Page last updated at 12:40 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Kandahar chess tournament restores old Afghan pastime

By Helena Merriman
BBC News

Young man playing chess
Chess, once a forbidden activity, is becoming more popular in Kandahar

Residents of Kandahar have been taking part in a chess tournament in an attempt to revive one of the city's former cultural pastimes.

Under the Taliban, chess was forbidden, but the city's older residents hope this tournament will reintroduce the game to a younger generation.

The event was held at the Kandahar Coffee Shop which also hosts other cultural activities.

Kandahar is a key battleground for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

But Rahim Akrami, a local journalist in the city who watched the tournament, says it is important for younger people to rediscover this once forbidden activity.

"The tournament re-introduced the game to Kandahar since it has been forgotten for the last eight or so years," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

'Enlightening' tournament

Aman Ullah, a member of the Kandahar Students Organisation, was one of those playing in the tournament.

Although he was knocked out in the second round, he is happy that the tournament is taking place.

"It is very important for us to have something recreational to do that enlightens the mind and is fun as well," he told the BBC World Service.

men playing chess
The first Kandahar chess team was formed at the end of the tournament

"There are people who do not know that chess exists in this world which is amazing to me.

"Now there are people who are asking questions about the game and who want to learn, so I see it as a very positive change for Kandahar, and for the game as well."

Of the 30 players entered, 10 were eliminated after the first round, and then six players became members of a new Kandahar chess team.

'Battle with minds'

The Kandahar Coffee Shop is a place where young people meet to drink coffee and use the internet.

A poster saying: 'It's better to battle with minds than fists and bullets' lines the wall.

Mohammed Naseem, the owner of the Kandahar coffee shop, says he wants to provide a place for young people in the city.

"I am trying to create an atmosphere where the youth can hang out and learn something," he says.

"The Kandahar Coffee Shop is the only one in the south west region of its has various activities including a snooker club, chess club, youth club and a culture club.

We have a separate area for women in the coffee shop where they can come and enjoy a burger and go on the internet.

We are trying to show the world that this kind of thing can be done."

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