The Taliban religious police interrupted the soccer game Saturday as play was underway at the sports stadium in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the headquarters of the hardline Taliban militia, officials said.
The arrests came in the middle of the third and final match of a series between the Pakistani and Afghan soccer clubs, Taliban official Maulvi Hameed Akhund told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Five of the Pakistani club's 17-member team escaped arrest. One took refuge in the Pakistani consulate in Kandahar. "They were arrested because they violated the Islamic dress code," which outlaws exposing many parts of the body, Akhund said.
Not everyone agreed with the arrests. The Taliban's governor of Kandahar apologized. "They were our guests and shouldn't be treated like this," said the governor, Maulvi Mohammed Hasan.
The raid triggered a stampede in the stadium, where several hundred spectators were watching the match. Scores of spectators were injured in the stampede, according to a Pakistani Urdu-language daily newspaper, The Jang.
The Pakistani players were released Sunday and turned over to the Pakistani consulate. All of them had their heads shorn.
The Taliban require sportsmen to wear the traditional baggy pants and long tunic. Women do not participate in sports in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's ultra-orthodox Taliban rulers have imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law in the 90 percent of Afghanistan under their control. Their long list of rules include not wearing shorts or short sleeve shirts in public.
While the majority of their harshest edicts affect women, such as measures banning women from work and attending school, the edicts also have targeted men. In Afghanistan, men are not allowed to shave or trim their beards and must attend the mosque to pray five times a day. Anyone caught defying the rules can be publicly beaten.
Islamic scholars say that the Taliban's interpretation of Islam reflects Afghanistan's tribal traditions rather than the edicts of the religion.