Politicising the Shandur Festival

Published: July 12, 2010

What does a polo game have to do with politics?

Looking at the past decade, when strife and unrest reached a new peak in our country, I have come to one conclusion: we, as a nation, thrive on conflict.

If it is not something as magnanimous as the operation in the northern belt of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, it’s always trivial issues that are exaggerated to unknown proportions. Ultimately, the result is not only ugly; it bears down upon everyone and culminates in bitterness.

Case in point – the recent fiasco at the well-known Shandur Festival that has been held every July since 1936 between rival teams from Gilgit and Chitral. It is polo in its purest form and attracts a wide variety of tourists, both local and foreign. The contentious issue here is an emerging territorial dispute between the governments of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan. Discussions between the two sides to reach an amicable solution hit an impasse and Gilgit-Baltistan’s government decided to abstain and pulled its team out of the festival. The sole reason given by the Finance Minister of GB was that they do not want to participate as guests in the festival on an area that he claimed ‘belonged’ to GB.

The decision has been met with a mixed response with the majority condemning it. Votes in an online poll originally conducted on a Gilgit based website Pamir Times  showed that out of a total 273 votes polled 127 (46%) of the people did not support the boycott. 121 votes (44%) backed it.

What I fail to understand is the ability of our representative governments to politicise everything that would meet their agenda and satisfy their personal and selfish beliefs. When will they, as leaders, start acting like leaders and pave way to solutions rather than creating more rows? Why is a sporting festival, that not only has historical importance but is internationally acclaimed and which might be a great boost to our flailing tourism department, a bone of contention at this point in time? When will our elected representatives be objective rather than irrational and subjective?

It is abominable at best and it wouldn’t be wrong to say the government of GB has made a giant unrelated mountain out of a molehill. Sabotaging the festival has dampened the spirit of the sport per se and it has far-reaching effects on the locals as well, who might have had a chance to earn a livelihood during the festival. A sport is a sport and it should remain so. Yet, we have a penchant to dramatise everything for turf, power and money. The festival this year was dedicated to martyrs in uniform of the operation against miscreants. I wonder what the government of GB has achieved by defying a noble cause like that.

It is extremely exasperating to note that with a surfeit of disputes and clashes in our country, our pygmy politicians and shallow governments decide to look for new ones whenever they find a chance.

An area that for decades has stood out for peace, tranquility and harmony need not have been subjected to biased decisions leading to instability. This year, the government of KPK is resolute to continue without the team participating from Gilgit-Baltistan. And rightly so. However, for better good, I seriously hope that in the future a reasonable solution is mapped out and the dispute resolved to save our nation from such needless embarrassment.

Bushra Maheen Rahman

Bushra Maheen Rahman

A doctor from Peshawar who writes, blogs at www.pistaye.wordpress and tweets @MaheenRahman

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