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Friday, March 6, 2009

Afghanistan's drama set for stage

Kabul's ambassador to Japan, Tokyo-based playwright join to tell truth, poignant tale


Staff writer

A high-ranking Afghan diplomat and a British dramatist are meeting a lot these days to discuss their common agenda: staging a play about violence-racked Afghanistan.

News photo
From page to stage: Haron Amin (right), Afghan ambassador to Japan, and British playwright Alec Harris chat at the embassy in Minato Ward, Tokyo, about an upcoming play based on Amin's life. TOMOKO OTAKE PHOTO

Haron Amin, Afghanistan's ambassador to Japan, has been working closely with Tokyo-based playwright Alec Harris on the work, which will be staged in Tokyo in June.

The play re-enacts the political turmoil, assassinations and factional strife that have afflicted Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion of 1979. It also showcases the life story of the ambassador as a witness to the drastic social changes after the Soviet takeover of his homeland.

"The Crossroads Country" depicts Amin and his family's subsequent migration to the U.S., and his solo return to Afghanistan 10 years later to join the fight for freedom under anti-Soviet military leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Amin, a former United Nations diplomat who gained fame in the West for his role as spokesman for the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., approached Harris last August, asking if a play could be made on the 30-year journey he and his nation have taken.

Amin said the idea came from his conviction that art would be the best tool to educate people about Afghanistan's history.

"Nowadays, people really don't have a lot of time," he said in a recent interview. "How do you teach people about Afghanistan while entertaining them? The idea was through a play."

In writing the play, Harris turned to the docudrama style adopted by Briton David Hare in his history play, "Stuff Happens."

Hare's play, which premiered in London in 2004 and was themed on the Iraq War, featured actual political figures as its characters and used their quotes verbatim.

Likewise, Harris' script for the Afghan play is loaded with actual quotes of political figures and features various characters portraying them, ranging from such Soviet leaders as Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev to U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to short-lived Afghan Presidents Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin.

But the central characters in the play are an Afghan boy modeled after Amin, and Massoud, who with U.S. support played a leading role in driving the Soviets out. Amin came to know the former engineering student inside out by living and working with him for more than six years.

To make the play factually accurate required extensive research of history books, government documents and news reports, Harris said, noting that while the ambassador has been supportive in providing information, he has allowed the playwright/director to retain creative control.

"I was very, very pleased with the embassy and the ambassador himself that they have been incredibly supportive," Harris said. "They've never said, 'Don't write that.' It's not propaganda. They've supported me in any direction I wanted to take the play."

In addition, neither the Afghan government nor the embassy is associated with the play's financial backing. The Tokyo International Players, an English-language community theater company, is funding the project, with sponsorship from corporations, both Harris and Amin said.

Still, the play incorporates Amin's strong feelings about the Soviet invasion, which he says "fundamentally changed everything about Afghanistan."

"The main downward spiral event that launched whatever consequences since then was the Soviet invasion — the enticement of Afghanistan by (Zbigniew) Brzezinski (who was Carter's national security adviser), and basically having Soviets coming to rape the entire country," Amin said. "And I wanted to give that proper exposure."

He is confident the truth will survive through the play.

"The story lives if it tells the truth," he said. "The story is reflective of the truth."

The play, to be staged June 16 and 17 at Space Zero in Shinjuku, will be in English with Japanese subtitles. The two said they hope to release it overseas later and turn it into a DVD.

For information about the play, contact Jason Pratt at the Afghan Embassy at (03) 5574-7611 or pratt@afghanembassyjp.org


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