GB undecided over Shandur tournament participation

GILGIT, June 22: Whether the Gilgit team will participate in the upcoming Shandur polo festival this year remains to be decided.

The dilemma springs from the longstanding boundary dispute between Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) over the area located between Ghizer valley and Chitral. “Despite the lingering issue, we will soon decide on whether to partake in the tournament or not,” said a ruling party leader on the condition of anonymity.

He said that the GB government believes that if their polo team participates in the tournament, their stance over the issue will soften, which might encourage KP to further its grip over the area. On the other hand, if GB does not participate, it runs the risk of being isolated and losing the share of revenue generated from the area, the party leader added.

In 2010, the GB polo team boycotted the event to register its protest against KP’s claim over the area. The boycott, however, robbed GB of its share of revenue. The GB government, reviewing the decision of boycott, took part in the tournament in 2011. The boundary issue was sent to the boundary commission but no decision has come thus far, leaving the ties between the two neighbours strained.

Meanwhile, in the view of the revenues, GB Chief Minister Mehdi Shah is being advised by the cabinet not to boycott the tournament, which was won by Gilgit last year. According to government officials, GB will only participate if it has equal share as that of K-P in all matters ranging from administrative to finance and revenue. The officials said another condition is that the chief ministers of GB and K-P will both address the audience in the opening or closing ceremonies.

The Shandur polo tournament attracts a large number of foreigners as well as domestic tourists, giving a boost to the local economy which, in the absence of industries, depends mostly on tourism. The concluding ceremony of the event is attended by the head of state or a prominent dignitary designated by the president or prime minister.

GB Assembly Deputy Speaker Jamil Ahmed said that Shandur was part of GB and that it would play the annual tournament from July 6 to 9. “We would raise voice for our right even if we have to go to the presidency,” he said. The traditional polo was first played in the 12,200-feet high (3,700m) Shandur in 1930 when Colonel Evelyn Hey Cobb, the then British resident, played it under moon light.

The sport is still played in accordance with rules introduced centuries ago. In addition to polo, the festival also includes events like tug-of-war, paragliding and musical chairs.–Express Tribune