Swapping Kalashnikovs for bat and pads: Afghan cricket, the Taliban and peace

first_imgSwapping Kalashnikovs for bat and pads: Afghan cricket, the Taliban and peaceThe Taliban had banned games such as cricket and football in the early years of their austere rule but later became more tolerant of cricket.advertisement Reuters JalalabadApril 2, 2019UPDATED: April 2, 2019 17:01 IST Afghan men play cricket on outskirt of Kabul (Reuters Photo)HIGHLIGHTSCricket was adopted by Afghans in the refugee camps of cricket-loving PakistanThe Taliban had banned games such as cricket and footballAfghanistan’s rise in limited-overs cricket has helped popularise the sport in the countryDuring a lull in Afghanistan’s never-ending war, before the fighting season resumes once again in the spring, Taliban fighters recall laying down their Kalashnikovs and, for a brief moment, enjoying a game of cricket.The sport is the only one most of the fighters enjoy, commanders say, with matches attracting hundreds of spectators from Taliban-controlled villages when there is no fighting. They are also fans of the increasingly successful national team.”I love cricket,” said Mullah Badruddin, a Taliban commander in Khogyani district of Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan, where a tournament organised by the militants at the start of last winter drew large crowds.”When Afghanistan play against another team, we listen to the radio with great interest and we also check for scores in social media and follow those in Facebook who give live updates,” he told Reuters by telephone.First played in Afghanistan by British troops in the 19th Century, the game was adopted by Afghans in the refugee camps of cricket-loving Pakistan, where more than 3 million fled a Soviet invasion and civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, and has since made huge strides in the country, particularly among ethnic Pashtuns in the eastern border provinces.Taj Malook Khan, who helped set up the Afghan Cricket Club in Kacha Gari refugee camp outside the Pakistani city of Peshawar in the 1980s, and a small group of players used to cross into Afghanistan during the 1990s Taliban era to play and promote cricket.The Taliban had banned games such as cricket and football in the early years of their austere rule because they believed they kept men away from prayers, according to former national cricketer Hasti Gul, but later became more tolerant of cricket.advertisementFrom there, despite at least two attacks in the past couple of years on cricket matches claimed by the ultra radical Islamic State group, the game now rivals football for popularity in a country that has long been cut off from international sport.STAR NAMESAdmitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council in 2017, Afghanistan won its first five-day Test match against Ireland last month after making steady progress in the lower levels of the international game.However it is in the dynamic, shorter form of the sport that Afghans have had most impact.Players such as spin bowler Rashid Khan or big hitting batsman Mohammad Nabi Esakhil have become undisputed stars of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the razzle-dazzle showcase of so-called T20 cricket, the 12th season of which has just got under way. Rashid Khan has quickly become one of the most popular cricketers in the world (Asian Cricket Council Photo)Despite the Taliban’s former suspicion of organised sports and their opposition to much of the transformation in Afghanistan since their hardline Islamic regime was toppled in 2001, many of the mainly Pashtun movement’s fighters are fans.Unlike football, which offends the sensibilities of some very conservative Muslims because it is normally played in shorts, cricket is played in long sleeves and trousers, in line with traditional dress codes. It also bears some resemblance to traditional Afghan children’s games involving throwing and using sticks to hit smaller sticks or balls.Karim Sadiq, a former batsman in the national team and an early pioneer of the sport who visited some Taliban-controlled areas in eastern Afghanistan this year, said he was mobbed by fighters asking about the game and their favourite players.A video clip he shot on his mobile phone shows dozens of Taliban, many with Kalashnikov automatic rifles slung across their shoulders, dissecting the quality of the team.”I like all the players but my favourite is Rashid Khan Arman,” says one fighter, referring to the young spin bowler who stars for the Afghan national side and IPL’s Sunrisers Hyderabad. “His bowling is amazing.”WORLD CUP DREAMWith the approach of the cricket World Cup in England and Wales from May to July, Afghanistan’s hopes of making a dent in the tournament are higher than they have ever been, even if few give them a chance against giants of the game such as India, Australia or England.”We have a very strong team and my dream is Afghanistan bring the World Cup home,” said Hazrat Gul, a young cricketer in the eastern city of Jalalabad, as he prepared to play a friendly match against a team from neighbouring Kunar province.As peace talks between the U.S. government and Taliban officials continue and Afghanistan looks for a way out of 40 years of conflict, excitement is building and officials and government ministers lavish praise on the players, whom President Ashraf Ghani has called national heroes.advertisementFrom the other side of the war, the feeling is similar. Sadiq who has just returned to practice after a long injury, aiming to take part in the upcoming World Cup, said the Taliban usually send them congratulatory messages through social media and on his cellphone when Afghanistan win.Such broad appeal has seen the sport widely hailed as a unifying force in Afghanistan, a patchwork of different languages and cultures, sometimes at peace with each other but increasingly in recent years in conflict.ETHNIC DIVIDES Cricket was first played in Afghanistan by British troops in the 19th Century (Reuters Photo)Not everyone is on board the cricket bandwagon, however.Look deeper, and the state of the game has much to say about a country where sport has repeatedly attracted violence, including suicide attacks on cricket and wrestling matches, and where politics is increasingly divided along ethnic lines that shade into all aspects of life.For many Persian-speaking Tajiks and Hazaras, cricket is a sport for Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group from the south and east of the country that has provided almost all kings and presidents throughout Afghan history.”I have no interest and don’t know anything about cricket,” said Ahmad Jawad, a shopkeeper in Parwan, a mainly Tajik province north of Kabul. “It’s a Pashtun game with Pashtun players, so let them enjoy their game.”After the Taliban fell following the U.S.-led campaign of 2001, Sadiq and Gul – brothers who, like many teammates, learned their cricket in Pakistan – and other players struggled to convince Tajik commanders from the victorious Northern Alliance that swept into Kabul to allow them to continue playing the game.”Palace officials told us to join Afghan guard units and forget about cricket,” said Gul, who recalled having to cancel a provincial tournament in Kabul in 2005 after losing a fistfight with soccer players who wanted to use the pitch.Now, with the IPL beamed into homes all over the country and the looming World Cup, he feels change is coming and the sport can give Afghanistan a platform no other can equal, one that offers hope for a more normal future after so many years of war.”We literally had no support from the government for so many years before they have realized we could bring glory to our country,” he said. “Now everyone loves cricket and we are so proud to raise our national flag on the world stage.”For sports news, updates, live scores and cricket fixtures, log on to indiatoday.in/sports. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for Sports news, scores and updates.Get real-time alerts and all the news on your phone with the all-new India Today app. Download from Post your comment Do You Like This Story? Awesome! Now share the story Too bad. Tell us what you didn’t like in the comments Posted byrohan sen Tags :Follow AfghanistanFollow afghanistan cricketFollow TalibanFollow KalashnikovFollow Afghanistan cricket teamFollow Rashid Khanlast_img read more

Fairfax Financial scraps bid for BlackBerry

by News Staff Posted Nov 4, 2013 6:57 am MDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email blackberry|Fairfax Financial|Lenovo|Mike Lazaridis|potential bidders Fairfax Financial scraps bid for BlackBerry TORONTO – Another change of plans at BlackBerry puts one of the smartphone maker’s largest stakeholders in the driver’s seat to raise a billion dollars in hopes it can resuscitate the struggling company.The investment firm Fairfax Financial has scrapped plans to purchase BlackBerry outright, but will lead a group of investors to inject US$1 billion of funds into the Waterloo, Ont.-based company under new management.Among the changes, chief executive Thorsten Heins will exit the company with a hefty payout estimated at $22 million.The announcement Monday was a surprise, considering that Fairfax and others had been poring over BlackBerry’s financials to determine whether it was worth making an official bid for the company.Instead, the new plan extends the lifeline for a technology company that has struggled with an identity crisis, an eroding consumer base, money-losing operations and a failed search for an outside buyer.“It shows that their intellectual property is not worth much, it shows that their subscriber and cash flows are unpredictable, so it’s not a good company for private equity to buy,” said Mike Genovese, an analyst at MKM Partners.“They don’t need the money from Fairfax, but this deal is just to show Fairfax has confidence.”In an interview with The Associated Press, Fairfax president and CEO Prem Watsa said he worked with a consulting company that recommended against taking BlackBerry private with borrowed money.“To load this company with too much debt was not appropriate,” he said.“We probably could do it, but we decided not to add high-yield debt to the company’s structure.”Fairfax backed off completely on a leveraged buyout after getting the recommendation, even though five or six investors had been interested, Watsa said.Regardless of what happened behind closed doors, BlackBerry has never been in such a perilous position, partly because all that’s certain now is that new leaders will try to overcome years of massive setbacks.BlackBerry recently booked a second-quarter loss of US$965 million on the writedown of its sales flop, the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen. Another US$400 million in charges will come before the end of May 2014, associated with the cost of laying off 4,500 employees, reworking of its smartphone lineup and changes to the company’s operations.New leadership from executive chairman and interim CEO John Chen is hoped to alter the course of BlackBerry. His past experience turning data management company Sybase back into a profitable company, and expanding its business into mobile devices, shows he is up to the challenge.The question remains whether his appointment is too little, too late. BlackBerry has endured backroom disputes over its direction, major delays in its most recent smartphone line, and mixed message on whether the devices were for business consumers or an attempt to grab a piece of the market from Apple and devices on the Android operating system.Investors weren’t impressed with the new direction, sending Blackberry shares to their lowest level since September 2012. The stock closed down 16.56 per cent, or $1.34, to $6.75 on the Toronto Stock Exchange and $1.28 to US$6.49 on the Nasdaq.“Other potential bidders have been inside the tent, nobody liked what they saw. Why should we?” wrote National Bank analyst Kris Thompson in a note to investors.“Investors should expect very poor operating results in the coming quarters (as well as) a declining subscriber base, falling shipments, enterprise defections, market share loss, etc.”Thompson yanked back his target price on BlackBerry shares to US$3 with “above average” risk, from its previous $9 target.Other changes in the boardroom include the ousting of longtime board of directors chair Barbara Stymiest, who received the lowest level of support from shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in July.Under the new plan, Watsa will make a return to BlackBerry’s board. He left, due to a conflict of interest, before the company held a strategic review in August.Watsa announced on Sept. 23 that Fairfax would lead a group that would pay US$9 per BlackBerry share — about $4.7 billion.The most visable change is the departure of CEO Heins, who will leave the company once the agreement is finalized. Earlier this year, BlackBerry agreed to a compensation package that would pay him $22 million if he was removed from his job at BlackBerry without a change of ownership.What remains uncertain is BlackBerry’s future. For now, the smartphones will stay on store shelves and Blackberry will report its financial results as a public company.One of the options is to shut down the handset business, although that would pull the plug on a business that is still generating money for the company.Another would be to try and monetize its BlackBerry Messenger platform, which recently expanded to availability on iPhones and Androids. Executives have said they aim to make money from advertisers on the app, though they weren’t entirely clear on how that would work.Several analysts say most of these are short-term fixes to what’s almost inevitable.“We now believe a breakup is more likely than an outright sale,” wrote Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley.“In the interim, we believe BlackBerry’s fundamentals will continue to deteriorate over a longer public sale process under new management.”The new plan is for Fairfax to lead a group that will buy US$1 billion of convertible debt — a type of security that will pays six per cent interest annually but can be converted into BlackBerry shares if they rise above US$10.Carmi Levy, an independent tech analyst, said Monday’s announcement wasn’t the end of a possible BlackBerry sale, but that this path was clearly not what the company hoped for when it put itself on the block.“It would have been so much simpler for them to just accept a cheque from a large suitor and be bought out,” said Levy.“They already admitted a year and a half ago they couldn’t go it alone; now they have to go it alone. There’s no good news in this story at this point. It adds an additional layer of challenge to a company that didn’t need it.” read more