In an exclusive interview to News18, Taliban leader and Afghan interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani has welcomed the idea of cricketing ties between India and Afghanistan, saying his country hasn’t been able to “fully display our liking for the sport”.
The interview was conducted two days before a US drone strike killed Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in the heart of Kabul and around a kilometer from the site of the strike.
“This sport is liked by the youth, especially teenagers. But we had stumbled into bad times and we were engaged in bloodshed and wars. We have not fully displayed our happiness and liking towards the sport. Now that times are good, we will embark on sports," Haqqani said.
Asked if the regime would encourage having Indian cricketers enter the Afghan Cricket League to guide Afghan players, he said, “This is a good gesture. We see that this sport is a medium to cement ties of love and unitedness. We welcome such steps which bring our people together."
Cricket was barely known in Afghanistan until the early 2000s, and its rapid rise in popularity was linked with conflict — the sport was picked up in Pakistan by Afghan refugees who then seeded it in their home country.
But the national team has enjoyed a meteoric rise on the international scene since then, gaining coveted Test status in 2017 and now ranked among the top 10 sides in the world in the one-day international and T20 formats.
In the last 20 years, it has also emerged as a powerful symbol of national unity in a country riven by civil war and ethnic conflict.
Afghanistan’s star player Rashid Khan was in 2020 named the Men’s T20I Player of the Decade by the International Cricket Council.