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Boundary matters: G-B mulls plans to end boycott of Shandur Polo Festival

PESHAWAR:  Gilgit-Baltistan Caretaker Minister for Sports Inayatullah Shumali plans to end the region’s boycott of the Shandur Polo Festival which will be held in August.

He was speaking at a seminar organised at a local hotel in Peshawar on Monday.

For the last three years, G-B has not participated in the festival.

Uneven playing field

In 2010, Gilgit boycotted the festival to protest against the federal government’s decision to assign the management and organisation of the event to K-P and over a dispute as to which government has ownership rights over Shandur, which lies between G-B’s Ghizer Valley and Chitral district of K-P.

In 2014, the decision to withdraw from the festival was announced at the last minute by then minister for information Sadia Danish at the Gilgit Press Club. “Shandur is historically part of our region but we aren’t being given a due share in the event by the K-P government,” Danish had said. “Ideally, both regions should share responsibilities of arranging the event equally but unfortunately this is not happening.”

Residents have repeatedly complained of not being given their due share in the polo event by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government. As a result, the polo team from Gilgit – who were traditional rivals to teams from Chitral – was not allowed to participate in the event.

“The issue of Shandur will be taken up at a meeting of the Council of Common Interest (CCI),” Shumali said. “However, we will send our team from Gilgit to participate in the event.”

Speaking on the occasion, Adviser to Chief Minister on Sports, Tourism, Archaeology, Museums and Youth Affairs Amjad Khan Afridi said both K-P and G-B governments would bilaterally resolve the dispute over Shandur through mutual discussion.

For the love of polo

Lawmakers from Chitral also participated in the seminar.

Bibi Fauzia, one of the MPAs, said the polo festival will boost tourism in the region and help improve the standard of living for both Gilgit and Chitral residents.

During his address, Syed Sardar Hussain, another lawmaker, said the festival is an important source of tourism and could damage the interest of the entire region if it is continuously boycotted.

“Although we are living below the poverty line, we still keep a horse so we can play polo,” the lawmaker said.

The festival is usually witnessed by sports and travel enthusiasts, both local and foreign. However, the boycott has dealt a heavy blow to the event which attracts thousands of people to the world’s highest polo ground.

Turning a blind eye

Hussain strongly condemned the previous and current government for not providing adequate facilities for national and international tourists.

“They have not even constructed roads,” he said. “Even during the British era, there was a telephone line in the region. However, few facilities exist for us in this day
and age.”

The minister urged foreign tourists to visit the region. “We want to send a message to the entire world that we are peaceful nation who treats tourists with mutual respect,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2015. 

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