India is about to lay the ground for new beginnings in Kandahar, a place where it was forced to release three dreaded terrorists in 1999 to rescue 160 passengers of an Indian Airlines plane.
By the end of May, work will begin on an international cricket stadium in the ancient Afghan city that has gained notoriety as the birthplace of the Taliban who were in control when the humiliating IA drama played out. The money for the 20,000-capacity venue is being provided by India.
New Delhi, which has been at the forefront of rebuilding effort in the war-ravaged Afghanistan, donated $1 million (about Rs 6.3 crore) for the stadium in 2014.
“The hijack happened during the Taliban era. But this stadium will be a monument to India-Afghanistan friendship,” Basheer Stanikzai, high-performance coach and Afghanistan team manager, told HT from Kabul.
“As Kandahar is the centre of our five regions, this stadium being built with the help of India will be a great boost for Afghan cricket,” Stanikzai said.
The Afghans made an impressive World Cup debut earlier this year, beating Scotland. Though eliminated in the group stage, their players, many of who learnt cricket in the refugee camps in neighbouring Pakistan’s Peshawar, earned the respect of millions of fans with lion-hearted performances.
India approved the funds in August on the request of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB). “India approved the money under its small development project scheme,” Stanikzai said. The contract for construction had been given and the work would commence within 14 days.
The land has been donated by Mahmood Karzai, brother of former president Hamid Karzai, in the upscale Aino Mena area.
Having depended on soil from Pakistan to prepare pitches until now, the Kandahar ground will use local soil. “We have black solid soil here and we will only use that. We have a few curators in Kabul and Jalalabad but we need some experts and we are looking towards BCCI for that,” Basheer said.
Afghanistan was late to catch the cricket fever but is now firmly in its grip. According to the Asian Cricket Council, there are 700 clubs and 88 grounds in the country.