Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Peer Dastageer Sahib Shrine catches fire

I visited this Shrine recently. (at least, I saw the outside since only men are allowed inside...).  It had beautiful architecture and this is a sad loss. 

Crowds watch as firefighters try to extinguish a fire engulfing a 200-year-old Sufi shrine in Srinagar.

Local residents carry a ladder as they try to help the firefighters.

Local residents help firefighters extinguish fire at a historic shrine.

Local residents stand outside a Sufi shrine where a fire broke out in Srinagar

Apparently there were large protests because of what was viewed as a slow response from firefighters.

Protests began after fire destroyed a highly revered Sufi-shrine in downtown Srinagar.

Afghanistan wants its cultural heroes back

Interred a quarter century ago in Pakistan, the remains of Afghan poet Ustad Khalilullah Khalili now lie in a forlorn corner of Kabul University, brought here to be reburied so that no one else can lay claim to the revered poet-philosopher.
He has no epitaph; only a few wilted bouquets lie at the grave of Afghanistan's most prominent 20th century poet. Three policemen guard the site.
But if President Hamid Karzai - who ordered the remains be disinterred from a grave in the Pakistani city of Peshawar last month - has his way, the reburial will become an assertion of Afghan culture over encroachment by Pakistan and Iran.
"We brought him back from Pakistan because he was our poet and scholar," said Mohammad Hussain Yamin, head of the Persian and Dari department at Kabul University.
"We don't want someone in future to say that he belonged to Pakistan just because he lived the final years of his life there."
The assertion of cultural sovereignty is part of an effort to unite Afghanistan and prove it can stand on its own after most foreign troops leave at the end of 2014.
The government says it wants an end to "foreign interference", usually a reference to Pakistan, but also Iran with which it is locked in a fierce debate over ownership of some of the greatest poets and philosophers in the region.
Poetry is big in Afghanistan, from the time of the kings of the 10th century to the present day, permeating every level of society from children in school to warlords and even the austere Taliban who study long works of classical Persian poetry as part of their education in religious schools.
It's the thread that runs between Afghanistan's often warring ethnic groups whether Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun, Uzbek, Turkmen, Nuristani, Baluch, or any of the many other sub-groups and clans.

But along with the death and destruction of the past three decades, Afghans say they also lost a chunk of their rich cultural heritage with Iran, Pakistan and even Turkey claiming parts of it.
Many, like Khalili, left the country to escape the wars and died in faraway lands which slowly began to claim them as their own, Afghanistan says.
Now it aims to get its heritage back.
"Iran wants to show the world it had a glorious past. This has been going on for years, they have been claiming many of our literary figures as their own. We cannot remain silent," said Jalal Noorani, an adviser at the Information and Culture Ministry.
Debate has long raged over Rumi, arguably the greatest Persian poet, but now as Afghanistan begins to stand on its feet, the claims and counter-claims have intensified not only over him but also others.
Rumi, known as Mawlana Jalal-ud-Din Balkhi in Afghanistan and Mevlevi in Iran, was born in the 13th century in Balkh which was at the time an eastern part of the Persian empire of Khorasan but is now a province in northern Afghanistan.
His family moved and they eventually settled in present-day Turkey where he wrote some of the greatest mystic Sufi poetry in Persian.
Today, all three countries regard him as their national poet even though his poetry itself transcends borders, religion and ethnic divides.
Rumi's poetry is displayed on the walls of Tehran, sung in Iranian music and read in Iranian school books. Iranians are known to live with his poetry.
But Yamin says what is indisputable is that his origins were in Afghanistan. Rumi's occupies pride of place on a billboard in Yamin's room that gives details of the birth dates and place of birth of poets that others have laid claim to.
"We have repeatedly given evidence that these figures belong to Afghanistan, not Iran. When we sit down with the Iranians and discuss these issues, they don't offer any evidence. They say in the past both countries were one, so they call all these poets, philosophers Iranian," said Yasmin.

Iranian embassy officials could not be reached for comment and did not respond to an email.
In the past, Iranians have challenged Afghanistan to a test of history, suggesting they were waking up a bit late to claim inheritance.
At a concert in Kabul a few years ago, an Iranian singer challenged any member of the audience to speak for two minutes on Rumi since they claimed he was their own. Afghan authorities took offence and the concert had to end hastily.
"Afghans are a bit late at this. Iran and Turkey have stolen their thunder," said Mohammad Taqi, a U.S.-based columnist for Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper who has written extensively on the Pashtun heartland straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iran, he said, had milked Rumi and the whirling dervishes that his poetry inspired by setting up cultural centers on the pattern of Germany's Goethe Institute.
Still, this new burst of cultural revivalism in Afghanistan can help bridge the distance between the Tajiks and the Hazaras, and to a certain extent the Pashtuns, he said.
"A supra-ethnic Afghan identity needs non-violent icons."


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saudi women allowed to compete in Olympics

London 2012 Olympics: Saudis allow women to compete

Rushdi Malhas at the Singapore Youth Olympics - August 2010
Showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas is currently the only Saudi female competitor at Olympic standard

Saudi Arabia is to allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time.  Officials say the country's Olympic Committee will "oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify".  The decision will end recent speculation as to whether the entire Saudi team could have been disqualified on grounds of gender discrimination.

The public participation of women in sport is still fiercely opposed by many Saudi religious conservatives.  There is almost no public tradition of women participating in sport in the country.

Saudi officials say that with the Games now just a few weeks away, the only female competitor at Olympic standard is showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas. But they added that there may be scope for others to compete and that if successful they would be dressed "to preserve their dignity".  In practice this is likely to mean modest, loose-fitting garments and "a sports hijab", a scarf covering the hair but not the face.

For the desert kingdom, the decision to allow women to compete in the Olympics is a huge step, overturning deep-rooted opposition from those opposed to any public role for women.  As recently as April, the indications were that Saudi Arabia's rulers would accede to the sensitivities of the religious conservatives and maintain the ban on allowing women to take part.  But for the past six weeks there have been intense, behind-the-scenes discussions led by King Abdullah, who has long been pushing for women to play a more active role in Saudi society.

In secret meetings in Jeddah, officials say a consensus was reached in mid-June between the king, the crown prince, the foreign minister, the leading religious cleric, the grand mufti and others, to overturn the ban.  An announcement was ready to be made but then had to be delayed as the country marked the sudden death of Crown Prince Nayef.

"It's very sensitive," a senior Saudi official told the BBC. "King Abdullah is trying to initiate reform in a subtle way, by finding the right balance between going too fast or too slow.  "For example, he allowed the participation of women in the Shura council [an advisory body] so the Olympic decision is part of an ongoing process, it's not isolated."  The official acknowledged that to refuse to let women take part would have looked bad on the international stage.  "Partly because of the mounting criticism we woke up and realised we had to deal with this. We believe Saudi society will accept this," the official said.

It is not the first time a Saudi monarch has backed a controversial reform against domestic opposition.  King Faisal, who introduced television in the 1960s and was eventually assassinated, insisted on introducing education for girls.   Today, Saudi women graduates outnumber their male counterparts.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

China thows temper tantrum. again.

 Really China?  Quit throwing temper tantrums when other countries don't do what you want.  Did it ever occur to you that the Dalai Lama has a right to talk with whomever he wants to, because he is NOT under your jurisdiction.  Are you really going to withdraw your Olympic athletes over this?  If you are - your loss.  Nobody elses loss.  Just yours.  Your strict controls on everything do not extend beyond your 'borders'.  Sorry.

China halts UK ministerial meetings over Dalai Lama row

Dalai Lama meets David Cameron and Nick Clegg 
David Cameron and Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama at St Paul's Cathedral


China halted ministerial meetings with UK counterparts in May, when Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama, British officials have confirmed.

China warned earlier that relations would not be restored until the UK "stops supporting anti-Chinese forces".

It has also reportedly threatened to withdraw its Olympic athletes over a scheduled Dalai Lama speech in Leeds.

The UK's Foreign Office has called the row disappointing and appealed for its sensible resolution.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader visited the UK to receive the £1.1m ($1.7m) Templeton Prize for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life.

Downing Street said he was "an important religious figure" who had met previous British prime ministers.

But the encounter triggered an angry response from Chinese officials, who described it as an intrusion into its domestic affairs and warned of "serious consequences".

As a result, all high-level meetings with Britain have been suspended since May, including a visit to London by senior leader Wu Bangguo.

UK ministers Lord Green and Minister Jeremy Browne, both in Beijing to discuss trade and justice matters, saw their meetings either cancelled or downgraded.

"The responsibility lies on the British side," said the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Liu Weimin.

"We demand the British side take immediate measures to remove the Tibetan influence, so as to restore China-UK relations with concrete actions."

Returning to the UK this week, the Dalai Lama is expected to speak at an international business convention in Leeds, which will also be the training base for China's Olympic athletes.

It is thought Chinese officials asked Leeds City Council to put pressure on the organisers to cancel his visit.

The Dalai Lama's visit will go ahead but the council has removed any association between itself and the convention.

In a statement, Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, said the convention was a private event not organised by the council.

"Whilst we are aware of some sensitivities around this year's convention, as it is not a council event we do not feel it is appropriate for us to make any further comment," he said.

The Dalai Lama lives in exile in India, travelling the world to seek support for more rights for Tibetan people.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Olympic hopefuls in Somalia train in former Islamist rebel camp

Image: Somali athletes run along a ruined street as they train during preparations for the 2012 London Olympic Games in Somalia's capital Mogadishu
Somali athletes run along a ruined street as they train during preparations for the 2012 London Olympic Games in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, March 14, 2012.
Training in a bullet-riddled stadium where the remains of a rocket propelled grenade lies discarded on the track's edge counts as progress for Somali Olympic hopeful Mohamed Hassan Mohamed.
A year ago, Mogadishu's Konis stadium was a base for Islamist militants and a work out meant at times running through the streets, dodging gun-fire and mortar shells in one of the world's most dangerous cities.
"It's easier for us to train now," said Mohamed.
It is a staggering understatement from the 22-year-old, one of four Somali athletes vying for the two slots guaranteed for Somalia at the London games.
For 20 years the capital's rutted roads were the frontline in running battles between feuding warlords and later Islamist insurgents fighting to overthrow a government propped up by foreign forces and cash.

The Konis stadium served as an al-Shabab rebel training camp until the al-Qaida-linked combatants fled the capital in August last year. Bullet holes pepper the stadium's concrete stands, which lie in mounds of rubble in places.
Progress, however, is relative. Somalia's Olympic bid is run on a shoestring. There are no dedicated personal trainers, physiotherapists or nutritionists.
"Our facilities are poor. We don't have a modern training camp or a modern gym. We should replace our running shoes frequently. Instead, we wash them," said Mohamed.

For now, the 1,500 meter specialist trains in relative safety, unless the security forces block off the surrounding area in advance of a government delegation on the move, forcing the athletes back onto the streets.
That means competing for space with patrolling armored troop carriers, donkey carts and mountainous piles of garbage. Roadside bombs have become a growing danger.

In April, a suicide bomber blew herself up at a ceremony in the city's national theater, killing the popular head of Somalia's Olympic committee and at least five others.
"The theater blast was a painful incident. It was a shocking day," Mohamed said.
Somalia has never won a medal at the Olympic games.
Its best performance was in 1996 when its most renowned athlete, Abdi Bile, took sixth place in the 1,500 meters in Atlanta.

At the time, militia fighters in the lawless capital dubbed their machine gun-mounted pickup trucks "Abdi Biles" in a typically Somali mark of respect for the runner's power and speed.
Somalia is not expected to announce the names of the two athletes who will compete in London until later this month. Unveiling their identities earlier might endanger their lives in a country plagued by kidnappings and targeted killings.

Rarely able to travel to international meets, no Somali athlete qualified for the London Games outright. Each national Olympic committee is eligible for two guaranteed places - one for a man, one for a woman - in athletics.
"Pump your arms. Pump your arms with power," urged the Somali team coach, Ahmed Ali Abukar, armed with nothing more than a stopwatch.
Don't slow up. Keep going until you drop," he yelled as sweat gleamed on Mohamed's sinewy body.
Abukar earns a salary of just $150 a month. That comes out of a $2,000 per month pot from the Somali Olympic Committee (SOC) that pays for the four athletes' accommodation in a renovated school classroom, their food and transport costs.

Kadija Dahir, president of the Somali Athletics Federation, said a request to the SOC for a further $3,500 a month to fund the training of two athletes failed.
"We need money to produce quality athletes," Dahir said. "With that money we wanted to do high altitude training in Ethiopia and buy better clothing and trainers."
Zamzam Mohamud Farah kneels toward Mecca and prays before taking to the hard-packed dirt track in a pair of heavy trainers, baggy tracksuit bottoms and an orange bandana.
One of two women competing for a wildcard entry, she puts her personal best at around 58 seconds in the 400 meters.
The women's world record stands at 47.60, a gaping difference that leaves her unlikely to contest a podium finish.
In a fractured country fighting to end 20 years of civil conflict, a medal, though, is hardly the point.
"I would not be going there to win, but for pride," Farah said. "I would be representing my flag, my soil and its people."

Sexually harassing women who are protesting against sexual harrasment

Women brave attack to protest sexual harassment in Egypt

Mohamed Muslemany
Banker Marwa Salah protests against sexual harassament in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Friday.
A handful of women saw the ugly side of Tahrir Square Friday when they were attacked and sexually harassed soon after they held a small demonstration protesting against just that.

Sexual harassment has plagued recent Tahrir Square rallies and peaked Tuesday when a woman molested by hundreds of men fainted and fell to the ground in front of a female Associated Press journalist who had to be carried away to safety herself.
Journalist Nadia Abul Magd attended the Friday demonstration as 15 women and a few men on a corner of Tahrir Square quietly held signs decrying harassment. She said that just as the protest moved to an adjoining street, waves of men fell upon the protesters, hurling broken glass and rocks at demonstrators and harassing some of the women.  Other men in the crowd tried in vain to protect them.
“We were surrounded by men from both sides and by [the time we reached the corner] I saw a wave. I saw so many that attacked some men and women,” said Abul Magd. “Every few minutes there was a wave. It was definitely a coordinated attack.”
She said the attackers intended to scare all women from the square and ruin the image of thousands of other legitimate protesters demonstrating against the candidacy of the former Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq.  
When we had dropped in hours earlier, a few men had already started arguing with women protesters.
“What are they demonstrating against?  Harassment! How can you distract like this from the public interest, which is getting rid of Shafiq!” shouted an angry young man. He gestured toward the throng of thousands filling Tahrir Square and oblivious to the smattering of women holding signs. “There are 500,000 people out there. This is not the time.”
Mohamed Muslemany
Lubna Ezzat, an engineer, protests against sexual harassment in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Friday.
Two other men crowded against the short line of female protesters and held up their own anti -Shafiq fliers while venting fury at the women for staging a separate protest against sexual harassment. 
The women explained why they took the risk to protest for the right to walk the streets unmolested.
“You know when you leave home it will happen, either touching or bad language. Every day [harassment] happens here on the streets.  Some days it’s escalated,” said May Abdul Hafiz, a travel agency supervisor. She explained that women are considered at fault for encouraging unwanted male attention by dress or behavior. “You are not supposed to say anything because they think you brought it on yourself.”
Yasmin, a 28-year-old filmmaker who gave only her first name, called harassment a “disease.”
“It doesn’t matter what I wear or what age they are, old, young, no reason. We want to change this situation. … We want to criminalize harassment,” Yasmin said.
Mohamed Muslemany
May Abdul Hafiz, supervisor of a Cairo travel agency, demonstrates against sexual harassment at Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Friday.
Marwa Salah, a banker, said women’s rights will come with civil rights.
“When you have freedom you will have your rights. It’s about freedom for all Egyptians,” said Salah. “We have been brainwashed for 60 years. All people were so busy fighting poverty, women’s rights were a low priority.”
Abul Magd said the march Friday was targeted by men who wanted to prove they could sexually harass even those who dare protest against sexual harassment in order to prove that Tahrir Square is no longer safe for women or for those who try to protect them.
But the women had the last word. Friday night some of the assaulted protesters were invited to appear on a popular Egyptian talk show where they shared their concerns about sexual harassment in front of a nationwide audience.

India's tobacco girls - what a childhood.

India's tobacco girls

Young girls rolling beedis in Kadiri Almost all beedi workers in Kadiri are young girls that work up to 14 hours a day

On World Day Against Child Labour, Davinder Kumar of Plan International investigates the plight of young girls engaged in making beedis - the traditional hand-rolled cigarettes - in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Five-year-old Aliya thinks it is some kind of a game she must soon master to be a winner.

From the time she wakes up and until she goes to bed, Aliya watches her mother and all the girls and women in her neighbourhood consumed in a frantic race.

They all make beedis, the traditional hand-rolled Indian cigarettes.

For each beedi, the roller painstakingly places tobacco inside a dried leaf sourced from a local ebony tree; tightly rolls and secures it with a thread; and then closes the tips using a sharp knife.

Five year old Aliya practicing rolling beedis Five-year-old Aliya has already begun training to roll beedis

Working between 10 and 14 hours a day, Aliya's mother and others must roll at least a 1,000 beedis each, to earn a paltry sum of less than $2 (£1.28) paid by the middleman.

The beedi manufacturers, however, make billions of dollars.

The rolled beedis are taken to the warehouses of large manufacturers where they are packaged and sold in the market for a much higher price.

The beedi is hugely popular and makes for nearly half of India's entire tobacco market.
Human robots
In Aliya's town of Kadiri in Andhra Pradesh alone, hundreds of families have for generations relied on beedi rolling as their only means of survival.

A pair of hands damaged by continuous beedi rolling The skin on the fingertips of the beedi-rollers gets thinner

The labyrinthine, congested lanes of the Kadiri slums are home to an assembly line of humans functioning like robots.

Young girls and women sit out in the open, rocking back and forth, appearing entranced.

Many have developed odd muscular motions as they push their work speed to the edge of human limits.

"The pressure to keep up with the speed and meet the target is so intense that many skip their meals and even avoid drinking water so they do not need to go to the toilet," says Shanu, a community volunteer.

Almost all beedi workers in Kadiri, like in the other beedi manufacturing areas of India, are female and a large number of them are young girls.
'Nimble fingers'
Aliya has already started her lessons and is practising rolling beedis using cuttings of plain paper.

"I want to roll beedis and give the money I earn to my mother," she says.

A study released nearly three years ago estimated that a shocking number of more than 1.7 million children worked in India's beedi rolling industry.

Children are knowingly engaged by manufacturers who believe that their nimble fingers are more adept at rolling cigarettes.

11-year-old Salma with beedis she has rolled Salma has jaundice but she still rolls 1,500 beedis a day

Under Indian law, beedi rolling is defined as hazardous work.

But there is a loophole which allows children, who assist their parents in their work, to be kept out of the purview of the law.

"Formally, it is the women who take the orders from the contractors. However, given the pressures these women face in terms of delivering, invariably children, mainly girls, get pulled into this to support their families in beedi rolling," says Anita Kumar of Plan India.

As part of its global campaign "Because I am Girl", the child rights' organisation has started a programme focused on the girl child labour in Andhra Pradesh, including girls involved in beedi making.

The project will impact 1,500 girls over three years.

"We are aiming to create a model by working with communities and the local government structures, ensuring that children are prevented from falling into this cycle of labour," Ms Kumar says.

From unhealthy living conditions to exploitative wages, slave-like working conditions and severe health consequences - the situation of beedi workers involves violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms on many levels.

A majority of the girls are pulled out of school by the time they complete primary school to support their families' incomes.

Youngest among four siblings, 11-year-old Salma dropped out of school last year.

"I wanted to continue going to school but we are very poor and have been struggling to pay the rent," she says as she struggles to draw a breath.

Salma is suffering from jaundice and is so frail she can barely sit straight.

Yet, she is tasked with rolling up to 1,500 beedis a day to support her family.

She is in dire need of medical attention, but visiting the local hospital means a day off work due to long queues and a day's wage in transport. Her parents cannot afford either.

Baby in lap of mother as she rolls beedis The adverse health impact of beedi work is visible on all age groups

The adverse health impact on beedi workers is visible on all age groups.

Continuous beedi rolling leads to absorption of high doses of nicotine directly through the skin.

The skin on the children's fingertips begins to thin progressively, and by the time they reach their 40s they cannot roll cigarettes any more.

The worst thing for beedi workers is the feeling that there is no protection, no welfare, no state support.

In summer as the temperatures reach 45C, streets in Kadiri are engulfed in a stifling cloud of tobacco dust as infants play among heaps of tobacco leaves.

Covered in a pool of sweat, young girls roll beedis with their eyes transfixed on their tobacco tray.

Older women, who cannot roll any more, help with trimming the ebony leaves.

The work continues until late in the night just to secure the next day's meal and to keep a roof above the head.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Planting trees in Afghanistan

If someone would translate this video for me, I would be most grateful!  Tashakur ^^

And here is an incredibly awkward video of some person who seems to be a Non-Afghan planting a tree, while the people who seem to be Afghans just stand around and watch him.  (to be fair - there are other people planting and working in the background who appear to be Afghans)

Lion Fights for Clean and Green Kabul

The Kabul Municipality and USAID launch the “Cleaning and Greening” campaign in the capital.
Through Shir Sultan’s adventures in coloring books, billboards and posters, the children of Kabul learn how to plant trees and keep the city clean and beautiful for years to come.

“Shir Sultan” (Lion King) marked his first International Earth Day event on the 22nd of April at the International School of Kabul where H.E. Mayor Nowandish introduced the children’s mascot and distributed coloring books that tell the story of how garbage is collected by the municipality. The Mayor also hailed the role children play in communicating the need for a cleaner and greener city for their future. The event marked the start of USAID-funded “Cleaning and Greening Campaign” in Kabul.
Kabul is Afghanistan’s window to the world, a rapidly growing city of five million with major challenges in city service provision and in maintaining a clean environment and green public space, especially after decades of war. The Kabul Municipality and USAID launched the “Cleaning and Greening Campaign” to animate both young and old to get their hands dirty and help make Kabul a cleaner and greener city for all. Through his adventures, “Shir Sultan” will teach the children of Kabul how to plant trees and keep the city clean and beautiful for years to come.
During the next few months while the campaign is ongoing children will follow “Shir Sultan’s” adventures as he teaches them how to properly dispose of garbage in the dumpster, wash their hands daily after touching trash, and how to help their parents plant and water trees. Not only does “Shir Sultan” appear in coloring books, he will soon be showing up on billboards, posters, and on TV to pass his message to the children of Kabul.
“Shir Sultan” and all brochures, posters, fliers and billboards for this campaign are being designed, developed and produced by local Afghan companies.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Afghan Troupe Performs Shakespeare

NEW DELHI: That rigorous, devoted rehearsals for a play can make or break a performance is a no-brainer. But here's a case where dropping one rehearsal has been responsible for saving the performers' lives.
It was August last year when the Afghan theatre troupe "Rah-e-Sabz" was busy rehearsing Shakespeare's 'The Comedy of Errors' in Kabul. The troupe's French director Corinne Jaber suggested an early morning rehearsal on the day of Ramadan at The British Council. The ten actors and three musicians decided against the suggestion and agreed to meet at a later time instead. That morning at the time they were originally to meet, the British Council in Kabul was attacked by the Taliban. The gun battle that ensued between the Taliban and the Kabul policemen continued for six hours.
"A lot of these actors do two jobs and the time didn't suit them. After I heard about the attack, I laughed. Pure stress and trauma makes you react in incongruous ways," says Jaber, who has been working in Afghanistan since 2005.
The group, with the aid of the British Council, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and others, rehearsed in residency at Bangalore's Nrityagram. Having already performed at the garden city, Pune and Mumbai, it held a ticket-free show open to all in Delhi on Tuesday evening at the ICCR auditorium. The production will now travel to England and Germany, since it is a part of the Globe Theatre's World Shakespeare Festival 2012.
Among the group members, 21-year-old Farzana Sayed Ahmad is travelling internationally for the first time. The young, quiet actress who has two roles in the play admits the situation in her country is not conducive for female performers. The Taliban, opposed to the performing arts in general, is even more vehemently opposed to female artists. Jaber says they've had trouble performing scenes that involve women and men holding hands in Kabul. One of the actresses in the play, Parwin Mushtahel, received death threats and was forced to flee the country after her husband was murdered. A former TV and film actress in Kabul, Mushtahel had to relocate to Toronto. She never wants to go back, says producer Roger Granville, pitching in to interpret for her.
"I hail from Maidan Wadrakh province in Afghanistan which is very conservative. With my name and face in the papers and news channels, the Afghani society won't accept me there. But my family in Kabul supports me. It's a revolution for women and I am happy to be a part of it," says Ahmad.
Shah Mohammad, who plays Dromio of Ephesus in the play, says the theater scene in Kabul is rather underdeveloped. "Unless there are popular actors performing, it's an invite-only audience. Families don't let women take to the stage. Because of all this, the film industry suffers too," he says. A fan of Nana Patekar and Naseeruddin Shah, Shah Mohammad says actress Katrina Kaif enjoys uncontested popularity amongst young boys in his country.
Abida Frotan is eager that popular notions about Afghanistan change. "I want to represent my country as a good place. I hope we give an improved performance in London," she says.
The play, set in present-day Kabul, has been translated to Dari by writer Nahal Tajadod. No Elizabethan England here. Dromio and Antipholus, for example, are Afghan expats from Uzbekistan in this version.
Familiarity with Shakespeare, or lack thereof, was easily overcome. Actor Basir Haider had the story down pat. "I had watched Sanjeev Kumar's film Angoor which was based on this play. Later I read it too," says Haider, who is based in London. Jaber feels the story is easily transposable in the Afghan context. "The play opens with a father looking for a son. They know what it's like to lose a family member and then go looking for them," says Jaber, who first came to India as an actor in Peter Brooks' Mahabharata.
The Globe Theatre initially gave Jaber a choice between 'Richard III' and 'The Comedy of Errors'. "I discovered that Afghan actors don't want to do tragedies at all, so we picked this play," says Jaber, who also did another Shakespeare comedy, 'Love's Labour Lost', in Kabul earlier. With mirth and laughter, let old wrinkles come!

(Times of India article) (photo from Revolve Magazine)

Khatool Mohammadzai. Afghan Female Paratrooper!

This is the first i've ever heard of this woman!  She was a paratrooper in the Afghan military for 28 years and made more than 600 jumps.

Then the Taliban came to power and suddenly she was stuck at home, or under a burqa with severence pay of $13 a month. 

So, the next time you think all women wearing burqas are alike - keep her in mind. 

And yes, she did earn all of those medals.  She was a Colonel when the Taliban stopped her military career.  She has since been promoted to General, but I heard that she has been assigned to a desk job.  ..... hm.