PESHAWAR -- The first ever Twenty20 (T20) Super League cricket tournament held in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) opened Monday (April 3), bringing much joy and excitement to people in the region.
The tournament opened in Jamrud Tehsil, Khyber Agency, Monday and will run through April 13.
In the inaugural match, Khyber Green Zamaray beat Shamlor Qabail.
Matches are taking place in Khyber, Bajaur and North Waziristan agencies. Officials moved the matches originally meant for Kurram Agency to the other three agencies after the March 31 bombing in Parachinar that took 24 lives.
"The people are jubilant over the FATA Super League (FSL) as they consider it a step towards the promotion of peace," Shahid Shinwari, president of the FATA Olympic Association, told Pakistan Forward.
Sports activities in all seven tribal districts are in full swing after the Pakistani army defeated militants in the tribal area, he said, adding that the league matches are a blessing for the people and players in the area.
"We accord priority to promote sports [as a means] to defeat militancy in all its forms," Shinwari said.
Pakistani forces have made great strides in driving militants out of the tribal belt since June 2014, when they launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan.
After the successfully conducted, terrorism-free final of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore March 5, the victorious team, Peshawar Zalmi, took the initiative to hold the T20 Super League in FATA, said Haji Taimoor Afridi, head of the Khyber Cricket Association.
Organisers planned to have 24 teams, which include FATA-based players, participate, said Javed Afridi, owner of Peshawar Zalmi.
"A total of 67 matches will take place during the 11-day league," he told Pakistan Forward.
The winning team will be awarded Rs. 600,000 ($5,723) and runner-up Rs. 300,000 ($2,862), he said.
"There is immense talent among the tribal people," he said, adding that he hopes the tournament will bring many spectators. "It is an excellent opportunity for talented cricketers from FATA to gain recognition at the national and international levels."
"The success of this T20 league will bring more normality to the area," Afridi said in a March 29 statement.
Top national cricketers including former national team captain Salman Butt, Umar Amin, Mohammad Rizwan and others will "add value" to the event, the statement said.
"The league will be fully supported by the Pakistan Army and the politicians," according to the statement.
All sporting events and games provide entertainment to the people, which enables them to remain happy and peaceful, said Khadim Hussain, director of the Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation.
"In the past, militants found sanctuaries in FATA because it had no healthy activity and the people were inclined towards militancy," he told Pakistan Forward. "When there are sports, the people will throng to stadiums and there will be no room for miscreants to recruit."
Cricket fans are overjoyed to see the return of major national tournaments to Pakistan and to FATA in particular, which was once a bastion of Taliban militants.
Holding the FSL is a big step towards reviving sports and ending militancy, said Muhammad Akram, 17, from Bajaur Agency.
"It is a big opportunity for the players to be known at the national level," he told Pakistan Forward. "Also, local people are thirsty to watch cricket."
The FSL will "usher an era of sports in FATA", said Raees Shinwari, a high-school student in Khyber Agency.
"It will be great support to the government's effort to promote the positive and peaceful image of FATA," he told Pakistan Forward.
The event is timely and useful, said Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah of Peshawar, former FATA security secretary.
"We need to use sports for peace. More games in the area mean more peace and prosperity," he told Pakistan Forward.
Developing sports in the tribal areas "should be a continuous effort so more youngsters are engaged and the Taliban don't get recruits", he said.
The promotion of sports has served worldwide to aid peace, said Syed Aqil Shah, president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Olympic Association.
"It is a welcome decision and will go a long way to do away with terrorism in FATA," he told Pakistan Forward.
Residents of FATA are physically fit, said Shah. "In the past few years, girls and boys from FATA have won awards at national competitions, which proves their talent," he said.