We recall an article in the New York Times in late 2001 about US Special Forces trying to teach Baseball to Afghans. This was a part of Mr. Donald Rumsfeld’s campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. This was a nice touch but probably not the ideal solution for that country.
This article, as we recall, was a couple of weeks before a India-Pakistan Cricket Match that was to be played at Peshawar, just across the border from Afghanistan. We remember wondering why that match was not shown in Afghanistan.
A simple strategy for winning Afghan hearts and minds would have been to set up Color Television Sets through out Afghanistan and to show the India-Pakistan cricket match to all Afghans. Like the rest of the sub-continent, all of Afghanistan would have gathered around the television sets to watch and cheer or jeer.
The Taleban had put Afghanistan under a strict code of behavior and forbidden all access to television entertainment, movies and music. The Afghani people had been starved of such pleasures and simple access to such television entertainment would have done wonders for morale.
After the Cricket match, Bollywood entertainment could have been shown on the TV sets. This would have been the most effective and the cheapest way for the US Military to win “hearts and minds” of the Afghans. The Afghans have always loved Bollywood and we recall that the lovely Pretty Zinta was at that time the most popular actor in Afghanistan.
If you don’t believe us or think we are making up this angle, look at the picture below and read the next paragraph.
(Afghans watching Indian Soap Operas)
If not in 2001 and if not under Mr. Rumsfeld, television sets did start proliferating in Afghanistan. When they were established in 2005, the private TV stations began showing Bollywood Films and Indian Soap Operas. Bollywood movies are relatively tame and have always respected the sanctity of marriage. But Indian TV soaps are a different breed and they feature the romantic lives & affairs of the “Mumbai elite”.
Predictably, the religious conservatives in Afghanistan objected to such behavior shown on Afghan TV. The Afghan Government agreed with the conservative clerics and issued an order to all TV stations to stop telecasting the soaps. President Hamid Karzai said: “These television programmes, which contradict the daily life of Afghans and which our people do not accept, must be stopped.”
But the most watched station in Afghanistan, Tolo TV, said the ban was illegal. “It is an unlawful declaration, we broadcast our programmes based on media law, and we will never stop the airing of these Indian serials,” said presenter Masood Qiam. You know that TV networks get this brave only when they are afraid of losing their audience and ad revenues!
May be, you still don’t believe us! Then read the BBC news article at news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7348389.stm
(Cricket in Afghanistan) (Taj Malik, Coach – Afghan Cricket Team)
Like Bollywood, Cricket caught on in Afghanistan as well. According to BBC, Cricket is now being played in 28 of the country’s 34 provinces and there are some 12,000 registered cricketers playing at various levels. In 2007, six years after the fall of the Taleban, the International Cricket Council (ICC) admitted Afghanistan as an affiliate member.
The Afghan Team may be new and untested but they have already mastered the art of trash-talk. “Our fast bowlers are faster than Indian pacers” said Taj Malik, Coach of the Afghan Cricket Team when interviewed by the BBC.
Had the American Military introduced Television, Cricket and Bollywood to Afghanistan, the transformation of the country might have begun in 2001-2002 rather than much later.
Now don’t you wish, like us, that Mr. Rumsfeld knew Bollywood and Cricket!
We cannot end this article without some glimpses of the magic of Cricket and Bollywood. The first clip below shows the new world record, six sixes in one over by Yuvraj Singh in the Twenyty20 World Cup Match against England. For baseball fans, this is hitting six home runs off of six consecutive pitches. Phenomenal!
Bollywood owes a tremendous debt to Afghanistan. Madhubala, the most captivating face in cinematic history was a Pathan by ethnicity. The ultimate thespian of Bollywood, Dilip Kumar, was born in Peshawar, the capital of Pashtunistan. This pair was featured in what is probably the most iconic song in Bollywood history, no all of cinema history. Click and enjoy!
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