Row puts a damper on Shandur Festival


Shabbir Mir July 05, 2010

GILGIT: The Gilgit polo team returned home on Monday after the Gilgit-Baltistan government pulled out of the Shandur festival in protest against a controversial decision of the Central government.

The Gilgit team captain said he wasn’t disappointed for missing the mega event watched by more than 10,000 people every year at Shandur. “It was our government’s decision and we honour it,” Fazal told a delegation after returning from Shandur.

The Gilgit team had reached Shandur – the world’s highest polo ground around 12,000 feet above sea level – a week back to take part in warm-up matches, especially organised to acclimatise the players and the horses to the weather conditions.

Fazal was leading the Gilgit team which had beaten Chitral four years back at the same ground last time.

The G-B government had expressed serious reservations over the Central government’s decision to hand over the rights of organising the Shandur festival to the Khyber–Pakhunkhwa (K-P) government, arguing that Shandur was part of G-B, a claim denied by the K-P government. As the controversy deepened, the G-B chief minister announced that they would boycott the event in protest.

Meanwhile, high-level delegations from both regions met in Gilgit to settle the row, but the talks remained inconclusive.

Gilgit-Baltistan Finance Minister Muhammad Ali Akhtar led the G-B delegation, while the K-P delegation was headed by provincial Minister Salim Khan. Khan tried to convince the G-B team to take part in the festival as it would promote tourism in this scenic place.

But the rival Chitral team decided to take a solo-flight, ignoring its long-time rival, Gilgit team, as financiers wanted the planned tournament to go ahead even if Chitral had to play its own B-team.

People in Gilgit-Baltistan have also decided to boycott the tournament “in the larger interest” of the region, sources said. The three-day Shandur festival is starting from Wednesday.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2010.

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