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Located in Kabul, Afghanistan, CAPS is an independent, research centre that strives to conduct action-oriented research which will influence policy-makers. It works diligently towards building local capacity to produce conflict and threat assessments that will influence the safety and security of the people serving the governments, and international aid organizations.
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Regional News
Feb 24, 2008
Beautiful game brings moment of peace

KANDAHAR CITY, Afghanistan - Violence, poverty and myriad forms of serious crime plague this city, among the world's most dangerous, but there is one means of escape that doesn't involve AK-47s or drugs: the beautiful game.

Soccer is resurgent in Kandahar, thanks to an assist from Canadian soldiers and philanthropists back home.

Soccer balls -- 5,000 of them, paid for in Canada and shipped here recently from Pakistan -- are kicking around everywhere, and putting smiles on faces too often plastered with grief.

Diversions are welcome, especially this week. Two suicide bombings in Kandahar province killed at least 135 people. One of the attacks occurred just outside the city, at a dog-fighting rally. And a car bombing in the city Tuesday left one civilian dead and injured three others.

"The violence affects us negatively, of course," says Abdul Rahman, 22, limbering up on a local pitch with mates from his men's league team, Breshna (the Pashto word for electricity). "It's impossible to avoid."

Soccer, he adds, "gives us a break from all our misery." He takes a new ball, balances it on his forehead, lets it drop the ground and then boots it. "At least now we can do this, whenever we like."

It wasn't always the case. People here never quit the game, but for years they played under difficult, if not impossible, circumstances. Secretly, sometimes.

Equipment was scarce; so were playing fields. But the biggest problem was politics and a perverse take on religion. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, its theocratic leadership issued directives from an armed camp in Kandahar. Preposterous rules were applied to many activities, including the game.

Girls were forbidden to play. Males also faced severe restrictions.

They were not to wear pants hemmed above their knees. Players in violation of this dress code were subject to arrest and humiliation by Taliban agents. A visiting squad from Pakistan once violated the knee ban: The players' heads were shaved clean.

Unbridled expressions of joy on the pitch -- after, say, a pretty goal -- were frowned upon. Play was confined to certain areas. And kicking a ball after four p.m., anywhere, was expressly forbidden.

None of his players look back on those days with fondness or nostalgia, says Breshna's gregarious coach, Aman Kamran. But the general situation in today's Kandahar may be even worse.

Unemployment, a lack of security and basic services, and rising discontent all spell gloom.

It's a sad thing, he says, when his players "have kind of accepted this way of life. It's been going on for 30 years. It's not a new phenomenon."

A native of Kandahar, Kamran worked for years in New York and became an American citizen. He returned to Kandahar a few years ago, expecting to build a thriving business and something like a normal life. That hasn't happened.

But, he has managed to nurture his love for sport, soccer in particular. He volunteered to coach Breshna three years ago and helped move the team from a lower form to the city's top division.

This week, a day after the latest bombing, he assembled his players on a large grass field on the edge of the city. The air was still. No dust, no noise, no anxiety. It was a peaceful scene, and to these eyes, at least, quite unfamiliar.

Kamran put his players through their paces. Blasting away on his whistle, he had them sprint up and down the grass surface, recently upgraded from a miserable dirt patch. "We put down one foot of soil and made quite a proper field," he says, proudly. Kamran contributed his own money to the cause.

His team received 30 off the 5,000 new soccer balls that arrived last month in Kandahar. The donation, valued at $30,000, was the brainchild of Vahan Kololian a Toronto businessman and chairman of the Mosaic Institute, an organization devoted to diversity, international peace and development.

Canada Company, a group committed to supporting the military, was also involved. Canadian soldiers distributed the balls to various organizations and leagues in Kandahar. Children received most of them.

(Source: Brian Hutchinson, "Beautiful game brings moment of peace", Canada, 24 February 2008)

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