The Rage of Reality TV in Afghanistan


Syed Zafar Mehdi

While presenting opportunities to young prodigies to showcase their talent, the reality television shows have also become a rage among the entertainment starved audience in this country

“A reality show can heal where the civic processes have failed,” writes Katherine Sender in The Politics of Reality Television: Global Perspectives. It is especially true for a place like Afghanistan, where reality is far more vicious than the Russian roulette. With the television industry around the world coming up with innovative concepts for reality shows, how can Afghanistan be far behind? It seems the trend of television reality shows is here to stay.

In the last one decade, the hard-bitten people of this country have embraced life. And, some of them like Kianosh Rahimi, 25, have chosen reality television to showcase their talent and catch the people’s imagination.

The trend of reality shows picked up in Afghanistan with Afghan Star, which was launched on Tolo channel in September 2005. In the very first season, thousands of enthusiastic youngsters made beeline to take part in the auditions across the country

Rahimi, the young and promising singer from a small town in Bamyan province, was one of the participants in Afghan Star, a popular reality television show, last year. These reality shows have become all rage among the entertainment starved audience in this country. There are a total of 75 television stations and 175 radio stations in Afghanistan today.

Thousands of aspirants are seen at the auditions every new season. There were tears and sobs when they fail and moments of ecstasy and delight when they win. “It is because they give opportunities to ambitious people like me from the remote parts of country to showcase our talent,” says Rahimi.

The trend of reality shows picked up in Afghanistan with Afghan Star, which was launched on Tolo channel in September 2005. In the very first season, thousands of enthusiastic youngsters made beeline to take part in the auditions across the country. “It was a welcome departure from the dark and somber past,” says Mohammad Imran, 31-year-old amateur musician from Kabul who was lucky to be shortlisted in the inaugral season. “Something that was unimaginable just five years back was all before us, it was surreal.”

Shakeeb Hamdard, a young boy from Dara e Turkman, a beautiful valley in Parwan province, was the winner in first season. Hamdard released his debut album Mashalla in 2007 after his song Gul Dana Dana had become a chartbuster across Afghanistan.

In the holy month of Ramadan last year, a contest on the lines of ‘Qoran Idol’ of Iran was developed by Tolo TV, which created quite a stir. Islamic scholars judged contestants on their ability to recite Quranic verses 

The success of Afghan Star and the tremendous potential of reality shows in Afghanistan forced many to sit up and take notice. “It was a watershed moment in the history of Afghanistan, and Afghan Star managed to set a precedent,” says Imroz Nabi, former producer at MOBY Media Group. “It inspired millions in Afghanistan to believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

In 2008, another reality show took country by storm. Loosely based on Dragons Den series, ‘Fikr wa Talash’, which translates into Dream or Achieve, was sponsored by USAID, Roshan telecommunication and Bank e Milli. Aimed to promote entrepreneurial spirit among ordinary Afghans, the show gave contestants a lifetime opportunity to pitch their creative business ideas before a panel of business tycoons and walk away with the bumper prize of 20,000 USD. Faizulhaq Moshkani was declared winner for pitching the idea about plastic recycling business. “It was amazing the way many Afghans came forward with such innovative business ideas,” says Roshan Mohammadi, student at Kabul University. “It was unprecedented because normally we fail to appreciate talent and creativity in ordinary Afghans.”


In 2010, Emrooz TV, taking a cue from Tolo, came up with a reality show for young Afghan models. “It was unprecedented and hugely successful show,” says Maseeh Rehman Popalzai, who emerged winner among 124 contestants. In 2012, thousands of young Afghans, most of them sports buffs, took part in a reality television show called ‘Maidan e Sabz’, which means ‘green field’, to get a chance of representing one of the eight football teams in the high-profile football league. The idea, according to Abdul Sabor Walizada, the trainer, was to bring football into Afghan homes, and use sports to espouse the cause of national unity. The show struck a chord with majority of young Afghans.

“I remember going for the trails on the first day; there was almost a stampede,” says Aitzaaz Anwar. “Though I did not make it to final list but the experience was amazing.” The show’s popularity among young Afghans was mainly attributed to the passion they share for football. “Afghans are passionate about football; you will find pictures of Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo in many homes and kitchens,” says Anwar. The impressive show of the national football team has made the sport popular here.

In the holy month of Ramadan last year, a contest on the lines of ‘Qoran Idol’ of Iran was developed by Tolo TV, which created quite a stir. Islamic scholars judged contestants on their ability to recite Quranic verses. “Such programmes will always have audience in Afghanistan and we need to continue with such shows so that people understand the art of Quranic recitation well,” says Naseerullah Khalid, Professor at Kabul University.
In 2013, Tolo TV launched another innovative reality show ‘Voice of Afghanistan’ based on the Dutch reality show ‘The Voice of Holland’, created by John de Mol. Moby Group, which owns Tolo TV, acquired the rights to broadcast the show in March last year. “It was wonderful to see young contestants singing for peace and showing what they are capable of,” says Fereshteh Forough, Co-Founder of Afghan Citadel Software Company. The show topped popularity charts after the successful first season, but it also grabbed the headlines for some controversial reasons.


Some hardliners in the country found the show promoting waywardness. Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a parliamentarian, led the campaign against the show. One of the judges, Aryana Sayeed, who is also a popular Afghan singer, was singled out for severe criticism because of her western clothes. “The smear campaign against the show was unnecessary and unfounded, and all these politicians who thought such gimmickry will get them votes are sadly mistaken,” says a young musician, wishing anonymity.

There were reports about music tycoon Simon Cowell planning to launch the Afghan version of Got Talent show in Afghanistan. Cowell, who is a prominent name in west for launching many successful reality shows including The X Factor, had expressed his desire to help young Afghans realize their dreams and provide entertainment to people here. “It would be wonderful if his plans actually materialize; it will put the reality television of Afghanistan on world map,” says Popalzai.

The observers here attribute many reasons to popularity of these talent reality shows. “Ten years ago, television was a strange beast here, so the Afghan audience was certainly starved of televised entertainment,” says Forough.” While sponsors make hefty money, contestants enjoy their spectacular moments in spotlight, and audience laps up emotion.

 

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For Afghan patients, all routes lead to Indian hospitals

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

India has become a preferred choice for many Afghans who seek advanced treatment for various health issues because of low costs, less hassles and shorter waiting lists for elective surgery 

India has become a preferred choice for many Afghans who seek advanced treatment for various health issues because of low costs, less hassles and shorter waiting lists for elective surgery.

Three-year-old Maryam cannot speak coherently. She stands on her feet but falls down. She mumbles and fumbles like any tender soul of three years. She comes across as a bundle of joys, but the little child nurses excruciating pain inside. She was diagnosed with a serious heart ailment three months back. Her father, Sahil Amanzada, a small-time businessman in western Herat province, immediately flew her to India for treatment.

Maryam was successfully operated at Escorts Heart Institute in South Delhi, after her father managed to put together the amount needed for surgery. A few weeks later, she returned home, hale and hearty. “It was difficult to see our first child go through so much pain, but she somehow pulled it off and we are relieved now,” says Amanzada, with a broad grin.

Amanzada decided to take her to Delhi for treatment because he was not willing to take chance with hospitals and doctors in Afghanistan. “I was not ready to put the life of my child at stake by taking her to some local hospital here. I was certain they will do a great job.”

India has become a preferred choice for many Afghans who seek advanced treatment for various health issues. The hospitals in New Delhi see tremendous rush of Afghan patients and it contributes immensely to medical tourism in India. According to a study by London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), medical tourism has flourished in Asian countries like India because of “low costs, and shorter waiting lists for elective surgery”. Dr. KK Aggarwal, senior consultant at Moolchand Hospital, New Delhi concurs. “In India, healthcare is cheaper and at par with anywhere else in the west, and that brings patients from other countries here, especially Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq and African countries.”

India has become a preferred choice for many Afghans who seek advanced treatment for various health issues. The hospitals in New Delhi see tremendous rush of Afghan patients and it contributes immensely to medical tourism in India

Most of these patients from Afghanistan rent apartments in small, nondescript localities of South Delhi like Lajpat Nagar, Malviya Nagar and Bhogal, which are in close proximity to some of the premier hospitals like Apollo Hospital, Max Hospital, AIIMS and Moolchand Hospital. Mohammad Gulnawaz, who underwent a critical surgery for brain tumor at Max Hospital, rented an apartment for a month in nearby Malviya Nagar. “It was walking distance from hospital and not very expensive,” says Gulnawaz. “There are also some nice Afghan food outlets in the locality and in front of the hospital.”

Mujeeb ur Rehman, 55, damaged his left leg last year in a mine blast while coming to Kabul from Kunar. Doctors in Kabul advised him to go to India or Pakistan for surgery. “I decided to go to India even though it was a little expensive than Pakistan,” says Rehman, sporting a colorful headgear. “After an initial surgical procedure, doctors at Apollo Hospital decided to amputate the leg as infection was chronic.”

Ahmad Saeedi, a Masters student at Delhi University, works as a translator with these patients. He says the rush of patients has been steady since 2003. “Most of the patients come with heart ailments, brain tumors, orthopedic problems and cancer,” Saeedi tells us over telephone from Delhi. “India offers many facilities to these patients from Afghanistan with hassle-free visas and security, unlike Pakistan and Iran.”

As per industry figures, more than 10, 00,000 foreign patients visited India this year, and majority of them from Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the reports about post-surgery superbugs in many hospitals of India, the rush of patients has not simmered. “Patients who came over the last few years have achieved good results and are now referring their friends and relatives too,” says Dr. Yash Gulati, Senior consultant, Apollo Hospital, New Delhi. He makes special mention of Afghan patients. “Most of my foreign patients are from Afghanistan and they always go back happy and healthy.”

According to the Indian Embassy in Kabul, more than 100,000 medical visas have been issued in last three years. “Most of the visa applications are for medical purposes, which shows Indian hospitals are a preferred choice for Afghan patients,” says an embassy official, who is not authorized to speak to media. Fereshta Jameel, a student at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, says it is win-win situation for both Indian and Afghanistan. “It gives a boost to medical tourism in India and helps Afghans get the best medical treatment at an affordable price.”

As per industry figures, more than 10, 00,000 foreign patients visited India this year, and majority of them from Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the reports about post-surgery superbugs in many hospitals of India, the rush of Afghan patients has not simmered.

Dr. Anoop Misra, Director of Centre for Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, believes quality of healthcare in some Indian hospitals is probably better than other medical tourism destinations. “All the latest procedures, support facilities and drugs are available. Further, costs here are nearly 1/5th of that in USA and translators are available for languages spoken in Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa. Lodging and food during treatment is also at nominal rates.”

“I needed hip replacement surgery and India was my first choice,” says Shafi Nasiri, resident of Kabul. He underwent surgery at Apollo Hospitals in 2012 and now he is able to walk and run like before. “Although healthcare industry in Afghanistan has significantly improved in last one decade but you still cannot undergo complex surgical procedures here.”

Medical procedures that generally bring foreign patients to India include bypass cardiac interventions, neurosurgeries, orthopedic surgeries, hip replacement, plastic surgery, infertility treatment, and dental implants among others. These procedures, according to Health Digital Systems report, costs half as much in India compared with the US, UK and Europe.

“I attended a conference in Canada recently where a doctor from the U.S. said that bronchial asthma treatment is the fifth most expensive treatment there. I was astonished because in India it costs just a few thousands of rupees,” says Dr. Param Hans Mishra, dean cum administrator, Indian Spinal Injury Centre. Most of the Afghan patients, says Dr. Misra, go to India for the treatment of diabetes, heart diseases and kidney failure.

Many medical tourists, especially from Afghanistan and Middle East, are equally fascinated by the traditional and natural medicine as much by the advancements in modern medicine. Ayurveda, unani and yoga are also popular with medical tourists.

Maryam’s parents are happy today, which is evident from their glowing faces. “I would be wonderful to have such state-of-the-art hospitals and such professionals here also, because not everyone can afford treatment outside the country and the accompanying costs,” says Amanzada. “Till we have our own, I hope Indian hospitals and doctors continue to provide ethical and updated medical care to us,” he adds.

(First published in Afghan Zariza and Scroll.in)

“The blame for resurrecting insurgency in Afghanistan ultimately rests with the U.S.”


Syed Zafar Mehdi

An acclaimed journalist and author, Anand Gopal has extensively reported from Afghanistan for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. He has also reported on the Middle East and South Asia for Harper’s, The Nation, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, and other publications.

As a Bernard L. Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation, he authored the just-published No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes(Metropolitan Books), which has generated an intense debate about the purpose of America’s intervention in Afghanistan.

Through the dramatic stories of three Afghans caught in America’s war on terror, Gopal shows that the Afghan war, often seen as a hopeless quagmire and an intractable conflict, could in fact have gone very differently.

Q. In your just-published book, you argue that the U.S. forces pressed the conflict in Afghanistan and resurrected the insurgency. Do you think the blame goes squarely on the U.S.?
A.
 I believe the blame for resurrecting the insurgency ultimately rests with the U.S., but blame for sustaining and continuing the insurgency is shared equally by the U.S. and Pakistan. Of course, the Afghan government is also to blame, but we cannot look at their actions independently of outside forces, since they are playing by the rules that outsiders set.

If we take a longer view, stretching back thirty years, I believe the U.S. and the Soviet Union are ultimately responsible for the conflict. On the one hand, the Soviet Union killed over a million and destroyed the country; on the other, the U.S. spread extremism and warlordism through their patronage of rebel groups. Furthermore, the U.S. and Saudi patronage in the 1980s transformed the Pakistani state, helping make the ISI what it is today.

If we take a longer view, stretching back thirty years, I believe the U.S. and the Soviet Union are ultimately responsible for the conflict

Q. The top Taliban leadership, you claim, tried to surrender soon after the U.S. invasion. Why was the U.S. not willing to accept them?
A.
 The mood at the time was that, like Bush said, “You are either with us or against us.” America’s goal was to wage a war on terror, and the fact that its enemies were trying to switch sides was something that did not mesh easily with the ideology of counterterrorism.

Q. Your book tells the story of Afghan war through the lives of three Afghans: a Taliban commander, a tribal warlord and a village housewife. Is it just a co-incidence that they are all Pashtun?
A.
 No, it is not a coincidence—it is because the war is largely being fought in Pashtun areas. Moreover, all three are Pashtuns who lived at least part of the time in rural areas. There are many excellent works of reporting on Afghans living in cities, and in other parts of the country. However, there is very little about the lives of Pashtuns in rural areas, and I felt that it would be impossible to understand this war without exploring their experiences.

Certainly, there are many other facets of Afghanistan, and many other books waiting to be written about them, but I felt that this slice of life was necessary if we were to have a better picture of the conflict.

Q. According to a recent Gallup poll, many Americans believe it was a mistake to send troops to Afghanistan. Do you also hold that view?
A.
 I think there is no simple answer to this question. If we attempt to answer it in the most straightforward way possible—are Afghans’ lives better?—then we should ask: which Afghans? Life in cities is far better today than it was before 2001. Life in the north, particularly in Bamyan, has considerably improved over the brutality of the Taliban era. Life in Sangin or Baraki Barak, though, is considerably worse than it was in 2001. Whose experiences qualify as genuine? I would say both, and in a way, that is a tragedy.

Even the gains, though, are precarious. The Afghan state, such as it is, relies on rural strongmen and militias alongside the army and police, and the Afghan economy cannot function without a massive and unending influx of Western aid. There is no realistic plan for sustainability or genuine state building—and though President Ghani’s ideas on this front seem promising, I am skeptical that he can do much when the source of these phenomena, Washington, is showing few signs of changing.

I do not believe the Taliban are interested in peace at this moment, irrespective of who is sitting in Arg (presidential palace)

So the question is: where will Afghanistan be five, ten, fifteen years from now? The best-case scenario, if we are being realistic, is that it will be right where it is today—with the Taliban not strong enough to take the country, and yet not weak enough to be defeated. And the worst case scenario—the international community cuts its funding—would likely lead to another state collapse and civil war.
If this turns out to be the American legacy in Afghanistan, then there will be no debate whether the entire intervention was a mistake.

Q. You have not sufficiently highlighted the role of Pakistan in the resurgence of Taliban. Do you believe the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had no major role to play in it?
A. The ISI played a major role in the resurgence of the Taliban by providing safe haven for Taliban leaders, influencing commanders, eliminating those they do not like, and generally by trying to control things behind the scenes. They are a major force of destruction in Afghanistan. However, this is well known, and as such my book focused on the U.S. role, which was much less-well known.

There is an idea floating around in some circles that Pakistan willed the Taliban back to life in 2002-4, but this simply does not appear to be the case. Rather, real grievances inside Afghanistan were the impetus for the Taliban’s regroupment, and Pakistan saw this process unfold and manipulated it for its own purposes.

Q. Your depiction of Taliban as oppressed Pashtuns fighting against a corrupt government and foreign ‘invaders’, many believe, is not fair. How would you respond to that?
A.
 I think it is important to distinguish between the reasons that led many to join the Taliban initially, and what the Taliban represents as a movement. It is true, and a matter of record, that many joined as a response to the torture, killings, air strikes, night raids, and other crimes committed by the foreign forces and their proxies. You can travel through Deh Rawud district in Uruzgan, for example, and see many pro-government villages. But in neighboring Char Chino, the majority of territory is held by insurgents.

Why such differences? The reasons have to do with local politics and local histories, and particularly, the differing nature of grievances and government connections in those two areas. This is not unique to Afghanistan; many insurgencies around the world stem from real grievances.

To recognize that a group had, at one point, legitimate grievances is not the same as saying the group acts legitimately to address those grievances. Armed groups often take a life of their own, and their ultimate purpose is usually to ensure their own survival and potential for obtaining power.

I describe in the book how the Taliban quickly came to mirror the actions of the very warlords they were fighting. They are a force of oppression, just as many of the other armed actors in the conflict.

Q. With the new government in Kabul now, do you see peace process making headway in near future?
A.
 Unfortunately, I do not believe the Taliban are interested in peace at this moment, irrespective of who is sitting in Arg (presidential palace). Some of their influential leaders believe that they can defeat the Afghan government.

I think this is unrealistic, as the Afghan government has greater firepower and manpower (thanks to its foreign patrons). But some top Taliban figures appear to be clinging to this notion, and the withdrawal of foreign troops has only emboldened them.

(http://www.afghanzariza.com/2014/11/07/the-blame-for-resurrecting-insurgency-in-afghanistan-ultimately-rests-with-the-us)

Keeping the art of wooden camera alive


Syed Zafar Mehdi 

A colorful, makeshift tent is pitched on the roadside in Herat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herat). A tall, lanky man lifts the curtains and greets three boys, neatly dressed in traditional Afghan attire. The man is 34-year-old Sibgat Ullah, who has been working as box camera photographer for 10 years, a practice he learned from his father. On a normal day, 20 to 30 customers flock to his roadside studio to get photographs clicked at affordable price.

At a time when professional photographers have become finicky about picture quality, mega pixel resolution and superb optics, paying scrupulous attention to detail; here in Afghanistan, they still do it the old-fashioned way.

Locally known as ‘kamra-e-faoree’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamra-e-faoree), Afghanistan is perhaps the only place in the world where the box camera is still used by photographers. For Sibgat Ullah, it’s a source of livelihood and a legacy of his forefathers. “It is a part of our landscape, our culture, our history,” says the photographer, with glint in his eyes.

The dilapidated studio, in the makeshift tent, was shut for many years because of the ban (http://www.afghanistannewscenter.com/news/2001/march/mar27m2001.html) imposed on photography by Taliban. All the camera studios were closed down, and equipments were either destroyed or kept hidden. In 2003, a few years after Taliban regime was overthrown, Sibgat Ullah took over from his father to keep alive the tradition. “It was not just about business and money, it was about the family tradition,” he says, with a hint of pride.

Locally known as ‘kamra-e-faoree’, Afghanistan is perhaps the only place in the world where the box camera is still used by photographers

These makeshift tents dot the roads in many provinces across Afghanistan, including Heart (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herat), Mazar e Sharif (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazar-i-Sharif) and capital city Kabul. Though these box cameras are in danger of becoming extinct, for hundreds of photographers, it is the only source of their livelihood. “Earlier, we used to have tremendous rush at the studio but now the business has taken a dip. Still, it’s decent enough to survive and sustain,” says Mohammad Raheem Khan, 45-year-old box camera photographer from Mazar e Sharif.

Box camera is a box-shaped wooden camera, which uses no film but can effectively capture and develop an image. It acts both as a camera and a darkroom. The lenses of kamra-e-faoree, which means ‘instant camera’ in local Dari language, are shutter less, working only with natural light. To click the picture, the photographer swiftly moves the cap of lens with one hand to expose the paper to natural light. He then replaces the shutter and pops in his arm to access the camera’s interior, which also acts as darkroom. He develops a paper negative of the image inside the dark box and shoots the negative film to make it positive, ready as a finished image.

The art of karma-e-faoree has passed through generations in Afghanistan, except for some dark years during Taliban rule.

“It is a complicated process for beginners, but we have been doing it for decades so we understand the nitty-gritty of the art. It is effortless and affordable,” says Raheem Khan. The art of karma-e-faoree has passed through generations in Afghanistan, except for some dark years during Taliban rule.

The origins of the box camera are not clear. According to historians, the practice (http://www.afghanboxcamera.com/abcp_about_photographyinafghanistan.htm) of kamra-e-faoree came to Afghanistan from the Indian sub-continent during the reign of King Zahir Shah (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_Zahir_Shah). The number of box camera photographers in Kabul rapidly mushroomed in 1950s, which was attributed to the governmental drive to issue national identity cards with photographs, called tazkira (http://moi.gov.af/en/page/5749). In the years that followed, photographs began to be used for school cards, driving licenses, government documents, legal documents etc. But, the use of photographs for national identity cards (tazkira) was instrumental in giving fillip to the industry of box camera photography in Afghanistan. Many new box camera photographers were trained across the country after a nationwide contract was doled out for national identity card photographs. According to veteran photographers here, a civil servant named Afandi bagged the lucrative contract and he played a key role in training box camera photographers in the country in 1950s.

Even though the practice of kamra-e-faoree has become less popular with the advent of new technology, the photographers here believe it is here to stay. “We will keep it alive, because it is about our culture and history,” says Sibgat Ullah, as he greets more customers at his roadside tent.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)

What factors contribute to Afghan cricket team’s unpredictability and inconsistency

Post

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Before the qualifying play-off match between Afghanistan and Hong Kong on Tuesday, the odds were heavily in favor of Afghanistan. The boys in blue started as clear favorites to win the match and cruise into semis of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2015.

The stage was perfectly set for Asghar Stanikzai and his boys to make a telling statement. They had suffered a humiliating defeat against Oman and two matches had been washed out. It was a do-or-die situation, a virtual quarter-final.

As the match progressed, it looked amply clear that Afghanistan will romp home victorious. Despite the sluggish batting and slow run rate through middle overs, the team managed to post a competitive total of 161 runs in their stipulated 20 overs.

The explosive wicketkeeper batsman Mohammad Shahzad, who has caught the imagination of all and sundry in this tournament, played his natural game.  He defies logic and makes sheer mockery of coaching manuals. His batting is all about stand-and-deliver.

Nawroz Mangal, the seasoned campaigner who was struggling with his batting form, showed why class is permanent and form is temporary. His quick-fire 55 off 36 helped Afghanistan post a defendable total on the board.

Hong Kong faced a Herculean task of chasing 162 runs to win the match and qualify for the semifinal. It was not easy to score runs against the likes of Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran.

For most part of the match, Hong Kong were on the backfoot, struggling to keep the scoreboard ticking. Afghanistan dominated, except for some sloppy fielding and dropped catches.

The match went down to the wire. The batting side required 27 off the final two overs and 16 off the last over.  All the pace bowlers had finished their quota. Stanikzai had a difficult decision to make.

Mohammad Nabi, the former skipper and star all-rounder, was handed over the ball. The atmosphere in the ground was electrifying as Afghan fans animatedly cheered for their team.

Saving 16 runs in one over didn’t seem a difficult task, especially for a player of Nabi’s caliber. On the first ball, he claimed a crucial wicket of Chapman, who looked dangerous. Nabi punched the air and celebrated with his teammates.

Hong Kong now required 16 off 5 balls. It was getting increasingly difficult for the batting side.

For most part of the match, Hong Kong were on the backfoot, struggling to keep the scoreboard ticking. Afghanistan dominated, except for some sloppy fielding and dropped catches

But, the match was not yet over. It never is until the last ball is bowled. Babar Hayat scored ten runs off two balls to take his side closer to a historic win.

It finally boiled down to the last ball. Two runs from one ball. The match was evenly poised. It could have gone either way. And, it was not Nabi’s day.

Hong Kong won the match by five wickets and cruised into the semis, while Afghanistan were knocked out of the tournament, in a rather unceremonious manner.

The team that started the tournament with a proverbial bang ended the campaign on a sad note. That is why cricket is a fascinating game and Afghanistan is an unpredictable side.

The blame for the ouster of Afghanistan must partly go to the weather gods and partly to the players for losing the script in the latter part of the tournament.

After three convincing wins against Netherlands, UAE and Scotland, the match against Kenya was abandoned due to rain. The rain gods played the spoilsport and denied Afghanistan one crucial point.

Afghanistan suffered first loss of the tournament against Oman, which was scandalous. But, the team was still perched on top of their group with 7 points and one more match to go.

Much to the disappointment of Afghan players and fans, the weather again played the spoilsport and the match against Canada was abandoned. Another crucial point was wasted.

From the top spot in the group, Afghanistan slipped to the third spot. They had to win the qualifying play-off match against Hong Kong to cruise into semis. It was a must-win game, a do-or-die encounter.

As per the format of the tournament, the sides emerging on top of the two groups would automatically earn qualification for the ICC World Twenty20 2016 to be played in India.

Afghanistan had another chance to qualify for the semi-final and final. The main goal was to break the jinx and deny archrivals Ireland the hat-trick of titles. The mission could not be accomplished.

Ireland has won the title two years on trot, in March 2012 and November 2013, beating Afghanistan on both the occasions. They are again in the running and most likely will face Scotland in the final.

There are several factors that led to the unceremonious ouster of the team and broke millions of hearts.

The poor batting display from some experienced batsmen left a lot to be desired. Nawroz Mangal, except in the match against Hong Kong on Tuesday, struggled to score runs.

In the shortest format of the game, the top-order batsmen must score quick runs, especially in the first power play. With field restrictions on, it is easier for batsmen to play over the infield and contribute to the team’s cause.

While Mohammad Shahzad has been a revelation in this tournament, Mangal’s batting has been lackluster. In most of the matches, he failed to fire at the top. His feet were not moving and his bat was silent.

The poor batting display from some experienced batsmen left a lot to be desired. Nawroz Mangal, except in the match against Hong Kong on Tuesday, struggled to score runs

Javed Ahmadi, one of the most exciting young players, was asked to warm the bench. He played one match against Oman and was dropped again against Hong Kong. It is not clear who was the big boss: the skipper or the coach.

Nabi’s form with the bat has also been uninspiring and Dawlat Zadran’s bowling is a matter of concern. Despite inconsistent performances, they have managed to impress selectors, which is baffling.

Mirwais Ashraf’s role in the team remains unclear. His bowling does not look threatening and he has not been among the runs. It is time to hunt for a genuine bowling all-rounder.

To build a team for future, it is important to take difficult and unpopular decisions. Dropping old warhorses like Mangal and Nabi should be a subject of discussion in the next selection committee meeting.

There is an exciting pool of players at the under-19 level who are ready to set the stage ablaze. Selectors must muster the courage to drop some seniors and introduce some fresh faces. It is time to crack the whip.

The batting order, it can be argued with conviction, is also not in perfect order. An explosive striker like Najibullah Zadran should be promoted up the order and allowed to face maximum deliveries. Most often, he gets to bat in the final five overs and cannot express himself well.

Shafiqullah Shafaq, to invoke Winston Churchill, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He is supposed to be a specialist batsman who can hit the ball really well. And yet he comes in at seven, after Najib and Nabi, for reasons best known to skipper and coach.

 There is an exciting pool of players at the under-19 level who are ready to set the stage ablaze. Selectors must muster the courage to drop some seniors and introduce some fresh faces 

Bowling and fielding needs to improve. At the international level, you cannot err in line and length and leak runs. Also, you cannot afford to drop sitters and make fielding look difficult. Every single run counts and every catch matters at this level.

Also, the head coach must have a say in the team selection. There have been reports recently that Andy Moles was not happy with the selection of team for this tour. It is scandalous, if true. The role of coach is as critical as the role of captain in the team’s success or failure.

There is no doubt that the team has remarkably evolved over the years, despite limited resources and enormous hardships. It has earned them praise and admiration from cricket fans across the globe.

The historic win against Scotland in the ICC World Cup 2015, which was Afghanistan’s maiden World Cup victory, saw jubilant fans across the country pour into the streets.

Cricket fans in Nangarhar, Khost, Paktia, Kandahar and Kabul celebrated the historic win by dancing in the streets, chanting slogans, and firing celebratory gunshots in the air.

The last time people in Afghanistan danced in the streets was when the national football team trounced India 2-1 in the finals of South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFFC) in 2013.

There is nothing that unites people in this country more than cricket and football.  Cricket has brought joy to millions of people in this country who have grown weary of war and violence. It has given them something to cheer about.

So it is important for the cricket board, national selectors, coaching staff and players to ensure that the team scales new peaks and continues to bring laurels to the country.

(http://www.afghanzariza.com/2015/07/22/what-factors-contribute-to-afghan-cricket-teams-unpredictability-and-inconsistency)

Top ACB, BCCI officials meet; discuss development of cricket in Afghanistan

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

The top officials of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) held a meeting with Anurag Thakur, the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) this week.

According to a statement issued by the ACB, the discussions revolved around the development of cricket in Afghanistan.

Nasimullah Danish, the chairman of ACB, said the board is committed to developing cricket in the strife-torn country with the assistance of India.

While Afghanistan is fast emerging as a powerful cricketing giant in this part of the world, Indian cricket board has cemented its position as the powerhouse of world cricket.

Almost 70 percent of the International Cricket Council’s global revenue comes from India.

While Afghanistan is fast emerging as a powerful cricketing giant in this part of the world, Indian cricket board has cemented its position as the powerhouse of world cricket

“We want the support of India to develop cricket in Afghanistan. The support of India will further strengthen the game in Afghanistan,” Mr. Danish said.

Shafiqullah Stanikzai, the chief executive officer of ACB, said the BCCI has welcomed the suggestions proposed by ACB officials and promised to support cricket in Afghanistan.

The details of the discussions, he said, will be made public soon.

It was the first such meeting between the officials of the ACB and BCCI, which shows the growing relationship between the two countries.

In June, ACB had made a request to BCCI to allow Afghan players use the infrastructure in India and have one venue as the Afghan venue.

Mr. Stanikzai, during his brief meeting with Mr. Thakur on the sidelines of the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) in Kuala Lumpur in June, formally made the request.

According to sources in the ACB, the two officials discussed the possibility of Afghan players training at BCCI’s state-of-the-art cricket academies and using one venue in India as the Afghan venue.

Mr. Thakur, in response to the ACB’s request, said the Indian board is willing to extend all kinds of help to Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan Cricket Board has requested BCCI that they want to come and play here, use the infrastructure and also to have one venue as the Afghan venue,” Mr. Thakur told media persons in India in June.

“Their board has requested to create one centre in India which can be dedicated to Afghanistan cricket,” he confirmed, adding that the BCCI is “more than happy” to offer any help for the promotion of game in Afghanistan.

Mr. Thakur, who was elected as the honorary secretary of the BCCI in March this year, reaffirmed BCCI’s commitment to help Afghanistan in an interview with Wisden magazine recently.

Nepal’s cricketers are currently using the facility in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. According to sources, Afghan cricketers might be allowed to use the facility in Ferozshah Kotla, New Delhi

He said the Indian cricket board has a bigger role to play in the subcontinent’s cricket.

“The BCCI has a bigger role to play in the subcontinent’s cricket, and through Nepal and Afghanistan, we are starting to do that,” he said.

“If we support them at this hour, they could be two good teams in the coming years and it will help improve the Asian circuit,” he added.

Nepal’s cricketers are currently using the facility in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. According to sources, Afghan cricketers might be allowed to use the facility in Ferozshah Kotla, New Delhi.

(http://www.afghanzariza.com/2015/08/30/top-acb-bcci-officials-meet-discuss-development-of-cricket-in-afghanistan)

Afghan cricket team returns home to a rousing reception

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Afghanistan cricket team returned home on Monday after participating in the 2015 ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

The members of cricket team and support staff received a rousing reception at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

The officials of Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) and hundreds of fans had turned up at the airport to receive the team that returned home after more than a month.

It was Afghanistan’s maiden appearance in an ICC World Cup, which kicked off on February 14, and they did not disappoint their fans and well-wishers in Afghanistan.

Although the team failed to qualify for the knockout stage, they performed way above the expectations in the biggest cricketing carnival.

Their remarkable rise, despite limited resources and enormous hardships, has earned them tremendous praise and admiration from all and sundry.

In the six matches Afghanistan played, they won one and lost five. They had their moments in this World Cup, beating Scotland in a thriller and almost pulling off a memorable upset against Sri Lanka.

Players like Javed Ahmadi, Samiullah Shenwari, Shapoor Zadran, Hamid Hassan and Najibullah Zadran will remember this World Cup for their superlative individual performances.

Shenwari, an experienced campaigner, was one of the consistent performers for Afghanistan in this tournament. Javed Ahmadi, the elegant top-order batsman, showed glimpses of his talent.

Zadran and Hassan earned tremendous praise and adulation for their lethal pace and unnerving swing from fans and experts.

Hassan, who emulates former England pacer Andrew Flintoff, also hogged headlines for his cartwheeling celebrations and colorful bandana.

The historic win against Scotland, which was Afghanistan’s first World Cup victory, saw jubilant fans across the country pour into the streets with country’s flags and banners.

Cricket fans in Nangarhar, Khost, Paktia, Kandahar and Kabul celebrated the historic win by dancing in the streets, chanting slogans, and firing celebratory gunshots in the air.

The last time people in Afghanistan danced in the streets was when the national football team trounced India 2-1 in the finals of South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFFC) in 2013.

There is nothing that unites people in this country more than popular sport like cricket and football.

“We are proud of our team and the way they performed in their first World Cup,” says Parvez Hameedy, cricket fan. “In the next five years, it will be a different story.”

(First published in Afghan Zariza)