Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf rules in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, has decided to use sports as a cornerstone of his counter-terrorism policy, an aide said on Friday.
“Terrorism has been very destructive for sports … that is why we are aiming at sports activities to end terrorism in the province,” said Iftikhar Elahi, sports and culture coordinator for the party.
Khan has courted controversy in the West for advocating peace talks with the Taliban and there have been growing questions about how his inexperienced party will tackle the scourge of violence. On July 26 suicide bombers killed 57 people in the tribal town of Parachinar, and on Monday Taliban fighters stormed a prison in Dera Ismail Khan, freeing more than 240 inmates, including militants.
Elahi said he hoped cricket, which is a national obsession in Pakistan, could bring peace. Khan is Pakistan’s greatest all rounder and captained the country to its only World Cup victory in 1992.
“Our party gives special stress on youth and sports and with Khan as leader and initiator of the program we hope that it can help bring peace in the province,” Elahi told reporters. He said the scout for talent was part of the party’s program to develop what is one of the most deprived parts of Pakistan.
“The program is aimed at spotting talent in cricket from the province,” he told reporters. “Khan has taken the initiative as part of his development programs in KPK.”
The province has produced greats like Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul in recent years, but militant bomb attacks and shootings have destroyed aspects of daily life.
“Khan will give as much time as possible and we have also hired a few coaches (former players) who will help spot talent and then groom them,” said Elahi.
He also said talks were underway to help build and renovate proper cricket grounds in the province.
The hunt will also be extended to the semi-autonomous tribal belt that neighbors KPK, which Washington considers a premier hub of Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives who pose a global threat.