A top Pakistani minister provoked derision on social media on Monday after he suggested the Taliban could swap their guns for cricket bats and offered to host a match with the militants to revive stalled peace talks.
Pakistan's government entered into a formal dialogue with the Taliban earlier this month, but the process faltered after the militants executed 23 kidnapped soldiers. The military has retaliated with a series of air strikes in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan and are home to the Taliban's top leadership, killing dozens.
But with talks on a sticky wicket, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Monday that cricket could offer hope. "I have information that the Taliban keep an interest in cricket. So if this message can go through to them, we can have a cricket match with them which can have a better result," he told reporters in Islamabad following an exhibition game.
"The Taliban follow the Pakistan cricket team with keen interest so this can be a platform." Reaction to the announcement was overwhelmingly negative on Twitter, which is used mainly by the country's English-speaking elite. In a reference to bloody toll inflicted by the Taliban on Pakistan's forces over the years, one user called @MidhatZ, said: "Cricket on a red pitch and may be they could bowl with our soldiers heads?"
Another user, @kursed, termed the minister a "bloody lunatic" and said "he should invite the families of those beheaded" by the Taliban to the match.
Cricket is Pakistan's main pastime and is sometimes termed the country's "second religion" after Islam. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a diehard fan. And former cricketer Imran Khan now leads Pakistan's third largest political party.
Cricket diplomacy has helped thaw ties between Pakistan and rival India in the past, with a visit by military ruler General Zia Ul Haq to Jaipur in 1987 to watch a Test match seen as key in cooling raised tensions.