Afghanistan Women's Football Team Make Tearful Calls To Director Amid Taliban Takeover

 Following the collapse of the Afghan government, Afghanistan’s female footballers have made tearful calls to Khalida Popal, former Afghanistan national women's team captain and founder & director of Girl Power Organisation, seeking help to escape the Taliban. Khalida Popal had helped the football players to establish a women's national team, who now again feel deprived of all the basic rights. 

When the Afghanistan women’s national team calling Popal seeking advice on handling this situation, she told them to flee their homes, escape from neighbours who know them as pioneering players, and try to erase their history, particularly activism against the Taliban who are now re-establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Popal told The Associated Press, “I have been encouraging to take down social media channels, take down photos, escape and hide themselves. That breaks my heart because of all these years we have worked to raise the visibility of women and now I’m telling my women in Afghanistan to shut up and disappear. Their lives are in danger.”

Unable to accept the sudden collapse of the Afghan government and broken ties with the Western nations, the 34-year-old Popal feels helpless and shocked. 

Khalida Popal's residence in Afghanistan

After the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, Popal had fled with her family and returned to Afghanistan two decades ago as a teenager who had been living in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Later with the protection of the international community, Popal felt optimistic that women’s rights should be promoted.

She had said, “My generation had the hope of building the country, developing the situation for the next generation of women and men in the country. So I started with other young women using football as a tool to empower women and girls.”

Afghanistan women's football team

By 2007, Popal had encouraged enough players to be part of Afghanistan’s first women’s national team. Expressing the joy of building a team, she said, “We felt so proud of wearing the jersey. It was the most beautiful, best feeling ever."

As Popal encouraged her teammates to speak boldly about the Taliban attacks, she said, “I received so many death threats and challenges because I was quoted on the national TV. I was calling Taliban our enemy". 

Popal stopped playing in 2011 to focus on coordinating the team as a director at the Afghanistan Football Association. But the threats continued and she was eventually forced to flee Afghanistan to seek asylum in Denmark in 2016.

'My life was in great danger'

Though Popal received threat calls and knew her life was in danger, she risked it all to help female footballers to come out and speak of physical and sexual abuse, death threats, and rape that implicated the Afghanistan federation leadership. 

The women of Afghanistan believed in the US promise but they left because there’s no more national interest. Popal questioned, "Why did you promise? This is what my girls crying and sending voice messages are saying. Why not say you would leave like this? At least we could protect ourselves.”

Popal questions the US

Pointing at US troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan leaving the country helpless, Popal said, “We would not have created enemies. They are crying. They are just crying … they are sad. They are just like desperate. They have so many questions. What is happening to them isn’t fair."

The former captain said, “They are hiding away. Most of them left their houses to go to relatives and hide because their neighbors know they are players. They are sitting, they are afraid. The Taliban is all over. They are going around creating fear.”

'Women lost hope'

Due to the shift of power in Afghanistan, women have lost hope and feel no longer safe to move out. Referring to this horrifying situation of women, Popal said, "It’s hard to even imagine Afghanistan, ranked 152nd by FIFA out of 167 women’s teams, playing again."

Source Afghanistan women's football team make tearful calls to Director amid Taliban takeover (republicworld.com)

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