Afghanistan women’s football team flees to Pakistan

Girls who played for under-14, under-16 and under-18 teams arrive in Lahore in the wake of Taliban’s takeover.

Members of Afghanistan’s national women’s football team have fled across the border into Pakistan, a month after the Taliban swept back into power, officials say.

According to Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, the players entered Pakistan through the northwestern Torkham border crossing holding valid travel documents.

“We welcome Afghanistan Women football team they arrived at Torkham Border from Afghanistan. The players were in possession of valid Afghanistan Passport, Pakistan visa and were received by Nouman Nadeem of PFF (Pakistan Football Federation),” Chaudhry tweeted on Wednesday, providing no further details.

It was unclear how many Afghan female players and their family members were allowed to enter Pakistan.

However, Pakistan’s The Dawn newspaper on Wednesday reported the Afghan female footballers were issued emergency humanitarian visas following the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

Afghanistan’s new rulers, who banned women from playing all sport during their first rule in the 1990s, have indicated that women and girls will face restrictions in playing sport.

The group of junior players and their coaches and families had tried to escape the country last month but a devastating bomb attack at Kabul airport left them stranded, someone close to the team told AFP news agency.

The Taliban had banned women from playing all sport during their first rule in the 1990s [Arif Ali/AFP]

“I received a request for their rescue from another England-based NGO, so I wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan who issued clearance for them to land in Pakistan,” said Sardar Naveed Haider, an ambassador of global development NGO Football for Peace, based in London.

In total, more than 75 people crossed the northern border on Tuesday, before travelling south to the city of Lahore where they were greeted with flower garlands.

“They would be travelling and staying in Lahore till they proceed further,” said PFF vice president Amir Dogar.

The girls who played for the under-14, under-16 and under-18 teams crossed the land border dressed in burqas, Haider said, before they later changed into headscarves.

The female Afghan players arriving at the office of the Pakistan Football Federation in Lahore [Arif Ali/AFP]

The footballers are ultimately expected to travel on to Qatar’s capital, Doha, reports said.

A senior Taliban official has told Australian media it was “not necessary” for women to play, according to an AFP report.

But on Tuesday, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, Afghanistan’s new director general for sport, said top-level Taliban leaders were still deciding.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is a former international cricketing star and sports hero among Pakistanis.

Tens of thousands of Afghan nationals have fled the country since the Taliban seized power, fearing reprisal attacks or repression.

Last week, the Taliban announced an all-male interim government for Afghanistan stacked with veterans of their hardline rule from the 1990s and the 20-year battle against the United States-led coalition.

The move seems unlikely to win the international support the new leaders desperately need to avoid an economic and humanitarian crisis.

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