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Afghanistan Golf Course Swings Back Into Business

By Cpl. Douglas DeMaio
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 24, 2004 – With de-mining, a benefit of a U.N. program, and assistance from an effort called "disarmament, demobilization and reintegration," heavy weapons and mines no longer thwart those who wish to indulge in recreation at the Kabul Golf Club, Afghanistan's only operational golf course.

After de-mining the full 18-hole course and removing three abandoned Soviet tanks, a few artillery pieces and a multiple-rocket launching system from the fairways, the in the 1960s-built golf course is now free of ordnance and open for business, providing Afghans a sport that hasn't been made available since before the Soviet occupation.

From the early 1980s Soviet invasion to the fall of the Taliban in 2002, golf in Afghanistan has been nonexistent. For Mohammad Afzal Abdul, the club professional, the return of golf to Afghanistan is a sight for sore eyes.

"I have been playing golf since I was 10," the 47-year-old Abdul said. "I was taught the game by American instructors in the old days."

In the 1970s, prior to the assassination of U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs, staffs from the various embassies would come and play golf, except for the staff of the Soviet Embassy, Abdul said. Because of his association through golf with Americans, Abdul said several years later the Taliban beat him and burned down his house.

Similar to having a poor lie, placement of the ball, in golf, Abdul disregards the past and focuses on his future and the potential of Afghanistan, he said. "Although golf is not a common game in Afghanistan, lots of kids show curiosity about it," Abdul said. "I explain to them the importance of the game and that piques their interest. Golf is a game for the future of Afghanistan. He said the game "teaches players a sense of tolerance, patience and hard work," noting, lessons like these will bring the country back to the days of democracy, which lasted in Afghanistan from 1965 to 1974.

In March 2004, local golfers convinced Abdul to reopen the course, a sign that proves Afghanistan is making positive changes, Abdul said. Since the course was full of mines and explosive materials, he sought assistance from the government of Afghanistan and requested the area be cleared.

In response, the Afghan Ministry of Defense, Japanese-led DDR program and the U.N.'s Halo Trust de-mining team worked to eliminate hazardous conditions.

"Golf is a safe and friendly social activity," said U.S. Army Col. Bert Key, director of security sector reform in the Office of Military Cooperation Afghanistan, an organization designed to aid the Afghan government in developing its military defense sector. "People out on the golf course, playing the game and peacefully interacting with one another, are a sign that they are gaining confidence in the stability of their society.

"A successful DDR program benefits everyone," Key said. "It takes weapons away from combatants so that they must practice solving their differences in a more peaceful way. It not only takes the weapons out of use in society, but also builds in the former combatant the confidence to shift his attention away from the constant need to protect himself. He can then focus on the future with a job, career or vocation."

Troops of a local commander, Mullah Ayzat, have already turned in several weapons and the security in the area is improving, Abdul said.

The DDR program is designed to disarm about 100,000 militiamen across the country over the next two years, a process that will help promote peace and stability throughout Afghanistan.

"This golf course is safe and secure," Abdul said. "I extend an invitation to those interested in golf to come play the course and see the progress that is being made."

Although the golf club is operational, it is short of equipment, he said, but donations of equipment or materials are helping to improve course operations.

(Based on a news release from Combined Forces Coalition-Afghanistan, headquartered in Kabul, Afghanistan.)

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