GILGIT: The polo teams of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa may not have been able to square off at the ground, but the political teams of the two regions have been busy.
The G-B government had decided to boycott the Shandur Polo Festival in protest against the federal government’s decision to assign the K-P government to organise the event. The G-B government argued that Shandur Polo Ground was part of the territory of G-B, a claim denied by the K-P government. The polo ground, which stands at 12,000 feet above sea level is the world’s highest polo ground, is midway between Chitral and Gilgit. The G-B government thus recalled their team, which had already reached the polo ground for preliminary matches to acclimatise teams to the weather.
The Gilgit polo team’s boycott of the event had put the fate of the tournament in jeopardy since the game is traditionally played between arch-rivals Gilgit and Chitral every year. However, the K-P government kept hopes alive after it announced that the show will go on, with or without Gilgit’s team. For the first time since 1980, the tournament culminated without participation of the Gilgit polo team.
The K-P government has come out in the open about its views on the G-B government’s claim to the polo ground.
“We have foiled the conspiracies against the Shandur Polo Festival,” Aqil Shah, the provincial sports minister, told a gathering in Chitral recently. It was clear who the minister was referring to: the G-B government that decided to pull their team out of the festival at the eleventh hour.
Shah said that despite several attempts, they couldn’t convince the G-B government to participate in the tournament but they did not “budge an inch” from their claim on Shandur.
In Gilgit, the Shandur issue has turned out to be a matter of both ego and prestige. G-B Chief Minister Mehdi Shah has said that his decision to boycott the festival highlighted the issue of Shandur and forced the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to initiate a dialogue over the disputed territory.
The ‘bold’ decision to withdraw the team, an initiative taken by Shah himself, earned widespread applause and support throughout the province. The people expressed their full support to the chief minister and the Gilgit team captain said that there were no regrets in the team as it was their government’s decision and they honoured it.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2010.