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Artists, Female Athletes Fleeing Kabul, Fearing Dire Future Under Taliban Rule
Pakistan Football Federation officials welcome Afghan girls and their families upon arrival in Lahore. (Courtesy Pakistan Football Federation)

Artists, Female Athletes Fleeing Kabul, Fearing Dire Future Under Taliban Rule

Cultural issues will be addressed "within the framework of Islamic laws and principles and maintaining national interests," Afghan group’s spokesperson says

[Islamabad] Since the Taliban swept back into power in Afghanistan last month, scores of artists and female athletes have left their homeland for Pakistan and other countries.

More than 50 Afghan artists, musicians, and folk singers along with their families have so far sought refuge over the border in various cities of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the provincial Home Department said.

These families reached Pakistan via the Torkham border crossing, which connects Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa via the historic Grand Trunk Road.

The border crossing was a major route for allied forces’ supplies during the US-led invasion in Afghanistan.

Special security arrangements have been made to protect the families, a Home Department official confirmed. Officials declined to disclose the location of displaced Afghan families.

Despite living in safe places in Pakistan, these people still fear violence at the hands of supporters of the Taliban. The majority are reluctant to reveal their identities.

Gulalai Jasmine, an Afghan singer, told The Media Line, “After the Soviet invasion [of December 1979], her family was displaced from Helmand to Pakistan.”

I “was born and raised in a refugee camp; I have loved singing since childhood and I learned music from Peshawar. When the US-led forces invaded Afghanistan [in 2001], our family moved to Kabul,” she added. “I was associated with Afghanistan’s national radio.

“The Taliban has not yet directly threatened any artist, but we are well aware of their earlier regime,” Jasmine further said. “We feared that the Taliban would harass the artists; hence, to save our and our families’ lives, we once again fled our homeland.”

When the Afghan Taliban came to power in 1996, they banned music. The ban lasted until the US-led international forces invaded Afghanistan after 9/11. Most artists migrated to Europe and other countries.

Inayat Mohmand, a Kabul-based composer, told The Media Line, “Musical programs had been shut down across Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power.

“I have dumped all my musical instruments and am now looking for any other source of income to feed my family,” Mohmand said. “Yet, we have had no threats from the Taliban, but there is a fear and a feeling of insecurity in our community.”

An Afghan folk singer told The Media Line on condition of anonymity, “I have left my family in Kabul, and reached Peshawar [the capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province] in disguise.

“If they [the Taliban] knew that we are singers then we could have had a lot of trouble,” he added.

Hina Kohistani, a newly self-exiled folk singer, told The Media Line from Quetta in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, “Most Afghan artists and musicians have been heading to Pakistan via Peshawar, Chaman, Spin Boldak, and other routes along the Pakistani-Afghan border.

“Many elite singers and artists already fled the country by air before the Taliban’s takeover and sought asylum in Western counties,” she added.

Back in Kabul, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music has been closed since the Taliban took control.

Young boys and girls were taught Afghan and Western classical music, and other fine arts subjects, at the coeducational school, founded in 2010 by Afghan-Australian ethnomusicologist Dr. Ahmad Naser Sarmast.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Kabul-based Taliban spokesperson and the acting deputy information and culture minister, told The Media Line, “We are in a transitional phase. In a war-torn country, it will take some time to deal with the prevailing cultural issues.

“Forty years of war desperately affected Afghanistan’s Islamic values and its culture as well; the mindset of the people, especially the youth, is fascinated by foreign culture,” he continued. “Within the framework of Islamic laws and principles and maintaining national interests, all such matters will be addressed.”

Mujahid strongly rejected allegations that Taliban officials are threatening any artist or female athlete.

“We never force anyone to leave the country,” he added.

“We had already announced that every Afghan citizen with valid and certified documents may travel abroad,” Mujahid said.

In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover, Afghanistan’s junior female soccer team fled the country, arriving in Pakistan along with their families and coaches on September 15.

Nizam Afridi, a border management official, told The Media Line, “More than 80 people crossed the Torkham border on Tuesday night, as the government of Pakistan issued them emergency visas on a humanitarian basis.

“The players held valid Afghan passports and other related documents,” Afridi added.

Later, under tight security, the refuge-seekers were transferred to Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province.

The female athletes had been allegedly receiving threats from the Taliban for their participation in sport.

They were originally scheduled to leave for Qatar, where Afghan refugees are being housed in facilities prepared for next year’s FIFA World Cup, but they were stranded after an explosion at Kabul airport on August 26.

Most of the Afghan senior women’s national team players fled in the last week of August after the Australian government offered them asylum, but the junior team could not leave the country due to a lack of passports and other documents.

Fawad Chaudhry, the federal information minister, confirmed in a tweet that “the Afghan women soccer players arrived in Pakistan, we welcome them.”

Ashfaq Hussain Shah, president of the Pakistan Football Association (PFF), told The Media Line, “The Football for Peace organization had written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan and requested to grant a 30-day visa to the Afghan junior female football team. At the direction of the prime minister, immediate visas were issued.”

An official from the London-based Football for Peace NGO confirmed to The Media Line, “The organization led the efforts of safely transporting the Afghan youth female team.”

Shah also told The Media Line, “The Rocket Foundation, a London-based humanitarian organization, is paying for the entourage‘s accommodation and other necessities.

“On the directions of the federal government, swift and well-coordinated arrangements were made for the safe travel of female players and their families,” he said.

“These Afghan girls along with their families reached Pakistan after enduring great hardships and suffering,” Shah said.

“There are two 14-year-old girls among the team whose parents could not travel to Pakistan due to non-availability of travel documents,” he added,

The athletes belong to Afghanistan’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities.

“We are taking care of these vulnerable people just based on humanity. These guests are housed in Lahore under tight security where all kinds of facilities are being provided to them,” Shah said. “The Pakistan Football Federation is endeavoring to provide all facilities to the visiting team during their 30-day stay in Pakistan.”

Foreign human rights organizations are coordinating with senior officials to transfer these girls to European countries, reliable sources in Islamabad told The Media Line while declining to give further details.

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