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Drug lord's demand of Afghan girl spurs horror
Laura Schreier
Dallas Morning News
06/04/2006

A 13-year-old Afghan girl's bleak story in Wednesday's Dallas Morning News hit a nerve with readers, about a dozen of whom contacted the newspaper offering money or help to prevent the girl's forced marriage to a drug baron.

Because Abdul Satar, a poor poppy farmer, can't repay a debt, the 70-year-old drug lord demanded one of Mr. Satar's daughters instead. Esther, 13, is to be handed over, even though she and her 14-year-old sister threatened suicide when they heard the news.

Richardson resident Sylvia Pas, who was born in Pakistan, said the story affected her. "It could have been me," she said. "I was one of the lucky ones who did have opportunities. I can only imagine what would have happened to me if I didn't have the chance."

Ms. Pas and other readers offered money to pay the father's debt, but Farshad Rastegar, CEO of the aid organization Relief International, said it's not always just a question of money.

"The big thing in Afghanistan is honor, and money doesn't buy honor," he said. Backing down from this demand might mean the drug baron would lose face in the community.

Mr. Rastegar said a nongovernmental organization would have to step in, discuss the matter with the man and offer some kind of peace package, such as building a school in his name or giving him some kind of ceremony - something that satisfies the debt and honors the man.

Mr. Rastegar said he would check with Relief International offices in Afghanistan about possibilities for intervention, but he couldn't make any guarantees. Sometimes individuals can't be found or families step in to prevent intervention.

"I'm afraid it's a case-by-case basis," he said.

Salma Afzal, women's affairs and social protection officer with the Afghan Embassy in Washington, said she would alert the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Afghanistan, which she described as the best course of action available to her.

Ms. Afzal said she knew of another case in which the ministry had rescued an abused child-bride from her husband, and she said it might intervene for Esther as well.

Americans who want to get involved should contact nongovernmental relief organizations, she said. Some groups take on individual cases, but people can also make donations and help prevent the poverty that forces girls like Esther into arranged marriages.

Lurma Rackley, a spokeswoman for the relief organization CARE, said only the group's workers in Afghanistan could say whether readers would be able to help Esther's family. Ms. Rackley awaited Kabul-based workers' response to the question via e-mail but said the situation called for delicate moves.

"I don't want to discourage anybody from getting motivated when they read a story like this," she said. But Esther's situation involves cultural issues of marriage and family in a country already in political and social upheaval, including a people resentful of the American military presence. Last week's riots only highlighted that turbulence, Ms. Rackley said.

While these organizations look into the matter, readers such as Irving resident Vanilla Bhasin wait to hear how they can help. Esther is vulnerable, caught up in a situation she didn't make, Ms. Bhasin said.

"I just thought I'd try."

E-mail lschreier@dallasnews.com

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