KABUL: Afghan teenager Malek Mohammad balances on his hands, readies his stumps, then dives perilously into the water. The 18-year-old, whose legs were blown off by a Soviet landmine, dreams of swimming for Afghanistan in the London Paralympics.
“I hope they select me to participate in the London Games. So I am just praying,” he told AFP at the small pool where he trains in Kabul, in a nation known better for a deadly Taliban insurgency than international sporting prowess. “If I get a medal from the Olympics that will be good for my country, for my people. Disabled people will be proud of me, my family, everyone.”
Malek is one of tens of thousands of Afghan amputees, victims of three decades of war — 10 years of fighting against Soviet troops in the 1980s, civil war and the current Taliban insurgency — that have made Afghanistan one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.In January, the United Nations estimated that in 20 years it had dismantled more than 500,000 anti-personnel mines, 22,000 anti-tank mines and 15 million unexploded munitions.
Such weapons killed or wounded 375 people in 2011, according to the United Nations. Last year, homemade bombs planted by the Taliban along roads and ditches killed another 1,000 people, the world body said.Malek’s life changed forever in 2005, when he walked into a Russian mine field near Kabul airport. He stepped on one of them and landed on another that then exploded.
His mother, Sabza Gul, recalled her shock when she saw him gravely wounded in hospital.“He didn’t even look human. When I saw my son in pieces like that, I fell unconscious right in the hospital. I felt like someone ripped my insides out.”