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.
Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the players entered Pakistan through the northwestern Torkham border crossing holding valid travel documents. He tweeted on Wednesday:
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).
It could not be established how many Afghan female players and their family members were allowed to enter Pakistan.
But Pakistan’s The Dawn newspaper on Wednesday reported the Afghan female footballers were issued emergency humanitarian visas following the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
The Taliban, 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.
AFP news agency reported someone close to the team as saying 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.
Sardar Naveed Haider, an ambassador of global development NGO Football for Peace, based in London said:
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.
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.
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, but on Tuesday, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, Afghanistan’s new director-general for sport, said top-level Taliban leaders were still deciding.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is a former international cricketing star and sports hero among Pakistanis.