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Birdies in the air: Golf back in Pakistan after 11-year hitch

AFP  |  Karachi 

Birds were released over fairways and ceremonial drives were struck as international returned to Thursday after an 11-year absence.

A full field of 132 players from around the globe were teeing up in the Asian Tour's UMA CNS at Club, the latest thawing of relations with the militancy-hit country that has spent years in the sporting wilderness.

"Coming back to is a fantastic opportunity for us," Robert Andrew, of the Asian told AFP, brushing off any security concerns.

"This is the starting point for future years after the success of this event." No major has visited since 2007. The last scheduled tournament, in 2008, was cancelled after a wave of insurgent attacks.

"It is always good to be here as people are very lovely and friendly," said Australian "I came here 10 years ago. The perception is bad but in reality it is very different." The 2009 attack on Sri Lanka's bus in Lahore, in which eight people were killed, caused all sporting visits to be suspended.

But successful military operations in the country's northwest near the Afghan border and crackdowns in urban centres, including the restive port city of Karachi, have improved the situation.

The country has twice hosted the cricket finals featuring international stars plus successful limited-over series against Zimbabwe, a World XI and in the past 18 months.

They cleared the way for more with squash, and now golf having returned.

- Walls come down -


Former Asian winner and Indian national said arriving in Pakistan felt like home, suggesting sport could pave the road for better relations between and

"I am really feeling home here and we are so overwhelmingly welcomed here. We are seeing the same faces not different to us," Singh told reporters.

"should bring the invisible walls down between the two countries," he added.

India-Pakistan ties, including and cultural contacts, plummeted after deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which New blamed on Pakistani militants.

While cricket remains the undisputed number one sport in Pakistan, golf is popular with the country's powerful army, with military areas where the top brass reside frequently home to some of Pakistan's best courses.

are hosting this week's event, which has a $300,000 prize fund.

"There is a very overwhelming response by foreign players and that surprised us," said

Pakistan hosted its first event in 1989, which was won by Filipino

The country's only winner remains who triumphed at an event in in 1998.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, October 11 2018. 11:25 IST