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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Football for peace

September 21 is marked internationally as ‘The International Day for Peace’. 'It is a day when communities are urged to consider ways in which they can promote and strengthen the ideals of peace within themselves and with other communities.

Swat is a district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, not too far from the Pakistan-Afghan border. Swat was once renowned, and still is, for its natural beauty; but Swat also has a troubled past.

Extremist elements had been gaining strength in the region ever since the Taliban established their government in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Skirmishes between extremist elements escalated in 2007 to an occupation of the region by militants. It took two years of on-and-off armed conflict between the Pakistani army and militant forces for stability to return to the region.

Like all communities that have experienced an extended period of conflict, the two years of violence have left a lasting impact on the people of Swat; skirmishes and armed operations may be over, but the memories linger on.

To mark The International Day for Peace, a group of Active Citizens from Swat organized a soccer match on September 23 2011 with the collaboration of CYAAD, a partner organization of the British Council. The chairman of the Swat Aman Committee (The Swat Committee for Peace) and other members of the peace committee also participated in the event.

The match was played in the Kabal Ground, in an area that used to be a stronghold of militants during the ‘occupation’ of Swat. In a way this was a statement by the Active Citizens group that the era of violence in Swat is over.

The football match was a welcome change for the people of Swat. More than 1,000 people were in attendance to cheer on the two teams. Besides entertaining the crowd, the match served as a way to highlight the fact that the young people of the region desired peace, and that they want to play their part to avoid and to resolve conflict.