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Afghan Women Footballers Flee to Pakistan

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Afghan Women Footballers Flee to Pakistan

The Afghan National Girls Youth Football team, its coaches, and their families were facing threats from the Taliban.

Afghan Women Footballers Flee to Pakistan

This March 8, 2016 file photo shows Khalida Popal, the former Afghanistan national women’s team captain, in Copenhagen. The footballers in the Afghanistan women’s team Popal helped to establish now fear for their lives after the Taliban swept to power recently.

Credit: AP Photo/Jan M. Olsen

A month after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Afghanistan’s young female footballers, along with their coaches and families, entered Pakistan through the Torkham border crossing on Tuesday after the Pakistani government issued them visas on humanitarian grounds.

The Afghan National Girls Youth Football Team was originally supposed to travel to Qatar by air but was left stranded in Kabul after the suicide attack outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport last month. They were in hiding till their escape early this week.

A Pakistan government official told The Diplomat that over a hundred people – 32 female players, coaches, and their family members – were evacuated following lobbying by the British-based NGO Football for Peace, Afghan Football Federation, and ROKiT Group.

In a letter addressed to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, seen by The Diplomat, they had appealed for his “urgent intervention” to grant temporary visas until the girls were resettled under the United Kingdom’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and related programs and schemes.

The letter said several attempts had been made to extract the girls from Kabul via air, but the August 26 “catastrophic attack” had “closed all possibilities.”

“Crossing into Pakistan by land is now their only option. Time is running out, and they face grave threats from both the Taliban and the disintegrating security situation in Kabul,” the letter stressed.

Khalida Popal, the former Afghanistan women’s team captain, tweeted about the “great support” with which she “managed to get more than 79 youth female footballers and family members out of Afghanistan.”

Thousands of Afghans have been evacuated and await resettlement across the globe – but they are outnumbered by those wanting to flee the country. Although the Australian government airlifted almost 50 female athletes last month, many were left behind due to a lack of documentation.

The breathtaking collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s stunning takeover have left Afghan women in an untenable position – on the verge of losing the rare measures of freedom they enjoyed in the past decade. The last time Taliban were in power, women were banned from working and girls barred from schools. They could not step out of their homes without a male chaperone, let alone play a sport professionally.

This time, the Taliban have promised to respect human rights and allow women rights “within the framework of Shariah [Islamic law]” – it remains unclear what those rules will be. But in the month since the takeover, there have been reports of school closures, restricted movement, and women being forced out of work. Announcing an all-male government has also raised questions about the Taliban’s sincerity in women’s rights.