So much hope. Last summer I blogged from Kabul about Afghans in sports and predicted that they would become a world power once the futile, pointless nonsense of war was over:
I saw a couple of boys, maybe eight or nine, laughing and throwing a sock stuffed with sand or something, all you can afford for a ball. Their arms were great, and they were winging that thing 70, 80 feet and nailing each other, just fooling around, and any little league coach would have drafted them. Afghan is a mountain country, and everyone has the balance, coordination, and endurance of a mountain goat. After 9/11 Special Forces reported seeing Taliban fighters hopping from rock to rock barefoot in the snow...When these people pick up baseball bats and gymnastic equipment, and start getting proper nutrition...That will be something.
Sure enough, today it was reported that at the South Asia Games Afghanistan won a Gold Medal in basketball:
First the Afghan basketball team beat Pakistan, then Sri Lanka, then India, and in the semi-finals they crushed Nepal 104 to 36. Today, Afghanistan did it once again, and beat India one more time to win a gold medal in basketball in the 2010 South Asian Games (SAG) being held in Bangladesh.
The news was reported in the poignantly-named site "Good Afghan News: Afghan News That Will Make You Happy."
All told, they so far have 6 medals, the Gold, and 5 Bronze, 4 in Judo and 1 in weightlifting.
Afghans are tired of war. One competition bodybuilder -- bodybuilding is the all rage here, even if they use old car parts and pulleys for equipment -- said last year:
"We are tired of war. We want to be healthy. We want to be famous in the world, not for our fighting, not for war. We want to be famous for our good behavior, our health."
Next to the Afghan hero Massoud, the likeness you'll see most of on billboards in Afghanistan is of Arnold Schwarznegger. Whatever his politics, he is seen to embody the values of discipline, determination, and persistence. In Kabul on almost any night somewhere you can catch a showing of "Pumping Iron."
Although the Taliban is doing the usual dance of rejecting talks before all US forces leave, a radio report from Kabul indicates that the back-channel talk, i.e. what really counts, is continuing.
A top security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai said today that the government is talking with Taliban leadership. He said the meetings were ongoing on the "local, regional, national and broader political level." This contradicts a statement released over the weekend by Taliban leadership that denied that they were talking with the Afghan government.
The US State Department and the Obama administration is having an "internal debate" over Karzai's overtures for peace talks with Taliban leadership. That the Taliban high command is even considering this, is a sign of weakness, and readiness to renounce Al Qaeda and come in from the cold. The Pakistan Daily reports:
The Taliban leader in Afghanistan, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is also ready to break with his al-Qaida allies in order to make peace in the country, according to the former Pakistani intelligence officer who trained him.
Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar (known as Colonel Imam), a retired officer with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, said: "The moment he gets control, the first target will be the al-Qaida people. He wants peace in the country, he doesn't want adventure. He has had enough of that."
The Taliban leadership's relation to Al Qaeda, who they often refer to as "the Arabs," has always been problematic. Afghan culture and its language groups are descendants of the Indo-European Farsi, spoken in Iran and distantly related to English rather than the Semitic languages of the Middle East.
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