In a country still far behind in terms of peace and stability, local Afghanis are finding empowerment in non-traditional ways, not in the parliament, but in the wrestling ring.
A team of such wrestlers are aspiring to reach the London 2012 Olympics this year. They practice 'Zorkhaneh', a type of martial art that is performed to the beat of the 'Zarb' (Drum of Morshed). This instrument can be likened to a clay tambourine, and is used to promote harmony and rhythm throughout the sessions.
Other tools of the sport include the 'Meel' (Indian Club), derrived from ancient mace fighting rituals, and the chain and bow - referred to in Persian dictionaries as a weapon of war. A Zang (Bell) completes the atmosphere of this ancient sport.
The sport is reinvigorating a sense of national identity during a very difficult and dark time in Afghanistan's history. Over 10 years since the US led war in 2001, this nation is as politically and economically unstable as ever. Most social indicators show little or no improvement according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in terms of literacy, life expectancy, poverty and maternal and child mortality. Aid to Afghanistan has decreased significantly, cut from $4 billion to $2 billion last December by the US, Afghanistan's chief donor. Frequent insurgencies, coupled with the former President Hamid Karzai's corrupt administration have undermined the security of the nation. The Zorkhaneh fighters are proving that Afghanistan has more to offer the world. As one fighter says 'It's a dream of every sportsman to get a medal in the Olympic games and raise it's country's flag'.
The 'beHUMAN' project is another such initiative helping to build empowerment amongst Afghanis. 'beHUMAN' describes itself as a project that seeks to 'destroy the road blocks to peace that currently exist in the inner-cities' by promoting individual confidence and empowerment through...sporting programs...'. The 'Afghan Women's Boxing Federation' and 'Self-Defence Gracie Jiu-Jitsu' programs which both run in Afghanistan, amongst other countries, are examples of the beHUMAN ethos. Teams are coached by Mixed Martial Arts professionals including Jake Shield and a host of stars from the NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA.
As noted by beHUMAN founder Tareq Azim, sport has an incredible power to unite hostile nations. The World Cup of 1998 saw the US meet Iran, long time enemy, and play without animosity. Likewise warring factions were united in a soccer match between the Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi people in 2003. While Afghanistan might have a long way to go toward building stability and peace within its borders, initiatives such as these go a long way toward proving that power once again.