Thursday, 13 November 2008

When the Army played the Afghans at footie

I was looking through some pics I took during a visit to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US-led invasion and thought I should share some of them with you. On 15th February 2002 at the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul - previously infamous as the site of public executions by the Taliban - a remarkable football match took place between Kabul United and ISAF. Billed as the 'Game of Unity', the stadium was full to capacity and I was only able to get in by being passed over the heads of hundreds of Afghans who were less fortunate. I recall seeing some desperate fellows unwinding their turbans to pull their comrades over the high wall.
It was a most remarkable match. On the roof of the stadium ISAF marksmen lay prone behind their sniper rifles, while on the pitch the half-time entertainment was provided by a small group of Gurkha dancers. The 20,000-strong crowd jeered as the Gurkhas trotted to the middle of the pitch, wearing their white ceremonial costumes and red waistcoats, topped off by a headpiece similar to a fez. It was only when the Gurkhas, with a flourish, unsheathed their
kukris - the deadly knife they use in close-quarter combat - that the jeering turned into cheering. As the dancers faced each other and their curved blades flashed in the thin winter sun a roar of approval rose up from the crowd.
As for the football, the ISAF team was most British, but there were also Italians, Spanish, Norwegians, French, Dutch and Germans. It ended as a 2-1 defeat for the Kabul team, but honour was saved because the Afghan goal was a corker.
Today, of course, no such match could take place in Afghanistan. Large public gatherings are places to be avoided now that the Taliban has imported the technique of the suicide bomber. The goodwill that existed throughout the country in the wake of their overthrow in 2001 has somehow been frittered away. Too many broken promises, too many indiscriminate airstrikes and too much corruption have all played their part.
Don't let it ever be said that the Afghans did not give peace a chance. They did. It was the ignorance and incompetence of those who conduct the 'war on terror' that turned things around. Simple as that. Ask any Afghan.

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