THE Pakistan Super League cricket carnival is all set to kick off today at Karachi’s National Stadium with the launch of its sixth season. Six star-studded teams will be battling it out for supremacy and the bumper winner’s purse of a quarter of a million dollars. Karachi Kings, boasting an impressive line-up of players, will be defending their title in the month-long extravaganza which will see 34 matches played in Karachi and Lahore. But the champions will face stiff competition, especially from Quetta Gladiators and Multan Sultans who have beefed up their respective squads this season. Last year’s finalists Lahore Qalandars, too, are ready to clinch their maiden PSL title, while Islamabad United, the only team to win the title twice, and 2017 winners Peshawar Zalmi are keen to win more laurels. The cash-rich PSL, which is the Pakistan Cricket Board’s flagship
event, has made great strides since its inception in 2016 and is ranked only behind the Indian Premier League in terms of popularity and magnitude among the many T20 leagues being staged around the world.
With every season, the league has become bigger and better, attracting leading players from hosts Pakistan, West Indies, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, England, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other nations, besides luring in top sponsors, broadcasters and, most important, the fans. In a major development last year, PSL was entirely relocated to Pakistan after its first four seasons were partly held in the UAE. That further boosted its viewership which soared to nearly 120m around the world in 2020. However, in season six the PSL, like other cricketing leagues around the world, will be confronted with the Covid-19 challenge. Amid strict safety protocols, only 20pc of fans will be allowed per match as opposed to the jam-packed arenas in the previous editions which had become the norm in the league games. Besides, the pandemic has once again forced the PCB and concerned authorities to limit PSL matches to Karachi and Lahore, whereas last year Multan and Rawalpindi also staged some games.
THOUGH the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is far from ideal, should the parallel peace processes collapse — between the Afghan Taliban and the US/Nato alliance and between the Taliban and the government in Kabul — the situation will degenerate further. After the Biden administration’s arrival in Washington many questions hang in the air about the fate of the Trump-era US-Taliban peace deal. After all, the White House has said it will “review” the deal while Nato officials have recently said they have deferred a decision on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Foreign troops are due to exit the country by May 1, as per the US-Taliban deal. It is in this atmosphere of uncertainty that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s plea for all Afghan actors to seize the opportunity for peace makes sense. He reiterated this point during a meeting with an Afghan delegation in Islamabad on Thursday.
The fact is that the air of confusion is having an impact on the peace process. For example, talks between Kabul and the Taliban in Doha are frozen, while the Taliban have issued a dire warning to Nato vis-à-vis troop pullout deferment. The fact is that all sides — foreign forces, the Taliban as well as the Afghan government —need to do more to revive the faltering peace process. The Taliban shoulder a fair share of the blame, as they have continued to stick to the battlefield while talking peace. This hardly creates a conducive atmosphere for dialogue. In fact, a recent US report has said the Taliban are not honouring their part of the deal. However, the dilemma here is that foreign forces cannot stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. In reality, it is the meddling of foreigners — the Soviets and later the Americans — that played a major factor in destabilising Afghanistan over the last few decades, along with the endless lust for power of Afghan strongmen and warlords.
As we have written in these columns before, the very brief window for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is closing fast. Should the Taliban abandon the peace process, it will be back to square one. The Taliban themselves need to show more commitment to the peace process by reducing violence. The US, on the other hand, needs to send a clear message that it intends to stick to dialogue. Ultimately, it is down to the two major Afghan players in this geopolitical game — the government in Kabul and the Taliban — to decide on the future of their country. If they are unable to reach a modus vivendi, then outsiders will continue to interfere in Afghanistan. Several generations in Afghanistan have seen nothing but war; it is time those that wield power in that country took bold decisions and put an end to this long nightmare of the Afghan people.