Afghan Sports Minister Embraces Shrinking Womanhood with New TV Series, Touched by Taliban’s Courage

Since becoming president in 2001, Hamid Karzai and his fellow Pashtun tribesmen and ex-officials have worked tirelessly to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban — who fought in their ranks — and to usher in a Western-style government and Afghanistan’s first woman as leader. While much of the country’s elite were too scared to be caught openly acknowledging their Taliban ties in public, inside Afghanistan, countless Pashtuns share Khalida Popal’s understanding that if it wasn’t for the Taliban, they would have had to take up arms themselves against those forces who tried to strip them of their freedom.

She spent years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the Taliban demanded that she serve as a human shield for their prisoners of war. Her outspoken criticism of the Taliban, the Obama administration’s policy of troop withdrawal and his “light footprint” effort to ensure there would be no ongoing resistance to U.S. troops in the country led to her being embraced by Afghan women’s groups and, according to Popal, the Taliban – for the first time in almost three decades. Popal was pardoned in 2012 and allowed to return to Afghanistan, where she was surprised to discover that almost half of all the country’s female citizens had had their passports confiscated and even their husbands punished by the Taliban for once having married another woman.

This summer, Popal made headlines when she called on mothers and young girls to keep fighting for the ability to vote and to lead their own lives. But just when she seemed to have, it was announced that Popal was facing an even more serious threat: She had been stripped of her title as a Sports Minister – she has served there for almost six years, despite publicly revealing that she would never accept the offer of running in elections – and forced to flee the country.

Although she did not reveal the reason why, she did describe the humiliation the Taliban had placed her in:

She also told the NYT that she had refused to apologize to the Taliban, but instead praised the bravery of those men who had fought with her, other Pashtuns and Afghan women:

Ms. Popal’s treatment as a pariah in Kabul by the government and the Americans might reinforce a sense of impunity among the Taliban, who are known to play a cat-and-mouse game with Western forces, and avoid foreign media. Though the fighters are no longer considered a threat to the government, this summer the Taliban mounted multiple attacks on government buildings and the private company in which Popal worked. They forced dozens of staff into exile. Popal, who sometimes refers to herself as a “spiritual prisoner,” is not afraid, she said. “I know there are Taliban inside the country who are trying to wreck our country. But they are not in my country.”

Click here to read the full New York Times story.

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