On Tuesday night, Afghan female footballers and their families crossed the Torkham border into Pakistan after the government granted emergency humanitarian visas to allow them to leave their country after the Taliban takeover.
The Taliban were threatening the footballers from the national junior girls squad because of their participation in sports. They were supposed to go to Qatar, where Afghan refugees are being accommodated at a site in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but were stuck following a bomb blast at Kabul airport on August 26.
While the majority of the Afghan national women’s team was allowed to fly out in the final week of August thanks to an agreement with the Australian government, the young squad was unable to do so due to a lack of passports and other paperwork. They’d been hiding since then to avoid the Taliban.
The 32 players — a total of 115 individuals, including their families — were brought to Pakistan by the British NGO Football for Peace, in collaboration with the government and the Pakistan Football Federation of Ashfaq Hussain Shah, which is not recognised by FIFA.
During his visit to Doha last week, FIFA president Gianni Infantino met with Afghan refugees, but the global football body has been chastised for failing to help female players remaining in Afghanistan.
Last week, the Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom claimed that Prime Minister Imran Khan was more likely to allow the players to enter Pakistan if FIFA asked it.
“We launched these efforts a few weeks ago and we’re extremely thankful to the government and PFF president Ashfaq Hussain Shah and vice president Aamir Dogar for facilitating us,” Pakistan ambassador of Football for Peace Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a former member of Ashfaq’s PFF, told Dawn on Tuesday night.
The footballers will travel from Peshawar to Lahore, where they will be accommodated in the PFF headquarters, the takeover of which by the court-elected PFF of Ashfaq from the FIFA-appointed PFF Normalisation Committee had forced FIFA to suspend Pakistan.
According to media reports Ashfaq said “We are supporters of humanity,” “When we learnt about this, we immediately acted and tried our best to help them reach Pakistan as quickly as possible.”
With FIFA not involved in the process, a PFF NC member said on Tuesday that it “had no knowledge of the matter”.