Peace is elusive as Afghan athletes tell their stories

Four months ago, the Taliban hanged 63 people — mostly soccer officials and lawmakers — from a fence in Jalalabad, a sprawling city in eastern Afghanistan. More than a month later, the bodies of…

Peace is elusive as Afghan athletes tell their stories

Four months ago, the Taliban hanged 63 people — mostly soccer officials and lawmakers — from a fence in Jalalabad, a sprawling city in eastern Afghanistan. More than a month later, the bodies of six people were still hanging there, their insides soaked in blood. For days, they could not be salvaged. But one man managed to escape.

Zardaj Khan, the president of Afghanistan’s national handball association, and 29 members of his family fled with him. Most of them had worked for him and had worked on the board of the national handball federation, which was formed as a sports coalition in 2002.

“That’s what we are fighting for: to keep the country running, to keep the peace,” Mr. Khan said. “This happened to all of us, but more than 20 of us managed to save our families and go to [Pakistan] and seek refuge.”

That was a defining moment for Mr. Khan, who decided to leave as the Taliban retreated and even partially disarmed. Not long after his family escaped, however, the security situation began to deteriorate.

On May 30, a bomb exploded outside the National Technical Institute of Sports in Kabul, killing 53 people and wounding hundreds. And in June, militants tried to blow up a bus in Jalalabad, killing 23. Within a week, Mr. Khan — who had been unable to attend events for nearly two years — took over as secretary-general.

Most of the city’s athletes had been kidnapped by the Taliban. I’m happy that they’re being liberated from that situation,” Mr. Khan said, but he acknowledged that his chances for continuing as the head of the organization might be lost.

He also acknowledged that his future here was complicated by the fact that almost all of his family lives in Pakistan.

For the past three years, he has fled Kabul each winter and been forced to return, this time with his family, but they remained in Jalalabad.

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