Kabul Diaries Part 19: Afghan cricketers subtly defy Taliban

November 9, 2021
Afghan cricket fans. Photo: Afghan Cricket Association/Twitter

Posted November 5, 2021:

Afghanistan, a country gripped by misery, tyranny and an uncertain future is having moments of joy and pride. Thanks to the men’s national cricket team (women cricketers have all escaped).

Cricket is universally popular in Afghanistan, not unlike other South Asian nations. Afghanistan is participating in the ongoing cricket world cup (20-over version) and scored their first victory in the opening match on October 25.

The moment was indeed emotional for Afghans. For the first time since the Taliban occupation on August 15, Afghanistans’ national flag was flying on an international platform, while the Afghan national anthem was played before the match. The Taliban have banned both the flag and the anthem inside the country.

The Afghan-eleven, especially skipper Mohammad Nabi, could not hold back the tears as the national anthem was sung before the match. The image went viral. Afghan spectators in the stadium were all waving Afghan flags. Some had donned tricolor t-shirts, others had their faces painted in tricolor, depicting the flag. It was not a cricket match anymore. It was sport as resistance.

After the victory against Scotland, celebratory messages were posted on social media, which was also flooded with images of Mohammad Nabi.

On becoming man of the match, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman thanked Afghan fans for bringing the flag, which he said was a source of positive energy and inspired the entire Afghan side.

Shafi Atal’s Facebook status read: “Well-done Mujeeb! It takes courage to encourage your people to bring the tri-colored flag and to express it in a country held captive by fools. The ignorant who shot at your flag and disrespected it, will now know that it’s not easy to make these people flagless like the 90s.” (In the 1990s, the Taliban also banned the flag and imposed their flag on the country.)

Younus Negah said on Facebook: “The flag, anthem and joy on the cricket field, a non-Taliban thing, showed the deep gulf between the nation and the Taliban. The Taliban are not on the side of the people. They are not on the same page as the people. They are not part of the happiness, field, flag, anthem. The Taliban cannot be part of the happiness of our people. Wherever, our people laugh, the Taliban are sad and wherever the people are sad, they feel triumphant.”

The regime was indeed provoked by the display of flag and playing of the anthem.

The viral video clips and images further salted the Taliban’s wounds.

A day after the match, a Taliban commander, General Mobeen, threatened the cricket team for displaying respect and emotion for the flag at an international event.

“They [cricketers] talk about the tricolor flag everywhere. We [Taliban] will not allow them to go to the cricket pitch again. When they return to Kabul airport, I will be standing there to see which flag they carry. I will test their love at the airport. I will be standing there with white flag [Taliban flag] and each and every player will have to kiss the flag, or they will not be able to disembark.”

People throughout the country were glued to their TVs or mobile phones and were enthusiastically watching the match.

A Kabul resident, who didn’t want to be named, told me: “The cricket team brought back our lost pride. I shed tears not only because they won the match but also because I saw my flag on an international platform after two months of proscription in our own country.”

Wahidullah (not his real name), a resident of Jalalabad, told me: “For us, it’s not about winning. That we are taking part with our flag and national anthem is enough to celebrate.”

His uncle, who is in his early 50s, told me: “Our team is already the champion. For us, they have already won the cup. Despite so many obstacles and catastrophe inside Afghanistan, they held their heads high and played for their country. We shed tears of joy after a long period.”

Sport, not only cricket, was a unifying factor over the past 20 years. The Afghan cricket side emerged on the international scene as a nice surprise for cricket fans the world over. Such Afghan cricketers as Rashid Khan are seen as the world’s best. Every time the Afghan cricket team scored a victory, people would celebrate it madly. Thousands would throng the Kabul airport to welcome their heroes on their return from away matches.

Afghanistan played Pakistan on October 29 in the ongoing World Cup. Many Afghans blame Pakistan for the Taliban occupation. Pakistan has been supportive of the Taliban. Hence, the Afghan side was under huge pressure to win. Pakistan is one of the best sides and has won the World Cup in the past.

Waheed Paikan, ahead of the fateful match, posted on Facebook: “Tomorrow, Afghanistan will fight against Pakistan on Arab land. The Pakistani players are intoxicated by the political victory of their government in Afghanistan and the players of Afghanistan are disappointed because of the recent developments in their country. Mohammad Nabi’s tears showed this excruciating pain. Except for the Taliban, the whole nation is supporting the team and would watch it enthusiastically.”

Afghanistan lost after a spirited fight, yet the support for the team didn’t falter. Habib, (not his real name) told me: “We wanted our team to defeat the Pakistani team. But we are proud of our boys. Despite immense pressure and mental stress, they are still playing.”

Muzhda, (not her real name) a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif, told me: “The Taliban are against everything that brings joy to us. No matter who wins the T20 matches, our team is the winner for us.”

Negah, ended his post by stating: “The struggle has not ended. The victory of cricket was the defeat of the Taliban in the field of sports and culture. It was the victory of the republic over the Emirate. Until the definitive victory and the establishment of democracy, resist firmly.”

[Kabul Diaries are simultaneously published in three languages by Daily Jeddojehad (Urdu), Tidningen Global (Swedish) and Green Left (English).]

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