Good footballing news from Afghanistan

Afghanistan kicked off on Monday its first international football tournament after nearly three decades of conflict with a win against political rival Pakistan watched by 10,000 excited fans. The game launched a five-day tournament involving Afghanistan's Arman and Umid-i-Kabul clubs, Sanat-i-Khodro from Iran's Khorasan province, Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, India and Tajikistan. The lone goal from Kabul-based side Omed sent the men-only crowd leaping to their feet in the city’s main stadium, Ghazi, a notorious public execution ground during the five-year rule of the hardline Taliban regime that imposed Islamic Sharia law.

“In the past four years, we have always been the guest. Now it is time to be the host,” Afghanistan’s Olympic chief Mohammad Anwar Jigdelak said at the opening ceremony. The match showed how far the country has moved on from the days of the Taliban, said spectator Masoud Ahmad, 23, who had witnessed an execution in the ground. “I’m so happy to be here,” he beamed. “Look, this is the first time I have watched such a match,” said another citizen, Mohammad Mahdi. “It also means that the security has improved (in Kabul),” he said.

Neighbouring Pakistan, from where the Taliban originated, has had only very rare sporting contacts with Afghanistan over decades of conflict and turmoil. Pakistan Football Federation official Mujahidullah Tareen said club teams from Pakistani border towns had unofficially crossed a few times to play in Afghanistan. But this was the first time in two decades the national federation was involved in sending a team, he said.

During Taleban rule in Afghanistan a club from the Pakistani border town of Chaman went to the southern Afghan town of Kandahar to play. But some of the Pakistani players were arrested and had their hair shaved off by Taliban authorities for wearing shorts. The players were eventually allowed to go home after intervention by the Pakistani consulate in Kandahar. The Taleban regime was ousted in 2001 by US and Afghan government forces after the September 11 attacks on the US by Taliban allied, Al Quida.

See also: Taliban still cast shadow over Afghanistan football (2 Apr)