Afghan girls' football team flees to Pakistan
Members of Afghanistan's national girls' football team have fled across the border into Pakistan dressed in burqas, a month after the hardline Taliban swept back into power, officials said on Wednesday (Sep 15).
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.
"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 non-governmental organisation 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.
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.
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.
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 sports said that top-level Taliban leaders were still deciding.
Pakistan's federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry welcomed the women players in a tweet early on Wednesday morning.
"We welcome Afghanistan Women football team they arrived at Torkham Border from Afghanistan," Chaudhry tweeted, adding that the players were in possession of valid Afghanistan passports and Pakistan visas, and that they were received by Nouman Nadeem of the Pakistan Football Federation.
Pakistan's prime minister 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.