In what appears to be a face-saving move, the Gilgit polo team has decided to play the traditional Shandur polo festival this year, even though the responsibility of holding the event has unilaterally been assigned to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), it has been learnt.
The Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government had boycotted the festival last year to protest K-P’s claims to Shandur, which lies between Chitral and Gilgit and is home to the world’s highest polo ground. This year, after claiming an equal share in organising the event, Gilgit ended the boycott.
Sources said that the issue between the two regions is not settled, but to cover-up its failure, the G-B government decided to play.
“The K-P government is unilaterally making arrangements as a deputy commissioner of K-P is in charge,” said sources familiar with the matter. “Though special seats have been reserved for G-B, in reality, G-B will be participating as a guest and not a host, as was claimed by G-B,” said sources privy to the development.
The local press in G-B has been covering the issue regularly for a while now, challenging the G-B government’s claim that G-B is an equal organising partner.
Sadia Danish, an advisor to the chief minister, said that G-B had been given equal rights to arrange the polo festival that has been played between Chitral and G-B since colonial times, when Maj Evelyn Cobb, a British Political Agent in 1930s, was the ruler of the area.
The freestyle Shandur polo tournament attracts a large number of foreign as well as domestic tourists to the region, giving a boost to an economy that is heavily dependent on tourism. The concluding ceremony of the event is usually attended by the head of state or a prominent dignitary designated by the president of prime minister.
Terming it a success, Sadia Danish said her government had successfully negotiated with K-P and secured an equal share in organising the event. “We will have 50 per cent share in all matters including revenue,” she said.
She also said that the boundary issue will be settled in six months as a high-level committee was working on it.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2011.