Sunday Jan 12, 2020
KARACHI: The picturesque valley of Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region is known for its eye-catching scenery in the world and is, therefore, one of the country's major tourist attractions.
While the valley's people are known for their hospitality and the active participation in sports, it is now the mountains' young women who are aiming to reach new heights from football to volleyball. The region has already produced some best of the women athletes who have won laurels for Pakistan and become an inspiration for many aspiring girls.
One such athlete is Malika-e-Noor, the Pakistan national women's team's vice-captain and the captain of Pakistan Army's football team. She feels that Gilgit-Baltistan is a talent hotspot for women's sport and the region can provide world champions to the country.
Speaking to Geo.tv during an interview in Karachi, Malika, 25, said: "We are naturally athletic, I think we are born to be in sports, that's natural for us."
Hailing from Hunza, the footballer has represented Pakistan in 20 international matches. Before being signed on by the Army's team, she also played Eagle WFC and Young Rising Stars WFC in domestic tournaments and has collectively played over 200 professional games scoring 94 goals.
"The amount of talented female sportspersons in Gilgit-Baltistan region is measureless," she said. "Someone sitting in cities can't have the idea of how passionate the girls in the region are about the sports … the more you go North, the more talent you'll find."
She also rejected a general perception that the people who live on mountains are not supportive of women's participation in sports or any other activity.
"I can tell you that the biggest motivation comes to us is from our parents," the young footballer.
"They now realise how important it is to give daughters the opportunity, to be in education or in sports or in any other profession," she said.
"No parent would like to see daughters lost in oblivion."
Malika has been playing football for more than 10 years but her hunger to achieve glory is still the same as it was when she started. She was in the limelight when she scored the 89th-minute winning goal from a penalty spot in Pakistan's first competitive victory at the 2010 SAFF Women's Championship that helped the team beat the Maldives 2–1.
She also served an assist for the national team's first-ever goal in the same match.
"I want to do better than before every time I enter the field and this passion keeps me going," she said. "I am still as motivated and as passionate as I used to be."
There was a time when she used to be frustrated because there was no football from 2014 to 2018 due to fights between two of the Pakistan Football Federation's (PFF) groups that had led to Pakistan's suspension by FIFA.
But the frustration caused by the PFF's administration did not stop her from her love for the game.
"I started playing futsal," she said, when asked what she did when there was no football.
However, as things improve, she has hope now — the hope to achieve glory in women's football for Pakistan.