Almost three dozen members of Afghanistan’s female junior national soccer team have fled to neighbouring Pakistan, fearful of what might happen to them if they stayed under the new Taliban regime.
Since the Taliban’s takeover late last month, the girls have been hiding. According to officials, they were granted humanitarian visas this week and were allowed to arrive in Peshawar late Tuesday. The team’s 32 members, together with their families, fled to Pakistan.
The Pakistani government provided the visas with the assistance of the NGO Football for Peace.
“We welcome Afghanistan’s women’s football team,” Pakistan information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain tweeted Wednesday. “The players were in possession of valid [Afghanistan] passports, [Pakistan] visas.”
The Afghan women’s national team were previously able to leave Afghanistan, but the junior team became stranded in Kabul without passports or other travel documents.
Former Afghan national women’s soccer captain Khalida Popal said she helped dozens of the girls get across the border.
“I managed to get more than 79 youth female footballers and family members out of [Afghanistan]. This time I got the support from the great team,” she wrote in a tweet.
Afghans and advocates worldwide have feared for weeks that the Taliban would return to their suppressive ways and severely restrict activities and rights for women. Earlier this month, one Taliban official said the new Afghan government would ban women from participating in sports.
“I don’t think women will be allowed to play … because it is not necessary that women should play,” a deputy in the Taliban’s cultural commission said.
Some Afghan women in recent weeks have participated in growing protests in Afghanistan opposing Taliban restrictions, and many female students and professionals have been fleeing the country out of fear of losing their rights under the country’s new rulers.
The Taliban took over the government in Kabul a month ago after quickly taking control of nearly all Afghan provinces in the preceding weeks. The U.S. military completed its full withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 31 following 20-year presence that began immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley deliver remarks about the end of the 20-year military mission in Afghanistan at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., on September 1. Photo by Ken Cedeno