Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

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.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Maida Khal - who will speak for her?

Who will speak for the voiceless?

Who will help the helpless?

Will you?  Will I?  Will the government?

Is Maida Khal still in prison?

Should she be in prison?

What is her crime?

Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle Rescued

Parents of freed US hostage furious with son-in-law for Afghanistan trip

Caitlan Coleman’s father calls Joshua Boyle’s decision to take his pregnant wife to Afghanistan on a backpacking trip ‘unconscionable’

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto and Haroon Janjua in Islamabad
Friday 13 October 2017 14.02 EDT Last modified on Friday 13 October 2017 14.35 EDT

The parents of an American woman who was rescued with her Canadian husband and three children after five years in captivity have said they were elated that the family is safe – but incensed with their son-in-law for taking their daughter to Afghanistan.

“Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable,” Caitlan Coleman’s father, Jim, told ABC News.

Coleman, Joshua Boyle and their children – all of whom were born in captivity – landed in London on Friday afternoon, en route to Canada. Earlier in the day, Boyle spoke to his parents by telephone, telling them that he and his family were safe after the dramatic rescue.

Speaking to a Canadian reporter on Thursday, Boyle reflected on the toll the past five years had taken. “My family is obviously psychologically and physically shattered by the betrayals and the criminality of what has happened over the past five years,” Boyle told the Toronto Star.

“But we’re looking forward to a new lease on life – to use an overused idiom – and restarting and being able to build a sanctuary for our children and our family in North America.” With a laugh, he added: “I have discovered there is little that cannot be overcome by enough Sufi patience, Irish irreverence and Canadian sanctimony.”

The couple – who met as teenagers online and bonded over their love of Star Wars fan sites – were abducted in 2012 during a backpacking trip that began in Russia and took them through Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before arriving in northern Afghanistan.

Coleman was pregnant with their first child at the time. The couple were believed to be held by the Haqqani network, a group deemed a terrorist organisation by the US.

Boyle, now 34, had long been fascinated with terrorism and national security, telling a reporter in 2009: “Anything related to terrorism on Wikipedia, I wrote, pretty much.” Years earlier he had become a spokesman for Omar Khadr, the Canadian held for 10 years at Guantánamo Bay after being captured as a teenager during a firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan, leading to a brief marriage with Zaynab Khadr, Omar’s sister.

The family’s ordeal ended with a dramatic rescue on Wednesday. Pakistani troops, operating on intelligence provided by the United States, had zeroed in on the family, locating them in a fast-moving vehicle near the town of Kohat, some 40 miles from the country’s north-western border with Afghanistan.

At the time, the family was locked in the trunk of a car, Boyle told his family. The last words he heard were “kill the hostages” before a shootout erupted, leaving him with a shrapnel wound.

Pakistani troops fired at the vehicle, bursting its tyres. While they managed to free the hostages, the couple’s captors, however, eluded them, managing to escape on foot.

Soon after the rescue, arrangements were made to bring the family back to North America, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told reporters on Thursday. “Medical treatment along the way. A lot of this, of course, would be psychological treatment,” he said. “They’ve been essentially living in a hole for five years.”

In Smiths Falls, Ontario, a small town of 9,000 people near Ottawa, Boyle’s parents rejoiced at the news that the family was safe, telling reporters that the family intended to come to Canada.

As they prepared for the family’s return – heading to purchase car seats as they waited to hear when the family would be landing in Canada – they also expressed misgivings for the future.

“I think they’re going to have some, obviously, really tough times,” said Boyle’s mother, Linda. “I don’t think they’re aware because they kept themselves strong for so long, for each other and for the kids. But I think that it’s going to catch up with them and they’re probably going to have some real crashes, I expect. But we’re here for them.”

The past five years had been punctuated by letters and videos from the couple, each offering a glimpse into the horrors the couple were living.

A video sent last December showed the couple pleading for their governments to negotiate with their captors. “My children have seen their mother defiled,” Coleman told the camera flatly. She described their years-long ordeal as “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves”.

A letter sent to Boyle’s parents and shared with the Toronto Star last year detailed the lengths the couple had gone to in order to deliver their second child; hiding the pregnancy from captors until Boyle delivered the child in darkness, guided only by a flashlight clenched between his teeth.

“The astonished captors were good and brought all our post-partum needs, so he is now fat and healthy, praise God,” Boyle wrote in the letter to his parents. “We are trying to keep spirits high for the children and play Beautiful Life,” he added, believed to be a reference to Life is Beautiful, the Italian film in which a father shields his son from the realities of a Nazi concentration camp by pretending they are in a game.

In Pennsylvania, the Colemans described their joy at hearing their daughter’s voice over the phone for the first time in years. But her father Jim added that he was angry with Boyle for taking his daughter to Afghanistan.

He also expressed dismay at reports that Boyle had refused to allow the family to leave Pakistan on a US military plane on Thursday. “I don’t know what five years in captivity would do to somebody, but if it were me, and I saw a US aircraft, US soldiers, I would be running for it.”

Boyle’s father said on Thursday that his son did not want to board the plane because it was headed to the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan rather than North America. He dismissed remarks by a US official that Boyle was concerned that he might face scrutiny by the Americans over his links to Khadr.

News of the rescue was heralded on Thursday by Donald Trump, who described it as a “positive moment” in the country’s fraught relationship with Pakistan.

“Today they are free,” the US president said in a statement. He later praised Pakistan for its willingness to “do more to provide security in the region”, adding that the rescue suggested other “countries are starting to respect the United States of America once again”.

The Bombing of Aleppo

Aleppo used to be a thriving city with history, beauty, and charm. 

Now it is a broken city.  Rivers of blood and piles of children's body parts mixed in with the rubble.  I've chosen to show pictures of architecture here, not the mangled bodies of children.  Thanks to you, Free Syria Regime AND Pro Assad Regime.  Thanks to you.  Your children are broken and dead.  Will Aleppo ever rebuild?  My heart hurts for you, Aleppo. 

The Citadel of Aleppo in 1993.

The Citadel of Aleppo in 2008

Inside the Citadel in 2011.

Some damage

The city of Aleppo with the Old Citadel in the background
The Old City of Aleppo in 2006, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

 The Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo, built between the 8th and 13th centuries

market stalls in the walled ancient part of the city

How the inside of the impressive Shahba Mall used to look Damaged beyond repair: Aleppo's largest commercial shopping centre, Shahba Mall was hit by air-strikes in October 2014Shahba Mall - before and after

Aleppo River & Tawhid Mosque
Image result for aleppo river mosque damage

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Otto Warmbier 'systematically tortured' by N Korea say parents

Otto Warmbier 'systematically tortured' by N Korea say parents

Otto Warmbier is escorted by N Korean guards (image released March 2016)
Image copyrightREUTERS
The parents of Otto Warmbier have shared horrific details of his condition when he arrived home from North Korea.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier told Fox and Friends that the North Koreans were "terrorists" who had "systematically tortured" their son.
The US student was jailed in Pyongyang in 2016 for stealing a hotel sign.
He was released on medical grounds in June this year but arrived home seriously ill and died days later.
North Korea has always denied mistreating Mr Warmbier. They say he contracted botulism while in prison but US doctors found no trace of this.

'This was no accident'

In their first interview since his death, they told Fox news that they "felt it was time to tell the truth about the condition that Otto was in".
US doctors had previously described him as being in a state of "unresponsive wakefulness", but the Warmbiers said calling this a coma was "unfair".
Mr Warmbier said when they saw his son he was "moving around, and jerking violently, making these howling and inhuman sounds".
His head was shaved, he was blind and deaf, his arms and legs were "totally deformed" and he had a huge scar on his foot, he said. It "looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth".
"Otto was systematically tortured and intentionally injured by Kim and his regime. This was no accident," said Mr Warmbier.
He also said his son had been abandoned by his family, his country and the world and that the government had given them no information about his death.
Mrs Warmbier said North Korea sent him home because "they didn't want him to die on their soil".
The family refused a post-mortem examination because they thought he had suffered enough and "I wasn't going to let him out of my sight," she said.
She also pleaded with people not to go to North Korea, saying it was "playing into" Pyongyang's propaganda. US citizens are now banned from travelling to North Korea.

'A great interview'

However, a local newspaper in the US has disputed the allegations made by the Warmbiers.
The Cincinnati Enquirer said it had obtained a copy of a coroner's report on Otto Warmbier, based on an external examination, which revealed several small scars but nothing which indicated torture.
The paper quoted the Hamilton County coroner as saying Mr Warmbier's teeth were "natural and in good repair" and that he appeared to have died from brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen.
US President Donald Trump, who is known to watch Fox and Friends, tweeted that it had been "a great interview", and that "Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea".
His comment is likely to stoke the escalating tensions between North Korea and the US, which have exchanged allegations and threats at an unprecedented rate in recent weeks.
The leaders of both countries have directly threatened the other with nuclear annihilation. The international community is appealing for all incendiary rhetoric to be toned down.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Saudi Arabia driving ban on women to be lifted - FINALLY!

Saudi Arabia driving ban on women to be lifted!!!

Saudi womenImage copyrightREUTERS
Saudi Arabia's King Salman has issued a decree allowing women to drive for the first time, state media say.
Government ministries are to prepare reports within 30 days and the order will be implemented by June 2018, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to forbid women from driving.
Rights groups have campaigned for years to allow women in Saudi Arabia to drive, and some women have been imprisoned for defying the rule.
"The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licences for men and women alike," the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
The move was welcomed by the US state department, which called it "a great step in the right direction".
Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was detained for 73 days in 2014 for flouting the ban, tweeted "thank God" following the announcement.
Manal al-Sharif, an organiser of the Women2Drive campaign who has also been imprisoned for driving, said on Twitter that Saudi Arabia would "never be the same again".
Activist Sahar Nassif in Jeddah told the BBC she was "very, very excited - jumping up and down and laughing".
"I'm going to buy my dream car, a convertible Mustang, and it's going to be black and yellow," she said.
Only men are allowed driving licences in Saudi Arabia and women who drive in public risk being arrested and fined.
Because of the law, many families have had to employ private drivers to help transport female relatives.
Saudi website Al Arabiya said about 800,000 men, mostly from South Asia, work as drivers to Saudi women.
Saudi law enforces a strict form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism and is known for its gender segregation rules.
Women have to adhere to strict dress codes, must not associate with unrelated men, and if they want to travel, work or access healthcare they must be accompanied by - or receive written permission from - a male guardian.
The Islamic kingdom recently faced a backlash from conservatives on social media after allowing women to participate in Saturday's National Day celebrations for the first time.
The festivities included fireworks, light shows and a concert in King Fahd International Stadium in the capital, Riyadh.
Saudi women sit in a stadium to attend an event in the capital Riyadh on 23 September 2017 commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the kingdom