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March 20, 2019

How sports can defeat terrorism


March 20, 2019

Karachi and Quetta, once used to be in the news for terrorism in the world, now hit the headlines for sports and cultural activities. One hosted the PSL-2019 final round for about a week while the other, Quetta Gladiators, lift the trophy and brought smiles to people. This, in itself, is a way forward for fight against terrorism and extremism.

Pakistan's City of Lights, Karachi, darkened by veil of violence and terrorism after 9/11, has now defeated terrorism and sent a clear message to the world that it’s a safe and peaceful country and no more ‘hub for terrorists’.

Jam-packed National Stadium in all matches of Pakistan Super League (PSL) and participation of families, boys and girls, people from all walks of life in each match had even impressed International cricketers like Shane Watson, Sir Viv. Richard, Ingram and Darren Sammy described Pakistan as among the best places for cricket. It has been a long journey how terrorism has been defeated and sports certainly played a key role in it.

The PSL was not just an idea to bring International cricket back to Pakistan but, it’s a way forward to defeat terrorism. It would be unjust if we do not give credit to former PCB chairman Najam Sethi for the great imitative.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is now confident that next year, the whole PSL will be held in Pakistan. DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor is quite optimistic that the next year, they will also ensure some matches in areas like Miramshah, once the hub of terrorist activities. Balochistan CM Jam Kamal is hopeful that victory of Quetta Galdiators will increase interest in cricket in his province and next year, the province may also host one or two matches. Sindh CM Syed Murad Ali Shah was delighted as yesterday's PSL final was the second in two years, host by Sindh and ready for the next year's final, too.

All this indicates that we are moving in the right direction and through sports, cultural, people to people contact and tourism, we can defeat terrorism and extremism. But, it’s an ongoing process.

Last seven days in Karachi were just like a 'dream come true’ for the city of more than 20 million. From the days of daily killings in this very city to the days of daily cricket had even impressed the world cricketers and the officials of International Cricket Council (ICC).

The successful conclusion of PSL, for which credit must go to our law-enforcement agencies, civil and military leadership national resolved that terrorism in all its manifestation must be defeated.

Pakistan is the worst victim of terrorism and over 70,000 people had died in terrorist attacks, ethnic and sectarian strife before both civil and military leadership decided to ban all non-state actors, sectarian, global terror networks as well as jihadi outfits. Some of these groups retaliated against the State, which includes al-Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, TTP and its affiliated wings.

The terrorists also targeted sports as they knew that the people of Pakistan love sports, which often unite the nation. First, in 2002, a New Zealand cricket escaped attack, which, though was not directed against them but, they could become the victim. The suicide attackers targeted the French engineer's bus outside a 5-Star hotel just at a time when from the opposite hotel, the New Zealand team was about to leave for National Stadium, for the ongoing test. The match and the series was abandoned like what happened in New Zealand on March 15, when Bangladesh players had narrow escape during the attack on two mosques as they were about to reach one of the mosques for Friday prayers. The match and tour was abandoned.

In 2009, an attack on Sri-Lankan cricket team in Lahore, practically closed door on international cricket in Pakistan. Here, the team was the target and the attack was seen in the backdrop of Pakistan's support to the SL government in its war against Tamil tigers. It was a big security lapse and our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies had learnt a lot from the incident.

In the last three decades, Karachi alone witnessed series of terrorist attacks of all type, but it was after 2008, when for the first time Pakistan's political and military leadership decided to defeat terrorism and culture of ‘state within state.

Earlier, in 2002, it also banned most of these outfits but action was not fully implemented. In 2008, the operation which started from Swat and Malakand, went in full swing in 2013, when it was decided to launch a countrywide operation and North Waziristan, which after 9/11, became a safe haven for terror networks, was completely cleared.

In the absence of any international teams’ visit to Pakistan, whether cricket or hockey, the stadiums gave deserted look. In fact, in a famous football stadium in Lyari, one criminal gang even had played football with the head of its rival after they killed him.

However, in the last five years, the law-enforcement agencies in Karachi launched massive operation against all groups and as a result, the city showed remarkable improvement.

So, it has been a long journey for Pakistan to defeat terrorism. Karachi, the largest city and the economic hub, was once regarded as among the most dangerous cities of the world for visitors. In the post-9/11 in particular., once been the 'safe haven' for terrorists the city is now safe for sports and ready to host any international event.

March 15, or 15/3, was like 9/11, for the peaceful country like New Zealand, when a terrorist killed 50 innocent Muslims in two mosques of the killing, something quite unprecedented which had shocked the world.

We would never like to see cricket abandoned in New Zealand, but the return of Bangladesh team was understandable under the circumstances. Pakistani team can go to New Zealand as mark of solidarity and play a ‘match for peace’ to give a strong message to terrorists. The Kiwis and BD teams should also visit Pakistan in future as we have defeated terrorism.

Cricket and sports unite the people as a nation. The sporting world should not become hostage to politics and\\ terrorism. It can only be defeated through more sports and teams visiting each other’s countries.

The PSL was a dream some five years back. Today, it has brought smiles on the faces of people who, for years, had become hostage to negative thoughts. Lights have finally returned to the 'City of Lights’, Karachi. The journey is not yet over, but we may see whole PSL in Pakistan in 2020.

The writer is a senior analyst and columnist for Geo, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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