PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Pakistan cricket hero Imran Khan is launching a hunt for sporting talent as a flagship counter-terrorism policy in the northwest province governed by his political party, an aide said Friday.
"Terrorism has been very destructive for sports... that is why we are aiming at sports activities to end terrorism in the province," said Iftikhar Elahi, sports and culture coordinator for the party.
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won a breakthrough at May elections, becoming the country's third largest party and forming a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, hard hit by Taliban attacks.
Khan has courted controversy in the West for advocating peace talks with the Taliban and there have been growing questions about how his inexperienced party will tackle the scourge of violence.
On July 26 suicide bombers killed 57 people in the tribal town of Parachinar, and on Monday Taliban fighters stormed a northwest prison, freeing more than 240 inmates, including militants.
Elahi said he hoped cricket, which is a national obsession in Pakistan, can bring peace. Khan is Pakistan's greatest all rounder and captained the country to its only World Cup victory in 1992.
"Our party gives special stress on youth and sports and with Khan as leader and initiator of the programme we hope that it can help bring peace in the province," Elahi told reporters.
He said the scout for talent was part of the party's programme to develop what is one of the most deprived parts of Pakistan.
"The programme is aimed at spotting talent in cricket from the province," he told reporters. "Khan has taken the initiative as part of his development programmes in KPK."
The province has produced greats like Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul in recent years, but militant bomb attacks and shootings have destroyed aspects of daily life.
"Khan will give as much time as possible and we have also hired a few coaches (former players) who will help spot talent and then groom them," said Elahi.
He also said talks were underway to help build and renovate proper cricket grounds in the province.
The hunt will also be extended to the semi-autonomous tribal belt that neighbours KPK, which Washington considers a premier hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives who pose a global threat.