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Valentine wish: Can love conquer war in battle-weary Afghanistan?

As urban youths embrace the holiday banned by the Taliban, one group is banking on love, or at least marriage, to help end violence in Afghanistan. NBC News' Mandy Clark reports.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Suliman and Farzana Sharifi’s marriage is very unusual in Afghanistan. 

The 23-year-olds have a love match in a country where most weddings are arranged. That fact makes Valentine’s Day, a holiday banned by the Taliban but embraced by many of the country’s urban youth, extra-special for the two.

Both work hard to surprise each other on Valentine's Day, which they've celebrated for the three years they've been together. 

“I don’t let him know, he doesn’t let me know," said Farzana, a university student who heads up an Islamic NGO that runs orphanages throughout the country. "Like a month before Valentine’s day we act that we don’t know it is Valentine’s Day. So, we normally surprise each other.”

This isn’t just a game – the couple believe that love is simply more powerful than hate, and it could be a weapon in ending the insurgency. 

“When love comes even the Taliban can’t stop anybody,” Farzana adds.

But can love really stop Taliban fighters in other parts of the war-torn country?

An American charity put money on it. Getting married in Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, is very expensive. Women’s families can demand dowries of up to $10,000 from prospective husbands, Qasimi said. With the average Afghan earning less than $500 a year, these demands make marriage and family unachievable for many.

Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images

More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.

With the help of local NGOs, Texas-based Comfort Aid International helped organize a mass wedding of 38 couples last year.

“We did this to prevent our youth from joining the Taliban side. They often join the Taliban because they are single and poor,” local organizer Sayeed Saleh Qasimi said.

That’s were Comfort Aid steps in – it has helped arrange the weddings for more than 1,000 couples already. Local organizations it works with have negotiated with local families to agree to more reasonable dowry prices. 

One young husband, Sayeed Hussaini, says he simply wouldn’t have been able to get married without the charity’s help. 

“Everyone wants things in life, like getting married,” the unemployed construction worker said. “But a lot of people are doing bad things for money like joining the Taliban.”

He added: “I am jobless but I will not join them.”

Hussaini's new wife Fatima is the reason he won’t risk his life. 

She says she’s grateful for the charity’s help in easing their financial woes, which allowed the couple to marry.

So perhaps Farzana is right to hope that love can conquer war.

“I think love can change anything,” she said, turning to her husband Suliman. “Yeah, yeah it changed you, it changed me.”


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