A teenage Afghan girl refuses to be intimidated by the religion of peace and tolerance – including death threats because she wants to compete in the 2008 Olympics.

Mehboba Ahdyar, a shy 19-year-old from Kabul, will face the worlds best 1,500-metre runners in August wearing a veil and a baggy tracksuit. While she is unlikely to mount the winner’s podium, few of her opponents will have endured such a perilous training regime to get them to the Games.

Training for Mehboba begins after nightfall. At 8.30pm, when Kabul residents are transfixed by the daily episode of the country’s most popular soap opera, a racy Indian drama named ‘Because a Mother-in-Law was Once a Daughter-in-Law Too’, Mehboba slips out of her house in a poor suburb and starts running.

She runs up and down the streets for the duration of the programme. It is the only time when, as a woman, she can supplement her official training sessions without threats or harassment.

That’s interesting. A soap opera so compelling that the fundamentalists are at home watching TV and not on the streets? Still, there’s other ways to harass her.

She recently had to destroy the Sim card on her mobile phone because the number had become known to fundamentalists who bombarded her with death threats.

“They say that they will not leave me alive,” she said, with a shrug.

And the harassment continued.

After a Western journalist visited her house this week a rumour spread that she was entertaining foreign men as a prostitute.

Mehboba received a visit from the police, while her family were warned that they might have to leave their house.

Mr. Bush. What was that about bringing democracy and freedom to Afghanistan? Oh, never mind.

In spite of the taunts and death threats, she insists she will run for national pride.

“I will compete against heroes,” she said, although she could not name any of the world’s leading middle-distance runners. “We have trained for three years. I hope for a medal or at least to break Afghanistan’s record.”

You go, girl!


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