Afghanistan’s national girls soccer team escapes Taliban, flees to Pakistan

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Sept. 15 (UPI) — Almost three dozen members of Afghanistan‘s female junior national soccer team have escaped to neighboring Pakistan over fears about what could happen to them under the new Taliban rule if they’d stayed.

The girls had been hiding from the Taliban since the group’s takeover late last month. This week, they were granted humanitarian visas and allowed to arrive in Peshawar late Tuesday, officials said. Thirty-two members of the team, and their families, fled to Pakistan.

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The visas were granted by the Pakistani government with help from the charity 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.

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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/UPI | License Photo