Afghan cricket team draws Taliban ire over flag comments

Uncertainty shrouds Afghan team's participation in future cricket event
Oct 30, 2021
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the issue of Afghanistan's national flag has generated contentious debates inside and outside the country. 

The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that was established after the US invasion in 2001 used the tricolor (green, red and black) flag as the national flag for twenty years.

After they took over the country in mid-August, the Taliban changed the country’s official name to Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and attempted to replace the tricolor flag with their movement’s white flag with the inscription of kalma. 

But Afghans have resisted the move.

Violent protests erupted immediately against the Taliban’s attempts to change the official flag. At one such protest in Jalalabad, Taliban fighters opened fire on the protesters, causing casualties.

Afghan intellectuals have requested the Taliban to not change the country’s official flag. However, Taliban haven't yet accepted the tricolor flag but they have agreed to maintain the status quo on the issue, at least for the time being.

Despite this, instances have been reported from many areas of Afghanistan where Taliban fighters removed the tricolor flag from public spaces. Videos are also circulating on social media of Taliban fighters removing the tricolor flag from the graves of deceased Afghanistan National Army soldiers. 

After Taliban’s decision to defer a decision on the flag, the debate surrounding the issue had more or less subsided. However, it has reignited since the Afghanistan national cricket team played their match against Scotland at the ICC T20 World Cup under the tricolor flag. 

After the match, Afghanistan’s off-spinner Mujeeb ur Rehman, who got man of the match award for his impressive bowling against Scotland, said that “this tricolor flag gives us [the team] strength.” 

Although the Taliban allowed the Afghan team to play under the old name Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it appears that Taliban leaders are unhappy with players’ comments regarding the flag. 

Afghan Taliban leader General Mubeen has termed these comments as “political.” 

In an audio clip that is making round on social media, General Mubeen is heard saying that sports and politics should be kept separate, but if players use sports for politics, the Taliban will see how they take the field in future.

“We are not against sports. In fact the previous Taliban government laid the foundation of cricket in the country. But now, the players need to obey the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. We have a government with its own flag. We have sent these players to the tournament, and not the Ghani regime.” 

He warned the players of consequences, saying that there are players in the country who are more talented than the current national team players, and if the Taliban felt the need, they would select them on the team.

General Mubeen also warned the players that they will have to “kiss the white flag when they land at the Kabul airport. Only then the players will be allowed to leave the plane. 

“Till now, we have done everything by force. We defeated the US with Allah’s help and threw Ashraf Ghani out of the presidential palace by force,” said Mubeen. 

“We are not an elected government, so we are not bound to respect everyone’s opinion. The players should keep this issue aside.”

In a TV interview, General Mubeen confirmed that he is the person speaking in the audio clip, but clarified that he was speaking at a private gathering and the recording was leaked on social media. 

Reacting to General Mubeen’s statement, Shahab Lewal, a member of the Taliban's Cultural Commission assured the national team of complete support and called them “nation’s pride.” 

“We have some emotional friends who are antagonistic toward the tricolor flag. It is their opinion and we respect that, but it’s not the official policy,” said Lewal.

Lewal said that the government is responsible for team’s safety and that the entire nation is praying for them to lift the world cup. 

Afghanistan's participation in the ICC T20 World Cup

International Cricket Council's acting CEO Geoff Allardice has said that Afghanistan's participation in the World Cup will continue as normal despite the political regime change.

"Since the change of regime took place in Afghanistan in August, we have been in regular contact with the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB)," said Allardice.

"Our primary function is to support the development of cricket in that country through the member board. We have said all along we are waiting to see how things unfold under a different regime in that country. The ICC Board will consider it when they next meet, which is looking like at the end of the T20 World Cup. They are a Full Member of the ICC and their team is preparing for the T20 World Cup. In terms of their participation in the event, it is proceeding as per normal."

ACB CEO Naseeb Zadran Khan has asked for support for the team "to bring glory to the nation".

History of Afghanistan’s flag 

Since Afghanistan got independence from the British 100 years ago, the country’s flag has been changed 18 times. 

Habibullah Khan, who ruled from 1901 to 1919, changed the black solid flag and added a seal showing a mosque above two crossed swords, encircled by a wreath. 

In 1921, Amanullah Khan replaced the wreath with an octagram on the black flag. In 1926, he changed the emblem replacing the octagram with a wreath and removed the swords. 

In 1929, Habibullah Kalakani changed the black flag to a tricolour, with black color in the centre and red and white on either side. 

In 1929, Amanullah’s cousin Mohammed Nadir Shah declared himself the king and changed the flag to red, green, and black tricolor, with a mosque surrounded by wreath as emblem at the centre of the flag. 

Nadir’s son Mohammed Zahir became the king after his father’s assassination in 1929. He made changes to the seal and replaced the wreath with wheat sheaves. 

In 1974, Mohammed Daoud Khan changed the orientation of colors on the flag and changed the seal to an eagle surrounded by sheaves of wheat. The seal was placed on the top left corner instead of the centre of the flag. 

In 1978, Nur Mohammad Taraki becomes president and his communist government changed the tricolor flag to a red flag with a seal in the corner. The eagle is replaced in the seal with the word “Khalq” (people), surrounded by wheat sheaves and a ribbon. 

In 1980, the USSR invades Afghanistan, the flag is changed once again. The new seal was a rising sun, with a green field, a red star and an open book. 

In 1986, Mohammad Najibullah becomes president. The seal is once again changed and the red star and the book are removed. 

In 1992, after Mujahideen take over Kabul, Burhanuddin Rabbani becomes the country’s president. The red, black and green colours on the flag are replaced with green, white and black. The seal is changed again to a mosque surrounded with wheat sheaves and swords. Kalma was inscribed on top of the flag. 

In 1996, Taliban captured Kabul and made their white flag the country’s national flag. 

In 2002, the flag is again changed to the green, black and red tricolor, with Afghanistan’s grand assembly, surrounded by wheat sheaves, as the seal. 

In 2013 some changes were made to the flag and the size of the seal was increased. This was Afghanistan’s official flag until the Taliban’s take over in August 2021. 



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