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Afghanistan: 'Kandahar' Star's Memoir Captures Life Before And After Soviet Occupation

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

http://gdb.rferl.org/1C1884D5-E6DC-42D9-B787-69FA66B054E7_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/1C1884D5-E6DC-42D9-B787-69FA66B054E7_mw800_mh600.jpg Nelofer Pazira Nelofer Pazira, the star of the internationally acclaimed film "Kandahar," has just published her memoirs of life in Afghanistan before and after the Soviet occupation. The book, titled "A Bed Of Red Flowers: In Search Of My Afghanistan," has been well received in Pazira's adopted home country of Canada, and will be published in the United States in the fall. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Pazira recounts her memories of growing up in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

Prague, 8 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Many people first found out about Nelofer Pazira from the 2001 movie "Kandahar," a fictionalized account of her search for a childhood friend during the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan.

Her new book takes readers to a different Afghanistan -- the country as it was before the rule of the hard-line group.

Her memoir, Pazira says, is an attempt to break through stereotypes about the war-ravaged country to show the true face of Afghanistan.

"There are two images that always appear together in the press and elsewhere -- a woman who has no will or power and who is forced to live behind a burqa, or a man who is violent and loves to fight, like the pictures of bearded Taliban members. People think that the whole history of Afghanistan can be summarized in these two images. So I decided to break [this cliche] and try to explain that each country has its own shortcomings, and each country has good and bad times," Pazira says.

Pazira was born in 1973 into a prosperous family in the Afghan capital Kabul. She says her best memories of prewar Afghanistan are picnics to celebrate the Norouz new year holiday, and family trips to Mazar-e Sharif and other parts of the country.
"There are two images that always appear together in the press and elsewhere -- a woman who has no will or power and who is forced to live behind a burqa, or a man who is violent and loves to fight."


During those years, she said, Afghans still felt hope about the future.

But all that changed in 1978 -- the year, she says, that her childhood ended.

Just before the Soviet invasion the following year, a number of Pazira's relatives -- including her father, a respected doctor -- was imprisoned by the Communist regime then in power.

She describes her worst memories of those days.

"I was seeing my father behind prison bars for the first time, and at the time I didn't understand what his crime was. But I couldn't be with my father, and I was asking myself, why should my father be in prison? What sin has he committed? And when I got older and realized that his only crime was that he didn't want to belong to a political party, that he was put in prison because he criticized the government, my hatred of power-hungry people grew," Pazira says.

Things only grew worse under the 10-year Soviet occupation. Afghanistan became a police state and the center of a bloody war between Soviet troops and the mujahedin.

Pazira's only comfort at that time was her best friend, Dyana. The two girls read poetry together, and threw stones at Soviet tanks.

During those years, many Afghans decided to leave their country in search of a better future. For a while, Pazira's father, deeply attached to Afghanistan, refused to emigrate -- until the day Pazira's brother was pressured into military service.

"My brother, who had just turned 14, came home wearing a military uniform. And this made my father -- who was very much against military issues -- decide that he couldn't stay in Afghanistan any longer," Pazira says.

After a decade of war and conflict, Pazira and her family finally escaped from Afghanistan across the mountains into Pakistan. They eventually settled in Canada, where Pazira began work as a journalist.

Throughout those years, Pazira and her friend Dyana remained close, writing letters back and forth. But in 1998, Dyana's letters abruptly stopped.

Pazira returned to Afghanistan to search for her -- the story that provided the setting for "Kandahar."

Pazira eventually discovered that Dyana had committed suicide. Her life under the Taliban had become unbearable.

Pazira has since set up a charity in memory of her friend. The Dyana Afghan Women's Fund helps women in Kandahar, the former stronghold of the Taliban.

In her book, Pazira also recounts her trip in 2004 to Moscow, where she met some ghosts of the past -- Russian soldiers and pilots who had been deployed in Afghanistan.

Pazira says she was sometimes surprised by the stories of the people she had always viewed as occupiers.

"A Russian pilot told me that he has nightmares every night, and that his nightmares are about the exact things that happened when they were in Afghanistan. Another soldier told me about how Afghans had killed a number of his friends. They never thought of themselves as occupiers. Even now many of them say it was not an occupation. They say: 'We came to help defend the democratic government of Afghanistan,'" Pazira says.

Pazira says she finally found some relief from her own haunting memories after talking to couples in Russia who had lost their sons in Afghanistan.

"Their 20-year-old or 22-year-old son had been killed in Afghanistan, and they weren't even able to see the body. They were shown only a coffin. They said that at the time, they were proud their son had been martyred in the name of his country, or in the name of democracy. But one woman told me, 'When the war started in Chechnya, I told my husband it was all a political game. We didn't lose our son for the improvement of society and the life of others; we lost him because of the political games of a handful of people looking to gain power," Pazira says.

"A Bed Of Red Flowers" is the latest book that has emerged on Western markets about Afghanistan's troubled recent history. Khaled Hosseini, the author of one such novel, "The Kite Runner," has described Pazira's work as "a haunting diary of the tragedies that have plagued Pazira's nation over the past 30 years."
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