Female Afghan soccer players flee to Pakistan, joining exodus of women and girls

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Nearly two dozen female soccer players from Afghanistan have crossed into Pakistan along with their families, joining a growing number of prominent Afghan women and girls fleeing their country amid fears of repression under Taliban rule.

“We welcome Afghanistan Women football team,” Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, Pakistan’s information minister, wrote in a message on Twitter early Wednesday, saying that team members had entered Pakistan at the Torkham border crossing using Pakistani visas.

Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team, posted a picture of the border crossing on Twitter early Wednesday, and wrote that with “great support I managed to get more than 79 youth female footballers & family members” out of Afghanistan. She did not immediately respond to a request for more detail on the evacuation effort.

When the Taliban last controlled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, the group enforced a radical interpretation of Islamic law that forced women to wear burqas while preventing them from working, attending school or appearing in public without male chaperones. Since capturing the country last month, the Taliban has pledged to respect women’s rights, with the caveat that such rights do not contradict the group’s view of culture and religion.

In recent weeks, women have held demonstrations in Kabul and other cities to protest gender-based violence as well as their already-evaporating role in public life. Dozens of other female lawmakers, human rights activists, athletes and others have fled the country or tried to, unswayed by the Taliban’s promises.

In late August, 75 Afghan female soccer players, officials and relatives traveled from Kabul to Australia, the first country to offer to take in the athletes in response to entreaties from a multinational network of athlete advocates and human rights lawyers. Other evacuation efforts have followed.

Ashfaq Hussain Shah, the president of the Pakistan Football Federation, said the 22 players and their families who crossed into Pakistan early Wednesday had been transported to the city of Lahore — an eight-hour drive. The association was expecting to receive more players and their families, he said.

Fahim reported from Istanbul.

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