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3/15/03 - NORMALCY RETURNS TO AFGHANISTAN - 2003-03-18


A year after the oppressive Taleban were removed from power, Afghanistan is returning to normal. Schools have reopened. The economy is functioning. And Ghazi Stadium, in Kabul, is once again being used solely for sporting events.

In past years the stadium hosted several regional football [soccer] tournaments in which teams from Hungary, India, Iran, Pakistan, the former Soviet Union, and other countries competed with Afghan national teams. But under the Taleban, Ghazi Stadium became notorious as the scene of public executions, beatings, and floggings. Executions were announced the night before on the radio.

During those days, there was little public entertainment other than sports. The Taleban would choose a day, stop a football match, and mete out their brutal punishments. As many as thirty people would be shot during the intermissions.

Many of Afghanistan’s top football players left the country to play elsewhere. The overthrow of the Taleban has rekindled Afghanistan hopes. Under the new Afghan Interim Authority, headed by President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan Olympic Committee has started to operate. Afghan football players between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three will represent their country in the South Asian Federation Games on March 29th in Islamabad, Pakistan.

To prepare for that competition, the Afghan national team is holding scrimmages with a team made up of members of the international security force. The Afghans are using equipment donated by China.

But catching up competitively will not be easy. Goalkeeper Sadiq Azizi said, “Because of the past twenty-three years of combat in our country, we didn’t get some good practice, and [also] during the five years of the Taleban regime. We hope, God willing,” said Mr. Azizi, “we will be successful [in Islamabad].

Restoring sports programs is part of Afghanistan’s rebuilding. As President George W. Bush said, “No people on earth yearn to be oppressed, or aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police. If anyone doubts this, let them look to Afghanistan, where the Islamic ‘street’ greeted the fall of tyranny with song and celebration.”

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