By Marc Halperin
FOX News Radio Entertainment Correspondent
Even as the White House prepares to announce a new strategy in Afghanistan, today marks another milestone for the Afghan people.
Just one week after the release of the Taliban’s audiotape renouncing its ties to al Qaeda, 193 Afghan athletes are competing in the 4th International Karate Championship, two members of that Afghan national team have already received gold medals. With the men’s and women’s divisions having only 11 competitors, that means the sport’s medalists will have only one other competitor to beat.
In a country where female participation in sporting events is limited to badminton and table tennis, the international karate championship represents a major victory.
“In 40 years of war in Afghanistan, through black and white, green and gold, we tried to win the hearts and minds of the people,” said Abdul Rehman Naziri, a leader in Afghanistan’s two largest ethnicities, Pashtuns and Uzbeks.
Naziri is a member of the Mujahideen-e Islami, a shadow government composed of karate instructors. “Our motto was the same, to defend the freedom,” Naziri said. “Our aim was to fight for the Afghan people. To expose the Taliban and the Mujahideen to the West and the world.”
The Mujahideen-e Islami is simply known as the Karate Club.
Starting in 1997 with just a few dozen participants, the club has grown to over 600 members from 39 Afghan provinces as well as Kosovo, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, China, India, Jordan, Palestine, Australia, Canada, Europe, Latin America, South Africa, South America, East Africa, Malaysia, Australia, East Asia, South America, New Zealand, and of course, the United States.
“The main goal of Karate Club is for Afghanistan to be known and recognized by the world and to be liked by the international community,” explained Sadpari Barami, one of the most celebrated Karate Club members. “If the Karate Club was not here, the Afghan culture would have been destroyed.”
Sadpari’s determination to continue the Karate Club’s mission was apparent last September when, along with Abdullah Fahimi and three other instructors, he and a smaller group of Karate club members took a group of athletes and their family members on a spontaneous exodus to the safety of the United States and Canada.
“We just wanted to bring happiness to the Afghan people by being a symbol for the Afghans,” Sadpari said. “We wanted the Afghans to know how American people love the Afghan people. Because of this trip, I had a new understanding of American people.”
The two American members of the team, Patricia Bradley, who is a member of the New York City Police Department, and Gillian Leto, a teacher at the Ida Crown Theater in Brooklyn, continued to teach other athletes the sport while the rest of the team was on the trip.
The next Karate Club trip is set for the spring of 2022. The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will mark the first time a country other than the United States will hold the international tournament.
For more stories from Marc Halperin, visit FOXNewsRadio.com.