MIRANSHAH: The Pakistani Taleban on Monday rejected an offer to swap their guns for cricket bats and play a match for peace, saying the sport was responsible for turning youth away from jihad.
The militant group were responding to a call made earlier in the day by a top Pakistani minister who offered to host a match with the militants to revive stalled peace talks in comments which provoked derision on social media.
Pakistan’s government entered into a formal dialogue with the Taleban earlier this month, but the process faltered after the militants executed 23 kidnapped soldiers.
The military has retaliated with a series of airstrikes in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan and are home to the Taleban’s top leadership, killing dozens.
With talks on a sticky wicket, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Monday that cricket could offer hope.
“I have information that the Taleban keep an interest in cricket. So if this message can go through to them, we can have a cricket match with them which can have a better result,” he told reporters in Islamabad following an exhibition game. “The Taleban follow the Pakistan cricket team with keen interest so this can be a platform.”
But speaking to AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location, Taleban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said his group would refuse to play ball. “These secular people want to distance our youth from jihad and Islamic teachings through cricket. We are strongly against cricket and dislike it,” he said.
Reaction to the minister’s suggestion that the Taleban could be tempted into talks through cricket was also overwhelmingly negative on Twitter, which is used mainly by the country’s English-speaking elite. In a reference to bloody toll inflicted by the Taleban on Pakistan’s forces over the years, one user called @MidhatZ, said: “Cricket on a red pitch and may be they could bowl with our soldiers heads?”
Another user, @kursed suggested the minister “should invite the families of those beheaded” by the Taleban to the match.
Meanwhile, unknown gunmen killed a senior commander of the Pakistani Taleban who had a government bounty on his head on Monday.
Asmatullah Shaheen, who was believed to be in his mid-40s and was a former interim chief of Pakistan’s Taleban, had a ($95,000) bounty payable for his death.
“Unknown attackers opened fire on Asmatullah Shaheen’s car. He along with three associates died on the spot,” a security official in Miranshah told AFP on condition of anonymity.