Cricket is not the first thing you think of when you think of Afghanistan, but in fact the game has been played in that country since the mid-19th century. And in recent years the country’s national team has achieved some degree of success, currently ranking ninth out of 18 nations in the ICC’s Men’s T20I team rankings.
Notwithstanding last week’s attack by a suicide bomber, efforts to support cricket in Afghanistan must continue given the sport’s crucial role in the complex morass that is the Afghanistan situation. That is a situation which has the potential to affect all of us.
One person who can testify to this is Trinidad and Tobago cricketer Rayad Emrit. Emrit last week escaped injury when a suicide bomber killed at least three people and injured a dozen in an attack outside the Alokozay Kabul International Cricket Ground in Kabul.
“We were fielding and heard a loud explosion and the whole ground started to shake,” the cricketer told Newsday. “When I looked up I saw the building shaking and glass shattered and smoke in the air. We just went off the field… Trust me, it’s the scariest thing I’ve experienced.”
We express relief that the Trinidad and Tobago national escaped unscathed and has returned home safely. But his ordeal underscores just how close we are here in Trinidad and Tobago to international events. It was only last week that it was ascertained that one of our nationals died in St Martin during Hurricane Irma.
Yet, it is not just a matter of there being a Trini everywhere on the planet. We all should be concerned about the developments in countries that shape global dynamics and that have a direct bearing on our quality of life. A good example is how international conflicts affect oil prices and, thereby, the revenue streams of our economy. That, in turn, often results in grim cuts during our fiscal planning.
But the Afghanistan situation is one which has repercussions not only for our security but the welfare of our international partners and key allies.
With the world’s focus veering between the threat posed by developments in North Korea as well as efforts to contain the Islamic State in Syria, developments in Afghanistan relating to the Taliban have slipped beneath the radar.
According to some sources, the Taliban’s numbers in 2005 were estimated at anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 fighters. But within a decade, those numbers have surged to an estimated 60,000 fighters as Washington and its allies struggle to pin down a winning strategy that will definitively rid the world of this terror threat.
US President Donald Trump recently flip-flopped on his position in relation to the country. Once arguing for a complete US withdrawal, he has now more or less left policies of his predecessor – barring a timeline of withdrawal – in place. US defence officials point to an order for 3,900 more soldiers, agreed to by Trump in June to bolster the 8,400-strong US force already there. Still, this is far less than the 100,000 plus troops deployed under Barack Obama.
Trump’s reversal on this matter is welcomed. While the rhetoric around withdrawal is often strongly hinged on costs and ideas of national sovereignty, the fact remains that without a strong enough military presence to replace it, a complete US exit could leave a vacuum. Such a void might be filled with something worse.
While mistakes have been made in relation to Afghanistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion (and arguably even earlier since the 1838 intervention of Britain), the world cannot afford to see such a strategically important State fail. As one recent headline put it, this is a matter that is unwinnable and unlosable. For now, Emrit can count his lucky stars. But cricket will and should continue in Afghanistan against all the odds.