Thousands of cricket fans cheered on their favorite stars at an international T20 match on Thursday in the former Taliban stronghold of Miranshah.
Irshad Salim — The cricket match played between Pakistan XI and UK Media XI in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan in the restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan– close to the Afghan border, has brought the popular sport to former stronghold of the Taliban and comes a week after the historical Independence Day 2017 cricket in Lahore– heralding international cricket’s homecoming to Pakistan.
Khyber Paktunkhwa Governor Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, army commanders and tribal elders also joined thousands of locals and cricket lovers to witness the match in the ex-Taliban stronghold. The cricket fans cheered on their favorite stars and waved signs proclaiming: “We want peace” at the international T20 match Thursday, showcasing the area as free of militants.
Stretched along the Afghan border, North Waziristan’s Miranshah was once a de facto Taliban state that hosted foreign jihadists and served as a launching pad for attacks into Afghanistan.
But in 2014 the Pakistan army launched a clearance operation in the tribal district to wipe out militant bases and bring an end to a bloody insurgency that has cost thousands of lives since 2004 and strained ties with Washington.
More than 20,000 fans were in attendance, who had been massing since early in the morning for the rare chance to see international cricket live.
“It feels like I’m in Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore or in Islamabad today. It doesn’t feel like the old Miranshah infested by the militants,” said Fahimullah, a 31-year-old school teacher to AFP.
“I have not seen such a big match here before today,” said ninth grader Faizan Khan.
“We could not go out earlier because of Taliban. The situation was very bad then, but now they have disappeared, I don’t know where have they gone,” he added.
Former cricket hero Imran Khan on Thursday took to twitter to express his views about the event.
“So happy about the T20 match being played in Miranshah. After so much violence, the ppl of North Waziristan are being provided entertainment,” said Khan who led Pakistan cricket team to its only World Cup victory in 1992.
Khan posted the tweet just before the Pak XI defeated the UK Media XI in The Peace Cup Twenty20 match organized by the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan Army Chief Gen Bajwa said, “Peace won in North Waziristan…This is the real NWA, real Pakistan. We are a peace loving nation.”
“The world saw today how a resilient nation overcomes difficult times,” he added.
Both the teams featured former and current cricket stars including Inzimamul Haq, Shahid Khan Afridi, Younas Khan, Umar Gul, Mushtaq Ahmed and others.