Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 August 2019

Cricket World Cup: Pakistan demands UK police investigate 'abuse' from Afghanistan fans

Scuffles broke out between fans during the tense match between neighbours, with Afghanistan fans flying a banner that read “justice For Balochistan”.

Pakistan fans let off flares after the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 match between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Headingley, UK. Getty Images
Pakistan fans let off flares after the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 match between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Headingley, UK. Getty Images

Pakistan’s foreign ministry has demanded that police in the United Kingdom investigate the alleged abuse of their cricket players during Saturday’s World Cup match with Afghanistan, which was marred by crowd trouble.

Scuffles broke out between fans during the tense match between neighbours at the Headingley ground in Leeds, in the north of the UK, seemingly catching police off guard. Some supporters traded punches and others tried to break through the gates.

UK police failed to prepare themselves for potential trouble, despite the two countries sharing a long history of animosity over their shared border.

Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet Union’s invasion in the 1980s, but has also been accused of harbouring and supporting the Taliban movement.

Pakistani media said the fighting was provoked by a banner flown at the grounds with the slogan “justice For Balochistan”.

Balochistan is a region that spans Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan's largest and least developed province with the same name. It has been the site of a bloody separatist insurgency for decades, with Baloch nationalists battling governments in Pakistan and Iran for independence with the support of Afghanistan.

Pakistan won the match by three wickets and supporters charged onto the pitch. Four people were arrested.

A statement from Pakistan's foreign ministry said that the game had been used for “malicious propaganda” and that was unacceptable, and a matter for “deep concern”.

They called on “all the relevant authorities, both sports and law enforcement, to thoroughly investigate the matter and bring those responsible to account”.

“The matter is also being taken up through diplomatic channels,” it said.

Police had seen a fixture between India and Pakistan in June as a greater risk and security was only ramped up after Headingley officials and the International Cricket Council overruled local officers.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said it was concerned by reports of violence at the match.

“Any evidence of criminal behaviour should be passed to the police who will investigate as appropriate," they said.

"We are also aware of political protests at the match. The UK government fully respects the territorial integrity of Pakistan. We are clear in our respect for the right to peaceful protest and free speech.”

Afghanistan's captain, Gulbadin Naib, played down the trouble as passion from supporters in comments after the match.

“They love their players, they love their heroes. They also want to meet everyone," he said of the pitch invasion at a press conference.

"They don't want to harm anyone. They just want to hug and touch, so for me it's nothing."

Pakistan's tense win with only two balls to spare was hailed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who himself captained the nation to World Cup victory in 1992.

Updated: July 1, 2019 08:06 PM

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