and adjacent provinces like the NWFP.

Since 2004, militants have killed thousands of civilians and soldiers in suicide and bomb attacks, as well as blown up girls’ schools and music shops.

'The parents don’t allow their daughters to go out for playing sports due to the law and order situation,' said Asif Khan, president of NWFP Swimming Association.

At these postponed games, sportswomen from FATA, which borders Afghanistan, were to have competed for the first time in the history of the National Games.

Women athletes had been looking forward to competing in the games especially against the backdrop of the Taliban’s opposition to women venturing out in public. In areas such as the Swat distract, the Taliban had banned women from bazaars, schools and working in hospitals.

'The women players were afraid to go out. Before the U.S. war against terrorism, we used to see hundreds of women in the stadium, but now the situation has undergone a sea-change and the grounds are deserted,' said Kifayatullah Khan, president of the Badminton Association.

Syed Azhar Ali Shah, president of the NWFP Cycling Association, said the government should not have played into the hands of militants by postponing the games. They want to force their agenda that includes 'keeping the women from (sports) games', he said.

He pointed out that other events been held recently, such as the Tour De Pakistan cycling race that started from Peshawar on Mar. 1.

Shazia Mubarik says she had been training harder and had been confident retain her cycling title in the National Games. 'Its postponement dealt a severe bow to 1,700 women players,' she said, referring to athletes who were set to compete in 14 sports events, including swimming, volleyball, table tennis and badminton.

Besides women, about 4,000 male players were left high and dry when the postponement of the games was announced on Mar. 20.

Sports events have not been spared from violent attacks in the past.

On Jan. 1 this year, a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a playground where volleyball tournament was underway in Lakki Marwat district of the NWFP, killing more than 100 people and including dozens of players.

In November 2008, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the jampacked Qayyum Sports Complex in Peshawar, killing four people and wounding 13.

The attack took place as fireworks marked the end of the 3rd Inter-Provincial Games, bringing a gloomy end to the event that had marked a revival of cultural activity in NWFP. Provincial ministers Syed Aqil Shah and Bashir Ahmed Bilour were the targets of the attack, said a statement issued by the outlawed Tehrik Taliban the next day.

Despite the difficult environment in this part of Pakistan, NWFP has produced world champions in squash. But athlete Maria Torpeka, the woman national under-19 squash champion, has now decided to go overseas.

'I am going to the United States to continue my game because here it is not possible,' said the 18-year-old Torpeka, who is from restive North Waziristan. She received a music scholarship in the United States, and says she will find time to improve her squash game there.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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