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Default [Afghan News] October 8, 2011 - 02-16-2012, 05:54 PM

Afghanistan may need funds until 2025: UK envoy
Reuters By Emma Graham-Harrison Fri Oct 7, 2011
KABUL - Afghanistan will need financial and military support for many years after a 2014 deadline for foreign combat troops to return home, and may not be able to balance its budget until the middle of next decade, Britain's ambassador in Kabul said.
William Patey, speaking 10 years after the start of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, said he was confident the Afghan army was already stronger than the Taliban, but it would need long-term help with training and funds.
British and other forces should provide that, because if the Taliban returned to power by force, it risked the country becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda again, he added.
"It's important to get across (the message) that Afghanistan is not being abandoned in 2014, the nature of our engagement is changing," Patey told Reuters in his Kabul residence.
President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers agreed all foreign combat troops would return home by the end of 2014, prompting fears among some Afghans that their security forces would not be able to stop the country slipping into full-blown civil war.
But Patey said that while foreign soldiers would no longer go out to fight, Afghan forces would get funds and support.
Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries, will likely need long-term financial help, he warned, although Karzai's government hopes development of untapped mineral resources will make it financially independent within years, not decades.
"I think it's going to take at the earliest 2025 before Afghanistan might be able to balance its budget," Patey said.
Supporting Afghanistan's army was critical to preventing attacks on Britain like those that killed over 50 people in London in 2005, because if the Taliban fought their way back to power, they could provide a haven for al Qaeda again, he added.
"It's still about national security, we're here in order to ensure that Afghanistan once again does not return to a state where it can be used to threaten our security."
"The reality is that they have been reluctant to cut the links with al Qaeda," he added.
Patey said reconstruction after the fall of the Taliban had been slower than it should have been because resources were diverted to Iraq during the early years of the war.
"Our ambition wasn't matched by our resources, so we are not as far down the road as we could have been had we not been distracted by Iraq," he said in an interview on the eve of the October 7th anniversary.
"I think we are now putting in the sorts of resources that can deliver a viable state, an army capable of providing security in the country. So I think that we've got more resources and we've reduced our ambitions."
The progress of the war in Afghanistan has been heavily contested by Afghans themselves and the different groups in Afghanistan, from the foreign military to the United Nations.
NATO-led forces fighting in Afghanistan last month reported a drop in the number of "security incidents," a stark contrast to a U.N. report released the same week that said the country had become significantly more insecure in 2011.
There is a mixed picture on the ground. Taliban influence is spreading in the once-peaceful north and west, and insurgents have carried out a string of high profile assassinations, most recently of a former president. But NATO forces have tightened their control of former Taliban strongholds in the south.
Patey, who has served in Afghanistan since May 2010, said additional funds and troops sent to Afghanistan had already transformed Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
"They have been denied territory there. In the central Helmand plain Afghans are going about their normal business, and the Taliban are unable to pursue their normal strategy."
"(There are) benefits of stability that we are seeing in Helmand, where people are able to go about their daily business, grow their crops, get them to market, send their kids to school, have decent health services," he said.
But the true test of Western success would be when the handover to the army and police they are shaping is complete, in little over three years, he added.
"Everyone likes milestones, and everyone is right that people should take stock after a decade," he said.
"But I think the big milestone is going to be at the beginning of 2015, have we delivered an Afghan security force capable of defending Afghanistan against whatever terrorist threat remains, and I think we are on track for that."
(Editing by Martin Petty)

Obama says Al Qaeda near end after decade of Afghan war
Reuters By Alister Bull Fri Oct 7, 2011
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama, marking the 10th anniversary of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, said on Thursday that al Qaeda was on the ropes but "enormous challenges" remain to rebuild the country.
"In delivering justice to Osama bin Laden and many other al Qaeda leaders, we are closer than ever to defeating al Qaeda and its murderous network," Obama said in a statement.
A U.S. drone strike a week ago killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant American-born propagandist viewed as "chief of operations" for al Qaeda in Yemen. That was the latest killing of top al Qaeda officials since the shooting of bin Laden at his hide-out in Pakistan in May.
The United States and its allies launched the Afghan war on October 7, 2001, to topple the Taliban government sheltering the al Qaeda leadership responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Covert U.S. strikes against militants have grown significantly under Obama, particularly in the lawless region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, marking a U.S. policy success compared with mixed results from the wider war.
Obama acknowledged "enormous challenges that remain in Afghanistan" -- alluding to violence in which nearly 1,800 U.S. personnel have died, assassinations of government figures and deep corruption -- but still he claimed progress.
"We've pushed the Taliban out of its key strongholds, Afghan security forces are growing stronger, and the Afghan people have a new chance to forge their own future," he said.
Washington's war strategy has been complicated by Pakistan, which Obama said during a White House news conference on Thursday had resisted cutting ties with "unsavoury characters" as it hedged its bets on Afghanistan's future.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. strategy had suffered setbacks and successes in Afghanistan but the president's prime goal to "disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda" was on track.
NATO, which now heads the Afghan mission, says the overall security situation in Afghanistan has improved and Taliban attacks have declined. But dangers remain.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, himself the target of a recent assassination plot, acknowledged in a BBC interview on Friday his government and its foreign backers had failed to provide security to ordinary Afghans.
Violence has mounted, with the U.S. embassy in Kabul attacked by militants last month and former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading negotiations with militants to end the war, was killed at home on September 20.
The United States will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by year-end and 23,000 more by next summer, as the United States and its NATO allies work towards handing over security to full Afghan control by the end of 2014.
"After a difficult decade, we are responsibly ending today's wars from a position of strength," Obama said.
(Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by John O'Callaghan and Philip Barbara)

Afghan, NATO troops kill 43 militants, detain 19 in two days
By Abdul Haleem
KABUL, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Afghan and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have eliminated 43 anti- government militants and detained 19 others in separate operations since Friday, officials said Saturday.
In the latest crackdown against militants, the troops raided a house in Kunduz province killing four insurgents Saturday morning, an official said.
Afghan police backed by NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) raided a house in Kunduz city the capital of Kunduz province 250 km north of capital city Kabul and killed four Taliban insurgents Saturday, provincial police spokesman said. "Acting upon an intelligence report, police in coordination with NATO-led forces raided a house in Kanduz city at 03:00 a.m. local time today as a result four Taliban rebels including their commander namely Qari Shafiq were killed," Syed Sarwar Hussaini told Xinhua.
In another development, a statement released by NATO-led ISAF late Friday night said that the largest coordinated insurgent attack since 2009 against NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) bases failed Friday morning.
"At least 25 insurgents were confirmed killed during the attacks", the statement added.
Insurgents unsuccessfully used indirect fire from multiple locations in the Gormal, Sarobi and Barmal districts of Paktika province, some 160 km south of Afghan capital Kabul, the statement said, adding, "One Coalition member was slightly wounded" during the attack.
Similarly, security forces launched an operation against anti- government insurgents in Logar province 60 km south of capital city Kabul Friday night killing five militants and detained eight others, local officials said Saturday. "The operation covered Hakim Khil village in Mohammad Agha district has led to the killing of five insurgents and capturing four others," Deen Mohammad Darvish the spokesman for Logar governor told Xinhua.
Meantime, another official Shahidullah Shahid said that four more Taliban insurgents including their commander Mullah Rahmatullah were also captured by security forces in Logar province Friday night.
Moreover, Afghan police, backed by army and NATO-led Coalition forces, had killed nine insurgents and detained 11 others in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman province, Afghan Interior Ministry said on Saturday. "Afghan National Police (ANP) in collaboration with army and Coalition forces launched an operation in eastern Laghman province killing nine armed insurgents and detaining 11 other insurgents over the past 24 hours," the ministry said in a statement.
Taliban militants fighting Afghan and NATO-led troops have yet to make comment.

As Afghan war hits 10-year mark, falling land prices signal fear over future
The 10-year war in Afghanistan brought an influx of foreign cash helped boost real estate values. But since Obama set in motion a US withdrawal this summer, security concerns are driving land prices down.
Christian Science Monitor By Tom A. Peter, Correspondent October 7, 2011
Kabul, Afghanistan - On the 10-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, there may be no clearer sign that Afghans think the security situation is deteriorating than the country’s falling real estate market.
With more than three-quarters of the population reliant on agriculture to make their living, land is a measure of wealth and one of the most clear-cut investment options. As such, property prices have historically risen and fallen with the fortunes of the nation. But after several years of a soaring property market, real estate prices here began to plummet in just the last several months.
Property dealers and investors say the downturn started almost overnight after President Barack Obama announced the beginning of the drawdown of American forces in June. Soon after, NATO forces began transitioning security responsibility for parts of the country to Afghan forces. Meanwhile, insurgents have assassinated a string of high-profile Afghan leaders.
“Since the day they said the foreigners are withdrawing and they started the transition everything just stopped,” says Mohammad Agha, a property dealer in Kabul. “When the foreigners leave, we are not united. There will not be any compromises among Afghans. Everyone will try to have their own group and they will start fighting each other and there will be another civil war.”
Throughout Afghanistan, there are a growing number of people who are unwilling or extremely hesitant to invest inside Afghanistan amid fears of growing instability and questions about how the economy will function after foreign forces leave.
“Right now our security situation is getting worse and America is talking about the withdraw[al], so it clearly indicates that the security will continue to get worse. How can an investor decide to invest in this climate?” says Abdul Baqi Banwal, an economics professor at Kabul University. “The economy of Afghanistan is not sustainable. All our financial resources come from abroad and this is an abnormal economy.”
97 percent of Afghanistan's GDP comes from foreign money
According to a World Bank estimate, approximately 97 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product depends on money from the international military and donor community. The estimate does not include opium production as a component of the GDP.
As countless Afghans made their fortunes off the billions of dollars flowing into the country as part of foreign development projects and security contracts, a number of people began buying up property in Kabul.
Housing prices and land value skyrocketed. Developers began building luxury apartment complexes in Kabul, and some Afghans say their land increased in value by as much as 20 times what it was worth a decade ago.
But President Obama's announcement that the US would begin withdrawing troops, followed by a number of high-profile in assassinations and attacks by insurgents, shook investor confidence that might otherwise have remained steady. Now, many Afghans say they need to see much clearer indications of stability before they’re willing to invest.
“I have enough money to invest, but I don’t want to buy any land or open a new factory. If the situation was the same as last year, I would invest. But right now I clearly know that if I buy a piece of land eventually it will be worth half of what I paid for it and it will continue to decrease. Why would I do that?” says Haji Haikal, an Afghan investor.
Mr. Haikal, who describes himself as “uneducated,” says that he and many other local investors do not know enough about international markets to invest their money outside Afghanistan, so they will wait on the situation before doing anything. Importance of liquid assets
Amid this climate, even those who have no intentions to buy or sell land say they fear that falling property prices are a harbinger of hard times to come. After 30 years of conflict, most Afghans know the importance of having liquid assets.
“When the prices drop, it’s a sign that more violence is about to happen in the future,” says Shahidullah Salwari, who owns a plot of land that has depreciated by almost 20 percent in the last four months. “The bad situation has already started in Afghanistan, maybe we’re headed toward a civil war.”
Still others say that while security and the future of Afghanistan is not looking good, now is simply the time to get out of the market. In the past four months, Faisal Rahman says a plot of land his family owned has depreciated by nearly 15 percent. Still, he plans to sell it in the coming weeks to get money for marriage, but also because he thinks the real estate bubble has burst.
“The prices were high and we think they will not go that high again. They will only decrease,” says Mr. Rahman.

War-weary NATO continues to chase difficult strategy in Afghanistan
The Globe and Mail By Sonia Verma Friday, Oct. 07, 2011
The first CIA operatives dropped into Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley on Sept. 26, 2001. Linking up with Northern Alliance fighters, they paved the way for an American-led war against the Taliban, which officially kicked off with a massive bombing raid two weeks later.
That first phase of Operation Enduring Freedom was swift and relatively painless. Victory was decisive, with the Taliban government ousted in a matter of weeks. When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization entered the fray two years later – its first “out of area” mission beyond Europe – Afghanistan was viewed as a crucial test of the coalition’s political will and its military capabilities.
But the focus of the mission had already begun to drift. The coalition faced the amorphous task of stabilization and reconstruction, which, in practical terms meant everything from fighting a resurgent Taliban to building an Afghan army from scratch to helping Hamid Karzai’s government stage counternarcotics raids. While NATO agreed on the goals, there was never any road map on how to reach them.
Judged against the weight of those enormous expectations, it is no wonder that after a decade of war in Afghanistan NATO has come up decisively short. Within the coalition, the mission deepened divisions between member states and snapped them into focus. In Afghanistan, NATO failed to live up to its own hopes on nearly every count.
Today the war-weary coalition continues to chase a difficult strategy, seeking to both defeat the Taliban and at the same time trying to negotiate with them. All of this in the face of increasing violence. Almost since the war began more coalition soldiers have died, year after year.
As the conflict drags on, it has given way to finger-pointing. In June, outgoing U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates accused certain members of the coalition of not pulling their weight in Afghanistan: “The [mission] has exposed significant shortcomings in NATO – in military capabilities and in political will,” he said.
Just a few weeks ago, NATO found its own headquarters under attack by Taliban militants who had infiltrated the Green Zone in the heart of Kabul, an incident that seemed to underscore how far security has slid in the capital, which in 2003, the International Security Assistance Force set out to protect.
The result of the last decade? “NATO is more experienced but weaker,” said Stanley R. Sloan, author of Permanent Alliance? NATO and the Transatlantic Bargain from Truman to Obama.
From the outset, NATO had trouble persuading some of its member states to contribute forces to ISAF. Over the years that problem has morphed into some countries placing restrictions on how their forces could be deployed, which complicated things on the battlefield.
So while Canadian soldiers died fighting in Kandahar, Germans were hamstrung by strict rules of engagement that, until 2009, did not even allow them to shoot at an attacker on the run.
Other aspects of the Afghan mission are also undermined by division. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) – civilian military units designed to extend the reach of the central government – were unevenly funded and run depending on which member state is responsible. In NATO’s evolving role in the Afghan governments campaign against drugs, some member states allowed their soldiers to engage in counternarcotics while others did not.
NATO, of course, is not the only place to cast blame for the failures of the mission in Afghanistan.
“The alliance was undermined in a big way when the United States shifted its focus to Iraq. Afghanistan became Iraq’s poor stepchild. That was the United States’s fault, but it hurt NATO,” Mr. Sloan pointed out.
Even a weakened coalition, he argues, is better than none at all.
“Some people say that after Afghanistan the alliance should come to an end. I don’t buy it. What’s the alternative?” he asks.
Alexander Moens, a professor of international relations at Simon Fraser University, argues the most important “progress points in Afghanistan have a clear NATO mark on them.” He cites the opening of marketplaces in Kandahar, the building of schools and the creation of infrastructure.
“Whatever comes to Afghanistan in the long run it will be because NATO made a positive contribution,” he said.
But it is unclear whether NATO’s relatively new goals of liberal intervention and nation-building hold the alliance together.
One opinion poll conducted by the highly regarded German Marshall Fund found the percentage of European respondents favouring the support of democracy around the world has remained high since 2005 when it reached 74 per cent; today it stands at almost 70 per cent. On the other hand, support for spreading democracy has declined in the United States from 52 per cent in 2005 to 37 per cent today.
“NATO’s image has always been quite weak,” Dr. Moens says. “But at the end of the day it’s hard to see how people can come out of a failed Afghanistan praising NATO. Everyone underestimated the complexity of the problem.”

We Would not Leave Behind a Security Vacuum in Afghanistan: Nato Chief Friday, 07 October 2011
The alliance would remain committed to Afghanistan long after 2014 and would not leave behind a security vacuum in the country, Nato Chief said on Thursday.
Nato defence ministers on Thursday discussed Libya and Afghanistan, while the United States along with its allies has begun pulling its soldiers out of the country as part of withdrawal initiative due to be completed by the end of 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Nato had agreed on foreign combat troops to leave the country by the end of 2014 with Afghan security forces assuming full security responsibilities onwards.
"I would expect the Bonn conference to send a very clear signal to Afghanistan and the whole region that we will not abandon Afghanistan, we will stay committed," Referring to the goals of the Bonn conference in December this year, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
He continued: "It's clearly our goal that the Afghan security forces should take responsibility for the security all over Afghanistan. But I think it's of utmost importance for the Afghan people as well as well for Afghan neighbours to know that we will stay committed and not leave behind a security vacuum."
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also said there was a consensus among ministers to stay committed to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan.
Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak again warned against withdrawing too early. He said the international community should not repeat the mistakes it made in 1989 when it withdrew after the end of the Soviet occupation.
"I was very pleased to hear that all the members and nations of this alliance have re-committed their support to Afghanistan during the process of transition and also after 2014," Abdul Rahim Wardak said.
"That was something which was really needed, because we firmly believe that our common enemies were assuming from the beginning that sooner or later the international community would run out of patience and their interests would wane and they will leave Afghanistan like they had left before after the end of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and Afghanistan will be left isolated," Mr Wardak further said.

Troops kill 5 militants, detain 8 in Afghan town
LOGAR, Afghanistan, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Security forces launched an operation against anti-government insurgents in Logar province, 60 km south of capital city Kabul Friday night, killing five militants and detained eight others, local officials said Saturday. "The operation covered Hakim Khil village in Mohammad Agha district had led to the killing of five insurgents and capturing four others," Deen Mohammad Darvish told Xinhua.
He did not give more details.
Meantime, a local on the condition of anonymity said all the five had been killed during the operation are civilians including a woman.
Meantime, another official Shahidullah Shahid said that four more Taliban insurgents including their commander Mullah Rahmatullah were also captured by the security forces in Logar province Friday night.
However, Taliban militants fighting Afghan and NATO-led troops have yet to make comment.

Afghan Taliban Evolves With Technology
Voice of America By Sean Maroney October 07, 2011
Washington - Since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan 10 years ago, the Taliban has kept pace with changing technology - using the latest forms of communication to spread their message. Some analysts say the insurgents are more effective at outreach than even the Afghan government.
The Taliban's official website is multi-lingual, using Pashto, Dari, Arabic, Urdu and even English.
No matter how many times authorities block it, the site's administrators - believed to be based outside of Afghanistan - quickly restore service.
In contrast, the official website of the Afghan government was only recently reactivated, after being down for some time.
Both the government and the Taliban regularly email statements to reporters. But Siddiqullah Tawhidi, who monitors media in Afghanistan, said one side has an edge in outreach.
"The Taliban's spokesmen have benefited the most from technology and mobile phones," said Tawhidi. "They are always in contact with reporters, passing along their message and then monitoring the media to see if reporters pass it along. This happens at a time when the Afghan government has had difficulty getting its message to the media."
Afghanistan's mobile phone network, considered one of the Karzai government's biggest successes, also is known as the Taliban's biggest propaganda tool. And Danish Karokhel, with Pajhwok Afghan News, said the Taliban also uses mobile phones for intimidation.
"Our reporters not only face threats through email and telephone, but they are also abducted and beaten. During the last year, Pajwak has lost three of its reporters," said Karokhel.
The Taliban banned TV, music and movies when it ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
But after a decade of war, the group seems to have readily embraced the 21st century's technology, even turning to social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Homayoon Shoaib of VOA's Afghan Service contributed reporting to this story.

Zalmay Khalilzad's not-so-excellent Afghan oil adventure
By Steve LeVine Thursday, October 6, 2011 Foreign Policy
The private investment firm of Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and one of the most powerful diplomats in the George W. Bush Administration, is upset that a client has lost an oil deal in the country. Khalilzad's son, Alexander Benard, is on the attack in Washington, in particular against the Pentagon, which he says acted against U.S. interests by not advising the Afghan government to favor Western companies in the deal.
Khalilzad's firm, Gryphon Capital Partners, represents U.K.-based Tethys Petroleum, which participated in a competitive tender for northern Afghanistan oilfields estimated to hold 80 million barrels of oil. This is not a lot of oil, but given global prices would still generate a good income flow at an estimated production rate of 11,000 barrels a day. In hiring Khalilzad (pictured above), Tethys was paying a native Afghan and one of the Bush Administration's most powerful diplomats -- he was ambassador not just to Afghanistan, but also to Iraq and the United Nations. Trading on his contacts, Khalilzad mounted an aggressive campaign on Tethys' behalf in both Washington and Kabul, I am told.
Yet as of now, the tentative winner is China National Petroleum Corp., according to Bloomberg. The deal is on track to be finalized by the middle of this month. And Gryphon attributes this to a tender that it says unfairly favored CNPC, when it should have been engineered to the advantage of companies from the coalition partners who have fought in Afghanistan.
Benard, who is Khalilzad's 28-year-old son, makes the assertions in two high-profile opinion pieces that have appeared the last two days on the websites of Foreign Policy and National Review. Khalilzad founded and runs Gryphon, while Benard is its managing director.
Given the bitterly partisan political atmosphere in Washington, Benard's pieces provide Republicans another club with which to strike President Barack Obama. But in an email exchange, Benard said he is not attempting to reverse Afghanistan's decision. "We believe it is too late for this tender but we are trying to make sure future tenders in Afghanistan are handled better," Benard told me.
As part of its bid, CNPC agreed to pay a 15 percent royalty on the oil it drills, a 30 percent corporate tax, and to build a refinery, Bloomberg reports. An Australian company named Buccaneer Energy came in second, promising a 10 percent royalty. I am told that Tethys' bid was not close to the two top bids.
In April, Tethys CEO David Robson praised the "open, transparent and efficient manner" in which the tender process was being run. But after the result was announced, a Tethys spokeswoman told Bloomberg that the company could not match the top offers. "CNPC is the representative of a government and it was able to offer terms that were non-commercial," the spokeswoman said.
In his articles, Benard expresses outrage that the tender was not manipulated to award the oilfields to one of the Western bidders. In the FP, he writes:
How was CNPC able to win a tender for such a strategic resource in a country where the United States wields tremendous influence? Amazingly, one reason is that the U.S. Defense Department, whose Task Force on Business and Stability Operations, which is charged with resuscitating the economies of Afghanistan and Iraq, designed and oversaw a tender process that played to the strengths of Chinese state-owned companies over Western private ones.
In the National Review, Benard is more pointed. He writes:
We ... told the task force that they needed to do more to provide political support to the Western bidder, but the U.S. government stated that it was neutral as to the outcome of the tender -- an incredible position, especially given the strategic importance of hydrocarbon resources in a country where U.S. troops require thousands of gallons of jet-fuel and diesel every day to support ongoing operations. These resources will now be under the effective control of the Chinese government.
The Metallurgical Corp. of China is already developing Aynak, an enormous copper mine in Afghanistan. But its companies have not gotten the only big early resource deals in Afghanistan -- J.P. Morgan is teaming up with a Polish businessman named Jan Kulczyk in a gold deal.
The CNPC bid is part of a gingerly Chinese effort to penetrate Afghanistan commercially without getting mired in the country politically or militarily, according to a good piece by Zhou Xin at Reuters. In the China Daily, Sultan Baheen, the Afghan ambassador to Beijing, said that the Kabul government hopes to finalize the CNPC deal by the middle of this month. "Chinese investment has been very effective for job creation. I think that is good news for us in Afghanistan and for our Chinese relationship," Baheen told the paper.

Afghan Stadiums Now for Sports, Not Violence
VOA News October 8, 2011 Akmal Dawi
Washington - Ten years ago, the Taliban used Kabul's main sports stadium for public executions. Now, athletes crowd the grounds as more and more young Afghans flock to sports in a post-Taliban Afghanistan.
During Taliban rule, hundreds of Afghans would fill the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul, but just not always for sports.
The Taliban used the stadium as a venue to punish and even execute those accused of breaking the law. It did not matter if you were a man or woman, the Taliban publicly punished anyone who did not follow their interpretation of Islamic law.
But since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghanistan's Olympic Committee spokesman Mohammad Arif Payman says a lot has changed for sports venues such as the Ghazi Stadium.
"Fortunately, the conditions have changed significantly here in the past 10 years," said Payman. "New venues have been established for sports. And other provinces have their own sports teams as well. Boys and girls are all taking part in sports. These players have medals both at home and abroad."
Ten years ago, Afghan sports teams did not officially participate in international sporting events.
But now, Maihan Wali, the captain of Afghanistan's women’s basketball team, says the teams are introducing the new Afghanistan to the world.
"During the Taliban regime, boys and girls did not have the opportunity to participate in sports, and they were not allowed to serve the country in the social sector," said Wali. "Now that the Taliban is no longer in power, both boys and girls are joining sports teams with enthusiasm. They want to serve the country through sports and earn respect for the country and their families."
With this former venue of violence now a place for friendly competition, young Afghans hope the rest of their country will transform in a similar way.

Peaceful environment prompts Afghan kids dreaming bright future
By Abdul Haleem, Zhang Jianhua
KABUL, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- She was in a hurry to reach class on time and shouting in childhood voice "don't disturb me, don't disturb me". Jamila, 8, a girl in grade 2 was walking fast to attend school in a town near Afghan capital Kabul.
A scenery valley located 90 km north of Afghan capital Kabul, Sallang district of Parwan Province, is one of the peaceful areas in Afghanistan where no security incidents and Taliban-linked activities has been reported.
"Let me go to school, I want to become a teacher in my future," Jamila said to this scribe and run away on Friday.
Likewise Jamila, bunches of boys and girls were seen going to school by foot and some even jogging not to miss their classes.
Dozens of girls, attired in black dress and white scarf -- the uniform of girl students in Afghanistan, were seen walking on the pathway of the heavily traffic aside Salang highway attracting the attention of passers-by and commuters, a development unthinkable in the conservative Afghanistan during Taliban regime.
Asked another girl about her dream in future, she replied in short answer, "I want to become a gynecologist."The media shy girl told this reporter without mentioning her grade and name.
A decade ago, when Taliban regime was in power, few girls had the chance to attend school. All women and girls had been forced to wear burqa, an envelope-like dress covering from head to toe and should had the company of a close relative whenever going out of home.
The sign of improvement in the living condition of the people in Salang valley is clearly tangible. New public buildings including schools, health centers, veterinary clinics and police checkpoints are seen along the highway.
Similarly, the number of newly constructed private houses in tiny villages alongside mud homes is on rise on the both sides of the stream divided the mountainous Salang valley.
Roadways and shoveled streets linking villages have been built. Moreover the newly constructed restaurants and gardens run by locals welcome the guests who are mostly local tourists and travelers.
"Thank God that we people are living in peace. The sustainable peace here in Salang has enabled us to establish our business, send our children to school free of fear and improve our living conditions," a fish seller in Tajikan village Mohammad Nabi said.
Nabi said that he earns between 2,500-3,000 Afghanis (around 50- 60 U.S. dollars) daily but on Fridays which is weekly off day about Afghanis 7,000-10,000 through selling fish and dishes.
However, in the militancy-hit areas like Helmand and Kandahar provinces in south Afghanistan, the school aged children particularly the girls cannot attend school properly due to security reasons.
In 2009, militants, allegedly the Taliban loyalists sprayed acid on the faces of some school girls terrorizing them to stay at home.
Dozens of schools in the militancy-hit provinces, according to officials still remain close due to security reasons, even though dozens have been reopened.
"The peaceful environment in Salang is in our favor. We should get maximum benefit. I don't want my children to become fish seller, rather I like them to become engineers, doctors and university professors and that is why I work hard and support my children to build their own future," Nabi, the father of five said.
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