Australia dump Afghan cricket series over Taliban crackdown on women

Australia pulled out of an upcoming cricket series against Afghanistan in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, citing Taliban moves to further restrict women's rights.

The men's team were due to face their Afghan counterparts in three ODI games in March following a tour to India.

The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) in Kabul described Australia's decision as "pathetic".

"The decision to withdraw... is unfair and unexpected and will have a negative impact," the ACB said in a statement, which did not mention the shrinking of women's rights in Afghanistan nor the Taliban's ban on female sport.

The ACB said it would contact the International Cricket Council and was considering withdrawing its players from Australia's domestic Big Bash League in retaliation.

Cricket Australia (CA) said their decision was taken after talks with concerned parties that included the Australian government.

"This decision follows the recent announcement by the Taliban of further restrictions on women's and girls' education and employment opportunities and their ability to access parks and gyms," it said in a statement.

"CA is committed to supporting growing the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan.

"(We) will continue to engage with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country," it said.

The games against Afghanistan were part of the ICC Super League.

Australia will forfeit 30 competition points for the series, which go towards World Cup qualification.

However, they have already secured automatic qualification for the 50-over tournament in India later this year.

Afghan ODI and Test captain Hashmatullah Shahidi said "fans and people of Afghanistan who have suffered immensely due to conflict... don't want politics brought into sports".

"Cricket is the most loved sport in the country and one of the main sources of happiness," he said on Twitter, asking CA to reconsider its decision.

- 'Only reason of happiness' -

Afghanistan's best known international cricketer and leg-spinner Rashid Khan expressed dismay at CA's decision and suggested he would pull out of the Big Bash League.

"If playing vs Afghanistan is so uncomfortable for Australia then I wouldn't want to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence in the BBL," he tweeted.

"Therefore, I will be strongly considering my future in that competition."

Pace bowler Naveen-ul-Haq also suggested he would pull out of BBL where he plays for the Sydney Sixers.

"When a country is going through so much in place (of) being supportive you want to take the only reason of happiness from them," he tweeted.

The Taliban regained control of Kabul in August 2021 and quickly began placing restrictions on women's participation in sport.

The hardline Islamists initially promised a softer approach than their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, a period notorious for rights abuses that included public executions and floggings.

They have gradually reintroduced an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, and women have seen rights evaporate as they are squeezed out of public life.

The Taliban barred teenage girls from attending secondary schools and then last month banned women from attending universities, prompting global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.

They then decreed at the end of last month that Afghan women could no longer work for NGOs, at a time when Afghanistan faces one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, with more than half of 38 million people hungry and three million children at risk of malnutrition.

Most women government workers have lost their jobs. Women are also barred from travelling without a male relative and have been told they must cover up when outside the home, ideally with a burqa.

In November, women were also banned from entering parks, funfairs, gyms and public baths.