ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - A top official in Taliban-led Afghanistan has assured female players they can continue playing cricket in the strife-torn country.
The assurance comes as the South Asian nation risks international isolation following the Taliban's return to power last August, raising fears the Islamist group would not allow women to play the sport.
"Our girls will be playing cricket on the normal basis, and we are looking to provide them with their basic needs and all the facilities they need," Mirwais Ashraf, acting head of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, or ACB, was quoted as telling an internal meeting.
Ashraf emphasized that female cricket development was a major requirement for members of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the world governing body, and they were committed to obtaining it, according to the ACB statement issued Tuesday.
Last week, the ICC announced it was setting up a working group to review the future of the Afghan cricket program under the Taliban government.
"The ICC Board is committed to continuing to support Afghanistan Cricket to develop both men's and women's cricket moving forward,' ICC chairman Greg Barclay said in a statement while announcing the formation of the working group.
"We believe the most effective way for this to happen will be to support our member in its efforts to achieve this through its relationship with the new [Taliban] government," Barclay emphasized.
The rise of the Afghan men's team in international cricket in a remarkably short period of time despite years of war and high poverty levels in the country has won it international praise.
"We should protect that status and continue to try to influence change through the ACB but will continue to closely monitor the situation and take any decisions accordingly," the ICC chairman said.
The Taliban have assured the world they will not reintroduce the harsh Islamic rule of their previous government from 1996 to 2001, when women were barred from leaving home unless accompanied by a close male relative and most girls from receiving an education.
The current Taliban administration allowed boys to return to schools in September but instructed girls to stay home until arrangements were in place for them to return to the classroom in a "safe environment."
The decision drew global condemnation, but the Taliban have since allowed girls to return to school in several provinces across Afghanistan and the number is increasing gradually.
Critics remain skeptical about whether the hardline group will stick to its commitments of protecting human rights, especially those of women and girls.
Earlier this week, the Taliban ordered Afghan television channels to stop broadcasts of entertainment programs, dramas and movies that feature female artists.
The edict said female news presenters must wear hijabs in accordance with the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law or Sharia.