Just sharing an Urdu nazm a poet friend (Ata Turab) wrote on January 4th, 2011. Like many sane Pakistanis, I also wept that day, because only 16 hours earlier, the Pakistan I had left – CHANGED.
A recent newspaper report suggests that the Pakistan Cricket Board has hit the jackpot and is set to receive a $16 million cheque in compensation for its inability to stage World Cup matches due to grave security concerns. What is the PCB going to do with this money?
The epicenter of terrorist activities in Pakistan lies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Much has been written about the social & economic backwardness of the area, despite it being home to 2.4% of Pakistanis. The menace of terrorism has uprooted many families from their homes, forcing them to live with the tag of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in shelter camps across the country. Can cricket be part of the solution to tackle their problems?
The former Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara’s recent speech about cricket’s potential “to be more than just a game’ in his country immediately struck a chord. Sri Lanka suffered from a bitter and bloody civil war for almost three decades and Sangakkara contended that their surprise World Cup win in 1996 helped bring the country closer and made it “a shared passion and a force for unity.”
Therein lies the beauty of this great game or of sports in general. The ability of sport to rise above the various ills that plague a society, to bring joy to the people who have suffered immensely, to transcend the barriers a war has placed on an already fractured society. As Michael Messner wrote, “Sport is not an expression of some biological human need, it is a social institution.”
The popularity of the game – and hence its potential to influence the youth – can be gauged by the fact that cricketers are the sole remaining superstars in entertainment-starved modern-day Pakistan. The sport of cricket brings together the aspirations of millions of Pakistanis and the awaam immediately identifies with their heroes.
The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore resulting in the pariah status of Pakistan on the international cricket calendar should have prompted the PCB to invest heavily in the domestic game. A befitting response to the extremist threat would be to expand it further in areas that have been hit hard by the insurgents. Not only will it help spread the game at the grassroots level and in turn find new talent for the PCB to groom, it will also prompt the youngsters in those areas to channel their energies into something productive and find a positive way of taking ownership of Pakistan as their country.
For starters, the PCB can team up with the army-run de-radicalization facilities in Swat where young men poisoned by the dogmatist hatred of the Taliban are being rehabilitated successfully. The PCB can use a part of the $16 million it received from the ICC to provide full-time coaches and equipment to the de-radicalization centers. Surely, if PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt can buy an expensive ticket to fly to New Zealand for a week, just to keep an eye on Shahid Afridi’s body language, then the small matter of lending a proper cricket coach and equipment for a good cause should be no trouble at all.
The PCB can also do a lot to broaden the game at the grass-roots level in the insurgency-hit areas. Funds for bats, balls, nets and pitches can be provided to government schools, or whatever is left of them, which have lots of space but no credible sports programs. Not only will it positively impact the children, who will be provided extra-curricular activities and have a reasonable chance to represent their nation, but also unlock the door to untapped talent to bolster the existing pool of players available at the PCB’s disposal.
New grounds can be built in Swat, Waziristan and other parts of FATA. Talent hunts and coaching camps can be conducted there. A cricketing superstar like Shahid Afridi can be made a cricket ambassador for the tribal agencies (where his ancestral home is) to inspire the vulnerable youth there to choose sport over militancy.
Summer cricket tournaments can be organized in Gilgit-Baltistan and in other parts of the north where the PCB can team up with the tourism authorities to help attract domestic tourists to the area, thereby helping the struggling local economy, in addition to promoting cricket and providing an outlet to the youth to discover their talent.
Cricket has helped Sri Lanka grow closer as a nation and has shown its capacity to be more than just a game. The ground where the leader of the LTTE rebel army, Prabhakaran, used to deliver his annual war speech has been turned into a cricketing academy where young talent from the troubled Northern areas comes to hone their skills with the help of ex-national cricketers, hired by the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. The coaching program – first initiated in 2009 – has not only helped hundreds of aspiring boys move one step closer to realizing their dream of playing for their country, but has also provided the SLC with an abundance of polished talent in its youth reserves.
There is no reason why the sport of cricket cannot overpower terrorism and economic grievances in Pakistan – no reason why it cannot provide the people in those areas something that they can cherish. The rise of extremism in our country began with one man’s myopic thinking – to counter it the PCB as an institution must end its own myopia.
Drop the guns, raise the bats.
Was Sir Muhammad Iqbal inspired by Sargodha, or was Sargodha inspired by Iqbal?
Sargodha district is renowned for its oranges and henna, whereas the city of Sargodha is famous for the PAF Base Mushaf, which is also host to the elite combat commander school of the Pakistan Air force. It is a widely held belief that, the first bomb to be dropped on Pakistani soil during the 1965 war can now be found – unexploded at the aptly named, ‘Bum Chowk’ in the city of Sargodha. Being home to the sterling air heroes of the 1965 war, earned this city, the nickname of, “Shaheenon Ka Shehar”.
I was fortunate to be born in this small – and back then, clean city. Roads were well-maintained and clean compared to other cities and there were only a handful of cars. In fact, the most common mode of public transport was the Tonga. IIRC, there were only a couple of ‘petrol pumps’ in the city and one had to travel to the outskirts to fill up the tank. Water Supply Road – later re-named (Farooq e Azam Road) was where I grew up. Now that I think back, the people I grew up amongst were mainly from two different ethnic backgrounds. The main road was the great divider – on one side, all houses were owned by local Punjabis and on the other side was the Muhajir mohalla. Despite the stark differences between the languages of the two communities, there was never any bloodshed. The sectarian divide on the other hand was a whole different story.
I attended Army Public School Sargodha, which was located in Sargodha Cantt. The Lower Jhelum Canal divides the city from the Cantt, and my school was located amongst prime agricultural land opposite of the famous Remount Depot Sargodha. For me, the city was divided in 4 areas – the androon shehar (covering the old city area), the Army Cantt on the outskirts of the city, the PAF Base and its surrounding areas and the then gunjaan abaad Satelliate Town. The old city area is full of life, and one can walk from one end to another on foot without breaking much of a sweat. Ideally, I always start from the Water Supply Road and end up at Company Bagh at the other end, while always making sure to have sugarcane juice at one of shops located just outside the entrance of the Bagh.
Much has changed since I moved to Rawalpindi in 1998, but a small abode awaits me anxiously whenever I land in Pakistan, and I make sure to spend a week or two every year in Sargodha. Here are a few pictures I took while roaming around aimlessly the last time I visited, hope you enjoy them.
More pictures to come in the next blog post soon, watch this space.
Bherra to Sargodha.
Sargodha to Lahore.
Lahore to Rawalpindi.
Rawalpindi to Montreal.
Montreal to Bangkok.
2nd generation urban Pakistani.