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Pakistani regional team in rare trip to Afghanistan

Written by: Staff
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KABUL, May 14 (Reuters) A Pakistani regional soccer team is this week playing in a tournament in Afghanistan for the first time in 20 years.

Relations between the neighbours have been tense in recent months over insecurity along their common border, but Pakistani team captain Mashood Ahmad said sport could help improve ties.

''In my opinion, sport is the big ambassador between the two countries to improve diplomatic relations,'' Ahmad told Reuters as he and his team trained today on a Kabul football pitch.

The Pakistan Football Federation said last week Afghanistan had invited a provincial team to take part in the tournament, that includes teams from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Iran and India.

A team from Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, which is on the border with Afghanistan, was selected.

Ahmad said he and his team mates, who drove to Kabul from Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province, felt at home in Afghanistan.

''Kabul and Peshawar both have the same civilisation, the same people, so I feel very happy and my team is also feeling good,'' he said.

Pakistan has had only very rare sporting contacts with Afghanistan over decades of conflict and turmoil.

Pakistan Football Federation official Mujahidullah Tareen said club teams from Pakistani border towns had unofficially crossed a few times to play in Afghanistan.

But this was the first time in two decades the national federation was involved in sending a team, he said.

During Taliban rule in Afghanistan a club from the Pakistani border town of Chaman went to the southern Afghan town of Kandahar to play.

But some of the Pakistani players were arrested and had their hair shaved off by Taliban authorities for wearing shorts.

The players were eventually allowed to go home after intervention by the Pakistani consulate in Kandahar.

The conservative Taliban regime was ousted in 2001 by the US and Afghan opposition forces after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

REUTERS DH RS1548

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