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Keep Politics Out Of Sports

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Khurshid Marwat regrets the clashes between Pakistani and Afghan spectators at Leeds Cricket Ground and urges the Afghan fans to end the hostility and realize that Pakistan played a pivotal role in establishing Afghan cricket as it is today.

I was hardly 10 years old and could barely understand the demographic implications of a mass exodus of an entire nation but I did feel some major changes overnight in Peshawar when Afghanistan was attacked by Soviet Union.

The house rents shot up overnight as the residences available to accommodate the affluent and middle class Afghan migrants were less. The poor and those who couldn’t bring much had to stay in camps around Peshawar.

Secondly, our public transport system saw Mercedes buses for the first time and many owners of the competing old Pakistani transport wagons had to switch over their careers instead of protesting against these Afghani public transport buses. These were actually allowed on humanitarian grounds to ply on Peshawar roads. As a result, fares also increased for the local people.

Moreover, three evils also came along with Afghan war viz. Klashinkov Culture, Heroin, and rampant prostitution due to abject poverty among mohajirs. For us, the proud inhabitants of Peshawar, we opened up our hearts to our Afghan Mohajir brothers and let them live among us in peace for as long as they wanted. I remember renting out of our annex to multiple Afghan families on a nominal rent and then my father’s discreetly helping them settle in various western countries.

I still remember many Afghan boys and girls who were my age back then and then moved out to become German, British, or US citizens. We loved Afghan cuisine, and the ones specially offered at their weddings. I saw for the first time a bride wearing white bridal dress like Hollywood movies in Afghan weddings. And my first experience of eating macaroni was in an Afghan house as a kid.

We had a dedicated Afghan Colony in Peshawar which is still there and we played a lot of cricket with Afghan youth in Shahi Bagh, Wazir Bagh and other grounds of Peshawar. We genuinely felt their misery and predicament and wanted to extend all our support. Peshawar offered all its hospitality when it came to accommodating Afghan Mohajirs in early 80s. Especially when all other neighbours of Afghanistan such as Iran plainly refused to open their borders to these Mohajirs.

Later in my life, I got a chance to work as a Pakistani diplomat in Kabul and what a sobering experience it turned out for me. The amount of hatred towards Pakistan among the Afghani youth in Kabul was incomprehensible for me. Whatever the reasons, to me Kabul was just like an extension of Peshawar in the backdrop of all our sacrifices which we gave as Peshawarites.

However, I soon realised that the great game being played in this region has once again shifted and that strangely the new generation of Afghanistan thinks of us (all Pakistanis) as their enemies. Sometimes it felt so strange that we interacted with Afghan officials who were extremely hostile and had actually been educated entirely in Pakistan or more so in Peshawar.

No matter what the situation – a couple of generations of many Afghans lived among us as brothers and sisters and they can’t deny this fact.

The clashes between the fans of our two countries in Leeds on Saturday and the beating of several Pakistani fans at the hands of Afghan fans may have far reaching consequences for the remaining Afghan Mohajirs in Pakistan. Not only will they be forced to go back, but sadly the genuine Afghan businessmen living in various Pakistani cities may also face harassment.

My request to everyone is to not mix politics with sports. After all, Pakistan played a pivotal role in establishing Afghan cricket as it is today. We have much more inherent differences with India but such clashes were never seen among Indian and Pakistani fans. Why would Afghans become so emotional?

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