Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Friday, February 23, 2018

Afghanistan Women's International Team

Kelly Lindsey: Afghanistan women's coach says it is 'life or death' for players

Afghanistan women's team
Kelly Lindsay (left of back row) has coached Afghanistan women's team since 2016
Spat at, stoned in the street, and having to avoid bombings on the way to training. All because you want to play football.
That is the reality for some of Afghanistan women's international team.
Their coach - retired former USA international Kelly Lindsey - has never set foot in the country because of security concerns.
Some of her players have not even played 11-a-side football before they join up with the national squad, which was formed in 2010.
Yet, in Lindsey's two years in charge, they have climbed from 128th in the Fifa rankings to 106th.
Progress - in spite of the "unique" nature of a job which means all matches and training camps are held overseas for safety reasons.

'It's life and death for those girls'

Lindsey's squad is a mixture of players from the worldwide Afghan diaspora and those who still live in Afghanistan.
Those in Australia, Europe and North America have female role models in the shape of their mothers, many of whom emigrated with their children when their husbands were killed in conflict.
The players who have remained face threats of violence and - just as bad in the eyes of the Afghan culture - risk damaging their family's dignity and reputation.
"It's not easy to get to training," Lindsey, 38, tells the BBC's World Football programme. "They get spat on, they get stoned, there are bombings that happen on the way.
"It's important for the girls outside to understand that this is real. It's not stories. These girls go through it every day."
A recent BBC study found Taliban fighters are openly active in 70% of Afghanistan, directly affecting the lives of 15 million people - half the population. That threatens the freedom women have enjoyed since the regime was overthrown in 2001.
"If a woman is playing football, her father, her brother, her coaches, her mother are being judged by the community around them," says Lindsey.
"Khalida Popal, our programme director... her brother was nearly stabbed to death for allowing his sister to play.
"It's amazing to me that after what they go through every day, they want to play football.
"To put yourself out there for everyone to judge in front of the Taliban - it's life and death for those girls.
"I've thought many times: 'Would I die to play football?' I give them credit every day that they show up to training and that football matters in a life that's so chaotic at times."
Kelly Lindsey with Afghanistan players
Lindsey's long-term aim is for the team to qualify for the World Cup

'They hadn't even played on a full-size pitch'

Lindsey's job is not an easy one.
With training camps held outside Afghanistan, she effectively coaches remotely - by phone and email.
Some of her players had never even stepped on a full-size pitch before joining the squad for this month's friendlies against Jordan, which they lost 5-0 and 6-0.
"We have created a leadership council," Lindsey says.
"We meet every two weeks on the phone to discuss training, nutrition, what's going on with the team, what are they succeeding at and struggling with on and off the field.
"We send out videos, workout packets, and tactical Powerpoints for them to study so that when they come to camp they know what we're trying to do as a team."
When they do meet, Lindsey must go right back to basics.
"Every time they come into camp it's a different group of girls," she says.
"We're not always getting the same group, so we're always teaching the 11-a-side game - the positions, roles, responsibilities - which I think most national coaches take for granted.
"I give our players from outside Afghanistan credit for respecting what we're trying to do and not getting frustrated with us having to re-teach the game."

'The day we qualify, the world will know women's football has changed'

Afghanistan are yet to qualify for their first major tournament, but the team is still in its relative infancy.
And their "mission" - as Lindsey describes it - is bigger than winning football matches.
"All of the girls play with this passion and energy, for the pride of their nation. Although most national teams play with that, these girls recognise the challenges that they face, the unity they need to have and hopefully the future that they bring for young women around the world."
Lindsey says the ultimate ambition is to qualify for the World Cup - but Afghanistan remain outside Fifa's top 100 nations and have few trailblazers to inspire them.
Hosts Jordan will be the only Islamic country in April's Women's Asian Cup, which doubles as a qualifying tournament for the 2019 World Cup.
And while Afghanistan's training camps remain part national team get-together and part taster sessions, their development will, at best, creep along.
Lindsey won't see her players again until June, when they go on a tour of Japan, but she has big ambitions.
"We are building this team to compete, to qualify for the World Cup," she says. "When that will happen, I can't answer.
"We have a lot of work to do - but the only way we're ever going to get there is to play our best and see where we stand.
"The day that we do qualify, the world will know that women's football has changed."

Friday, February 02, 2018

ISIS doesn't have a soul

ISIS.  When will you see that your soul has been consumed?  What are your motives?  Are you fighting a holy war?  Are you bringing justice and freedom?  Are you bringing hope and inspiration?
Or are you a bunch of evil brainwashed idiots who have sold your soul to the devil - killing the innocent?  Killing the children?  Killing the people you should be helping?  Yes.  That is you.  I pity you.  You want recognition.  I do not recognize you.  I pity your pathetic existence. 

4 killed in ISIS attack on Save the Children in Afghanistan

Jalalabad, Afghanistan (CNN)ISIS militants attacked the offices of British aid agency Save the Children in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, killing at least four people and injuring dozens in a 10-hour battle, according to local authorities.
All five attackers were killed.
Save the Children said it has temporarily suspended all Afghan operations after three staff members were killed. Forty-six other employees, who were hiding in a safe room, were rescued.
"We remain fully committed to helping the most deprived children of Afghanistan," Save the Children said in a statement. The global charity, which runs aid programs in 16 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, reaches almost 1.4 million children in the country.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which started at 9 a.m. when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle laden with explosives outside the office gate, according to the media office for Nangarhar province.
Four other assailants stormed the building and were later killed by security forces, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor.
ISIS' affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility in a statement released by Amaq news agency, the media wing of the terror group.
Images taken as the siege unfolded showed a massive military presence outside the building. Afghanistan's TOLO news channel published footage showing dozens of what it said were Afghan special forces at the scene.
Gunshots were heard ringing out as people appeared to flee.
The wounded were taken to the hospital, Khogyani said.
Afghan army soldiers take positions near the global charity's office Wednesday.
"Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a child and for humanitarian workers to operate in," said Evan Schuurman, Save the Children's Asia regional media manager, adding that the organization was devastated.
Nicholas Kay, the UK ambassador to Afghanistan, called the attack an outrage and crime against humanity.
"I hope for a quick and safe end to this horrific incident," he said on Twitter.
Ahmad Shah, 29, lives in front of the Save the Children's branch in Jalalabad.
Shah was at home with some guests when they heard a loud boom. All of their windows were damaged, along with the doors. A dozen of them remained huddled inside afterward.
"We don't feel secure as operations are still going on," Shah said.
Shokrullah, who only gave his first name, has a brother who works at Save the Children. He said his brother told him he made it to the safe room with some colleagues.
An uptick in violence has led many organizations to pull out or scale back their footprint in Afghanistan.
The International Committee of the Red Cross announced in October it would reduce its presence in Afghanistan after its staff were targeted multiple times, with at least six Red Cross aid workers killed in February.
The security situation has worsened in the capital of Kabul, where assailants stormed the Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday.
At least 22 people -- 14 of whom were foreigners -- were killed during an hours-long standoff at the hotel, which sits on the edge of town behind checkpoints on a hill.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said 153 people were rescued from the hotel.
A reporter for the TOLO news channel, who survived by hiding on a balcony, described horrific scenes of attackers searching for victims room by room and desperate guests jumping from balconies.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the hotel attack, but some Afghan officials blamed the Haqqani network, which is aligned with the Taliban but based mainly in Pakistan.

Is it time to leave Afghanistan?

'Kabul is a war zone'

Famous actor says it's time to leave

Updated 9:32 PM ET, Thu February 1, 2018
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN)Action movie star Massoud Hashimi has a painful cough, but it's not caused by the dirty Kabul air. Hashimi has a Kalashnikov round lodged in his ribcage that he needs swiftly removed.
The operation to remove the bullet from Hashimi's chest is scheduled to take place overseas. The 35-year-old actor has made numerous trips outside of the country, only this time he wishes he didn't have to come back.
For years, Hashimi has been a voice in Afghanistan -- in between the studio lights and theatrical fireworks -- urging its youth to stay in their homeland.
But no longer.
A deadly encounter in the Intercontinental Hotel -- one of several recent attacks to transform the capital into what many say feels like a new frontline in the war -- has changed his message to Afghans to something starker: Get out while you can.
"Kabul is not safe for anybody ... There is no hope. I am not feeling secure even inside my house," he says pointing around his apartment.
"Now Kabul has changed into a war zone, not a civil society for people to live in. Every night I wake up in the middle of the night."
Actor Massoud Hashimi says Kabul is now a war zone.
Hashimi was discussing film projects in the hotel's luxurious salon when the violence he was used to seeing in staged productions became very real.
"I saw a German woman, very calmly listening to the music," he recalls. "They first shot that lady. It's really hard to see someone killing people in front of your eyes. It's unbelievable, unimaginable."
The gunmen calmly moved through the salon, shooting dead in front of him two of his friends. A bullet struck him in the chest.
When the lights went out, Hashimi used his knowledge of the hotel's layout to guide others into a dark room away from the fighting. Once there, the group threw their cellphones away, so their vibrations, ringtones and lights wouldn't give them up, and waited for help. For three hours.
"We all kept silent in a corner. I was bleeding, horribly bleeding. It's very hard, you see your death is coming to you."
The Afghan special forces then arrived. The commandos, recognizing Hashimi, held their fire as he and 14 others emerged from their hiding place.
Hashimi shifts awkwardly in his seat: "One bullet here," he says, pointing at his ribcage. "But a long time ago, another bullet was in my leg. So, it's two gifts that Afghanistan gave me".
Now he wants out. Surgery to remove the bullet in the Turkish capital of Istanbul first, and then perhaps America. Stark words from a man who once implored other Afghans -- even on US radio in Washington D.C. -- to stay, build and fight.
"Most people welcomed me that I was encouraging people to stay in Afghanistan," he says.
"But I'm not saying that again because I feel guilty if I do it publicly. I am a famous person, so if I say something people may just accept it."
Outside, the still Kabul air belies what should be the bustle and chaos of rush hour.
The decision by many to stay off the streets of Kabul follows a bloody 9-day period in which the Taliban attacked the hotel, ISIS hit a children's charity in the east of the country, the Taliban used an ambulance as a suicide car bomb to kill over a hundred, and ISIS attacked a secure military academy.
To some, the week of violence was a watershed moment. For US President Donald Trump, it was a reason to set aside, temporarily at least, a key tenet of the US military strategy: The idea of talks with the Taliban. The Afghan government has agreed, saying the attacks had crossed "red lines."
Political negotiations have remained a far-fetched prospect throughout the insurgency, but the open dismissal of them now has led many in Kabul to conclude that the situation is likely to worsen.
We are still in a bleak midwinter, with the violence of the summer months far off. Yet already the city is at times panicked, at times deserted, struggling to adapt to its new, frontline status.
Checkpoints and barriers provide a veneer of security. One near Abdul Haq Square appears most interested in checking cars with government plates. It's unclear if intra-government rivalries are at play, or if there is a genuine fear insurgents are disguising themselves as police.
At the checkpoint, soldiers demand documents. The arrival of one SUV sees soldiers rip out some police-style emergency siren lights from the car's front grill, crushing them underfoot.
Another SUV with black government plates is detained until it proves its association with a regional governor. But this is the nature of trust here in Kabul: there is little.
You can see why outside the Jamariyat Hospital, where days earlier one of the most vicious bombs the city has seen was detonated.
The bomb was in an ambulance. The vehicle passed the first checkpoint, and then loitered in the hospital car park for 20 minutes, hoping to avoid suspicion before then trying to pass another checkpoint into the more secure areas.
Now the patients at the hospital cannot be brought in by car: ambulances are banned unless the drivers are personally known to the staff.
Kabul's sick are hand-carried by relatives into a building whose windows were blown out by the blast.
A city that was once a safe sanctuary struggling, day by day, with less and less.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Afghanistan's unlikely football league: eight teams, 18 matches and one city

The last time Afghan football attracted the attention of the global media, it was all down to a plastic bag, a young boy and his idol. Lionel Messi met Murtaza Ahmadi in December after a picture of the five-year old in his homemade blue-and-white striped replica shirt had captured the world’s sympathy.
After Ahmadi was tracked down to the Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, the UN’s child refugee agency arranged a meeting with Messi in Doha, before a friendly between Barcelona and Al-Ahli, where he was also the official mascot. The unfortunate and telling consequence of this moment of fame was that the Murtaza family had to move to Pakistan shortly afterwards because of fears the boy would be kidnapped, an all too common occurrence in his own country.
Such an incident highlights the problems in a country that remains fiercely divided after decades of violent infighting and tempestuous conflict. This troubled history is the backdrop to the impressive work that has gone into establishing the Afghan Premier League over the last five years. There are only eight teams competing in the league, the season only lasts for three months – from August to October – and all 18 matches are played in one city, but the fact that this league exists at all is an affirmation of the good football can sometimes bring under the most difficult circumstances.

Although there had been organised competitions before the Afghan Premier League began in 2012 – the same year that NATO officially announced its planned withdrawal of troops – the establishment of this competition, the first professional league in Afghanistan, represented a big step up for the country’s football fans.
Football has always been popular in Afghanistan. The sport’s governing body, the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF), was set up in 1933, became a Fifa member in 1948 (when they played their first official game at the London 1948 Olympics and lost 6-0 to Luxembourg) and has been part of the Asian Football Confederation since 1954.
Under the Taliban regime from 1996 until 2001, football was barely tolerated and there were tales of raids on matches or even games being postponed because of fighting, which created an atmosphere of intimidation and intervention. Occasionally there were brutal punishments meted out, including public executions carried out in stadiums at half-time. Despite the attempts to return Afghan life to some sort of normality over the last few years, the Taliban remain a force in the country. So, for security reasons, the league’s matches are restricted to two stadiums in Kabul, the capital city.
The eight teams that participate in the Premier League represent the country’s eight main regions. In last year’s final, De Maiwand Atalan, the club from the south west region, an area that remains a Taliban stronghold and a centre of insurgency, met Shaheen Asmayee from Kabul, the very heart of the government. That two football teams from opposite ends of the political spectrum were able to meet and play out an entertaining final in front of a full house was an encouraging sign for the country.As befits a country that has grown accustomed to the influence of external forces and assistance, a range of international partners have underpinned the game financially. Fifa has invested $1.5m since 2005 mainly in improving pitches and building the headquarters of the AFF. Both the German Football Association and the English Premier League have been involved, with the Premier League funding coaching schemes through its Premier Skills initiative in conjunction with the British Council. Even the British government have been active. David Cameron and Michael Owen shared a military bunk bed when they flew to Camp Bastion in December 2013 to announce an FA scheme to bring talented young Afghan players to St George’s Park. And the Japanese government has paid for floodlights so games can be played in the evening and fans can watch them on primetime TV when the new season kicks off in a few weeks.
As with any football league, television is the crucial medium. Every game is broadcast live on two national television channels, TOLO and Lemar TV, but the importance of television to the league is even more fundamental than that. When the league was established, a few players from each squad were selected through a reality television show called Green Field. Although a rather gimmicky ploy, it did succeed in drawing attention to the fledgling league. The 2016 final was watched by an estimated 57% of the potential audience, which suggests the league is succeeding in its bid to unite the country through football. As APL co-founder Chris McDonald told the BBC: “Football is becoming a passion here, it brings a lot of joy and happiness, and is something that we are going to keep doing.”
However impressive those viewing figures might seem, they do not translate into riches for the players. Ticket prices are set at $0.5 (with VIP seats costing up to $1.5) and players are given a daily allowance of around $12, which they can supplement with sponsorship deals and other jobs.
The league has coincided with an exponential rise in participation. There were just under 20,000 registered players in 2006 but this figure shot up to 54,000 in 2015. Encouragingly, more than 1,000 of those registered are women players and they have formed their own league, something that could never have been even contemplated in the recent past. There is still some resistance to the concept of women playing football from the most conservative in society but on International Women’s Day last March, Danish sportswear firm Hummel launched a specially designed kit for the national team with an inbuilt hijab.
There is now a solid base from which to grow men’s and women’s football in Afghanistan. Earlier this year the current league champions Shaheen Asmayee became the first Afghan club to take part in the AFC Cup, the regional equivalent of the Europa League. They lost their qualifying play-off against Tajikistan club Khosilot Farkhor 1-0 over two legs, suggesting they are not too far off making it further in the competition in future years, which would be another significant milestone for Afghan football.
The national team has already enjoyed some success on the continent. They won the South Asian Football Championship in 2013 – the year after the APL was set up – by beating India 2-0 in the final, and their next aim is to qualify for the AFC Asian Football Cup, which will be hosted by the UAE in 2019. Some of the national team play in the APL but many have moved abroad. Milad Salem, a forward born in Kabul, has made his living in the German leagues and Noor Husin is now following suit in England.
Husin escaped war-torn Mazar-i-Sharif aged five and moved to England, where he joined Reading’s academy. Earlier this year he became the first Afghan to play a professional game in England when he scored on his debut for Accrington Stanley in a 2-0 win against Notts County. Husin is on the books at Crystal Palace, where he has featured in match-day squads but not yet made an appearance on the pitch. If things go well for him in the Premier League perhaps youngsters in Afghanistan will be writing his name on the back of their shirts in the near future. Hopefully they will not have to customise a plastic bag to do so – or be forced to emigrate as a result.

In Kabul, first evening soccer match in nearly four decades defies Taliban attacks

The lights beamed on inside the Afghan Football Federation soccer stadium and 5,000 people, drawn to a spectacle unheard of for nearly four decades, came out to see.
Security in Afghanistan’s capital is tenuous, proved earlier in the week by several attempted suicide bomb attacks around the city while, elsewhere in the country, dozens of Afghan police and soldiers had been killed by Taliban fighters in one of the year’s deadliest spates of violence.
But, on Thursday night, another battle was taking place between the De Maiwand Atalan soccer club from the Kandahar province and the defending champion De Spin Ghar Bazan team from Nangahar province for a shot at this year’s title in the Afghan Premier League .
This was the first evening spectator event held in the country since the 1979 Soviet Union invasion.
Mostly beside the point was that the “Maiwand Champions” cruised to a 2-0 victory over Nangahar’s “Eagles of the White Mountain” in the semifinal match, which was also broadcast across the country on television and radio.
Wearing his Kabul police uniform to Afghanistan’s first night spectator event in more than 40 years, Mohammad Anit Watandost, left, cheers for his favorite team from the Kandahar province with his son Irfan, 5. (Antonio Olivo/The Washington Post)
Instead, the men and women who crowded into the outdoor soccer stadium — tooting horns and cheering loudly at each shot on goal — were out to win back something far more valuable: a sense of public joy that has long eluded the nation locked for decades in a perpetual state of tyranny and war.
“It’s a very different feeling,” said Sayed Omar Anmadi, 23, who brought his brother Alyus, 12, to watch their favorite team from Kandahar’s Maiwand district play live, while dance music thumped over loudspeakers beneath the bright stadium lights.
“We don’t usually go out at night because of the security situation,” Anmadi said. “This offers a fresh kind of hope.”
The event, several years in the making, is part of a larger campaign to reintroduce a sense of normalcy into Afghan culture led by the Dubai-based Moby Media Group, which, with the Roshan telecommunications company, created the Afghan Premier League in 2012.
With some U.S. State Department backing, the effort also includes a popular Afghan “Sesame Street” children’s program on Moby’s TOLO TV channel and a music production house for budding artists in Kabul.
But a fun night inside a Kabul soccer stadium carries extra symbolism for millions of Afghans.
Many remember the gruesome public executions held inside Kabul’s older Ghazi Stadium — about a half-mile away from the Afghan Federation Football stadium — during the Taliban regime in the late 1990s.
Fans who couldn't get tickets to the sold-out game pitting Afghanistan and Pakistan's soccer teams Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, scaled the walls for a peek at the action. The match was the first international held on Afghan soil in 10 years.

Abdul Hameed Mubarez, a local historian, said those days epitomized the fear of Taliban reprisals that still permeates Afghan society, keeping many home at night and away from large crowds vulnerable to suicide bomb attacks.
Before the Soviet invasion, night events in Kabul were routine, said Mubarez, who was deputy minister of culture under former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shar.
Crowds gathered inside Ghazi Stadium to watch the Afghan national soccer team compete against Iran or Pakistan. During Eid or Independence Day festivals held in August, live music filled the air as families traveling to Kabul from nearby provinces celebrated with elaborate picnics, often sleeping overnight in outdoor camps.
Now, with the Taliban insurgency raging for 16 years after decades of conflict before, many Afghans are weary of their limited lives and yearn for that same sense of freedom, Mubarez, 83, said.
“People have decided that they will go on with their lives,” he said. “They will enjoy it as long as they’re alive, because nowadays whenever we go out from our homes, we are not sure if we’ll come back alive or not.”
As the sun fell over the mostly commercial section of Kabul where the Afghan Football Federation stadium is located, the stadium lights — brought in from China and installed this month — lit up the night in an otherwise pitch-dark section of the capital.
Fans made their way past a perimeter of security checkpoints, with Afghan national police inspecting bags and frisking everyone who walked through.
In September, three people were killed in a suicide bomb attack outside an afternoon cricket tournament held nearby, so the police — aware of the high stakes surrounding this event — were on high alert. Several hundred officers manned posts or conducted surveillance, a federal Interior ministry spokesman said.
Mohammad Anit Watandost, an off-duty Kabul police office officer, passed through security with his son Irfan, 5. Watandost, 32, wore his police officer’s uniform. His adoring son wore a mock camouflage military uniform and sported a plastic toy AK-47 rifle.
Watandost said he came dressed in uniform to show pride in his role in fighting against a sense of insecurity in his native city that he views as a cancer in Afghanistan.
“I’ve gone through so many factional battles,” said Watandost, citing the Afghan mujahideen uprising against the Soviets during the 1980s that marked his early childhood, followed by civil war, the Taliban regime and today’s ongoing insurgency.
“We all want peace and the same kind of situation that we are in here,” Watandost said, gesturing to the crowded stadium of cheering fans. “I played football in my youth and I want my children to play football and watch football. This is what I want.”
With that, he turned his attention to the soccer pitch and, clutching his son, cheered a Maiwand Atalan goal.
On another play, the ball soared high over the players on the field, eliciting a roar from the crowd.
In one set of stands, fans from the conflict-ridden Nangahar province tooted their horns, including the veiled women who were seated in a section apart from the men.
On the other side, more noise came from the fans of the team from Kandahar, a province with portions under Taliban control.
Maiwand Habibi, 18, rooted for the Kandahar team, while his friend Mustafa Sultanzoy, 20, backed Nangahar.
Both are from Kabul and are too young to know much of the history behind either province, other than the constant reports of violence that hit their social media feeds.
But, after spending most of their youth indoors and socializing as young men at small gatherings inside hotels or friends’ homes, they said it felt good to be outside on what was a mild autumn night.
“There is a lot of security around here, which gives us confidence,” said Habibi, who works as a waiter inside a city cafe. Referring to the Islamic belief in fate, he added: “On the other hand, if anything happens to us, it is already written in the book.”
The following day, another semifinal night match took place without incident before an even larger crowd of 8,000 fans, setting up a final this Friday between the Maiwand team and the victorious “Falcons of Asmayee” from Kabul.
While the crowd’s cheers echoed into the night, a suicide bomber attacked a Shiite mosque nine miles away, killing 39 people.
Sharif Walid contributed to this story.