Her road to Kabul passes through Seoul"Afghan people saw the World Cup games on TV -- I myself cheered for the Korean team, because it was a great Asian team," said Sharifia Danish Zaringar, the deputy minister of culture and information of Afghanistan's interim government.
Historically, Afghanistan has had few contacts with Korea. But no longer: the country will participate in the Busan Asian Games, which open late this month. That is remarkable considering all the turmoil Afghanistan has endured in recent years: civil wars, the tyranny of the Taliban regime and the U.S. war against terrorism.
Ms. Zaringar came to Korea recently as the head of a group of Afghan journalists and Culture Ministry officials invited by the state-run Korea International Cooperation Agency. The group spent its time here observing Korean media and cultural institutes.
The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition met with Ms. Zaringar during the visit. Representing the changes her country has undergone, Ms. Zaringar was wearing a light veil and a cheerful smile -- nothing like the head-to-toe burka that women were forced to wear during the Taliban's rule.
A painter and a poet, Ms. Zaringar fled Afghanistan for Pakistan when the Taliban took power in 1996, realizing that the new rulers would not let women hold positions of power or allow much artistic freedom. She returned to her country after the collapse of the Taliban regime.
"Many female doctors, teachers and scholars who had left the country have come back to help the government restore the systems destroyed during the Taliban regime," Ms. Zaringar said. Afghan women still wear veils, she added, but they choose whatever style and color they want, and they also go to the theater and star on TV programs, which had been unthinkable under the Taliban.
Afghanistan, being on a strategic crossroad between East and West, has always been a repository of treasure and artifacts from a rich mix of cultures. But the Taliban systematically destroyed much of that, most conspicuously the great stone Buddhas in Bamiyan. Many cultural treasures were taken out of the country -- many stolen -- during the civil wars.
"Many Afghan and foreign scholars are now working together under the support of Unesco to restore the destroyed remains," Ms. Zaringar said. "Also, under the Unesco program, we are trying to retrieve artifacts that wound up in other countries." She pointed out that a Japanese collector, who bought a lot of artifacts that had originally been in the National Museum in Kabul, agreed recently to send them back to the Afghan government as soon as possible.
As for the Asian games, Ms. Zaringar said the country's taekwondo team will participate, and that the Korean martial art is a popular sport in her country. Afghanistan has set up many other sports teams, including basketball and volleyball squads. The Taliban had banned most sports.
Ms. Zaringar seemed to be pleased with her visit. "I've been really impressed by the hospitality of Koreans," she said. "I'm now writing a poem about Korean women."
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