Pakistan has welcomed the female players from Afghanistan’s junior national football team as they crossed the border near the city of Peshawar.
Officials said that the 115-strong group – including the families of 32 players – reached Lahore earlier in the day. They said that the group will be housed at the Pakistan Football Federation’s headquarters in Lahore under the care of the Sports Board Punjab.
The girls in question spent the past month in hiding fearing a crackdown on women’s sports by the Taliban. The senior female team left Kabul last month but the junior team was left stranded due to a lack of they lacked passports and other necessary documentation.
Pakistan government provided the visas to the players and their families after lobbying efforts by the London-based NGO “Football for Peace”.
Independent media reports recently suggested that the young players had written to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to grant them permission to enter the country.
Following the fall of Kabul, the national team’s former captain Khalida Popal urged the players to delete pictures of themselves playing on social media and to burn their kits to protect themselves and their families.
Earlier last week, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission Ahmadullah Wasiq that the women’s sport was considered neither “appropriate nor necessary”.
Wasiq said, “In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this. It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”
The junior team’s departure is a part of a larger exit of Afghan sports and cultural stars following the Taliban takeover and the fear of a crackdown on women’s rights.
However, the Taliban have announced a general amnesty for everyone. The group has also promised to protect women’s rights within the bounds of the Islamic Sahirah.