What is the rivalry between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

In Afghanistan, sporting contests against Pakistan are followed intensely. The rivalry, stemming from geopolitical and cultural ties between the two states, has been compared in some aspects to the more longstanding, traditional archrivalry between India and Pakistan in sports.

The two countries share a long and porous international border dating back to the 19th century, with a history of immigration and economic relations. People on both sides of the border, primarily the Pashtuns, share ethnic and cultural ties. However, at a political level, relations between both governments in the past have often been characterised as frosty, thus paving the way for a competitive rivalry in sporting encounters in recent times.


Afghanistan made its first appearance at the Summer Olympics in 1936, while Pakistan’s first appearance was in 1948. Pakistan have won ten Olympic medals since 1956, including three golds.Afghanistan have won two bronze medals, in 2008 and 2012, with The Guardian reporting that there was “elation that Afghanistan had bettered” their medal tally against Pakistan in the 2012 games.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a regional sporting rivalry that extends into various sports, especially cricket and football. The rivalry is attributed to the historical, cultural and political relationship between the neighbouring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share an immense border stretching 1510 miles (2430 km) along the southern and eastern edges of Afghanistan.1 The Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Nurestan, Konar, Nangarhar, Paktiya, Khost, Paktika, Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand, and Nimruz are all adjacent to the Pakistani border.  Ethnic Pashtuns populate the area along the border. The frontier passes through varying terrain, with sandy deserts in the south and rugged mountains in the east.  Major border crossings between the two countries are in Torkham, between Peshawar and Jalalabad and in Spinboldak between Kandahar and Quetta. The border between the two countries was determined in 1893 in an agreement between the Afghan Emir Abdur Rahman Khan and the British Government of India.  Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, however, subsequent Afghan governments have not accepted the so-called “Durand Line” as the boundary between the two countries. While Kabul considers the dispute unresolved, the Durand Line has functioned as a de-facto border.

 Several factors have coalesced to make the border hard to guard: A) Geography, as the area is too large to police properly; B) Some Pakistani authorities on the official border crossings, and along the line, have long aided or closed their eyes to problematic cross-border traffic; C) Since the Jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, many have mastered the art of crossing the border without detection by authorities on at least the Afghan side; D) At many areas along the Durrand Line, people from the same qaums (referred to as tribes in popular literature) live on both sides of the line and move back and forth without much regard for the boundary.


As of the 2020 Summer Olympics:

Summary of results

FormatMatches playedPakistan wonAfghanistan wonDraw/Tie/No ResultNotes

ICC tournaments

The teams have met on two occasions in ICC tournaments, with Pakistan winning both of these meetings.

TournamentMatches playedPakistan wonAfghanistan wonDraw/Tie/No result
World Cup1100
T20 World Cup1100

ACC tournaments

In Asian Cricket Council (ACC) tournaments, both sides have met on three occasions. Pakistan have won on all three occasions.



At least two major ethnic groups—the Pashtuns and the Baluchs—live on both sides of the Durand Line. Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, comprising 42 percent of the population or 13.8 million people.2 (Credible and up to date numbers about the demographics in Afghanistan are hard to find. The last national census was conducted in the 1970s.)  On the Pakistan side, Pashtuns make up 15.4 percent of the population, roughly 26.6 million people.3   In Afghanistan, the Pashtun live mainly in a belt extending across the south of the country from Pakistan in the east to Iran in the west, but they are also present in other areas as well.  Afghan cities with significant Pashtun populations include Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad. While in Pakistan, the Pashtuns live in the North West Frontier Province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and sizeable communities of Pashtuns are also present in Baluchistan and Karachi. Pashtun’s on both sides of the border share the same origin and other commonalities, including a language. But they have experienced widely different political conditions and divergent national trajectories for at least over a century.

Baluchs are another ethnic group that lives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and even parts of Iran. The group constitutes 3.6 percent of the Pakistani population or roughly 6.2 million people.  In neighboring Afghanistan, Baluchs account for two percent of the population, or about 0.7 million peopleand  live mainly in the southwest of the country, along its borders with Iran and Pakistan.
The majority of people in Pakistan (75 percent) and Afghanistan (80 percent) are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school.  However, both countries have sizeable Shia minorities.  In Afghanistan, the Shia community makes up nineteen percent of the population or 6.2 million people, while in Pakistan, it accounts for twenty percent of the population or 34.6 million people.6

Ever since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, large numbers of Afghans have sought refuge in Pakistan. At one time, it was estimated that five million Afghans lived in Pakistan. Since 2001, many have returned to Afghanistan. But the number and presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistani cities such as Quetta and Peshawar remains considerable.

List of ODI series

Year(s)HostDate of first matchMatchesPakistan wonAfghanistan wonTie/No ResultWinner
2011–12United Arab Emirates10 February 20121100Pakistan
2023Sri Lankan22 August 20233300Pakistan

List of T20I series

Year(s)HostDate of first matchMatchesPakistan wonAfghanistan wonTie/No ResultWinner
2013–1United Arab Emirates8 December 20131100Pakistan
2022–23United Arab Emirates24 March 20233120Afghanistan


ODI record 

The following are team and individual records in One Day Internationals played between the two side teams


T20I records

The following are team and individual records in Twenty20 Internationals played between the two sides.



The national teams of Pakistan and Afghanistan have competed against each other in association football on four occasions in modern history; twice in the SAFF Championship and twice in international friendlies. Pakistan have dominated the match-ups, winning three of these games, while Afghanistan have won one game. Contests against Pakistan generate much enthusiasm amongst Afghan football fans on account of their mutual relations and have been referred to as a “rivalry”, although the interest in Pakistan toward the rivalry and for football in general is more muted.


#DateVenueCompetitionHome teamScoreAway teamGoals (home)Goals (away)
114 January 2003Bangabandhu Stadium
Dhaka, Bangladesh
2003 South Asian Football Federation Gold Cup Pakistan1–0 AfghanistanRasool  9′
29 December 2005People’s Football Stadium
Karachi, Pakistan
2005 South Asian Football Federation Gold Cup Pakistan1–0 AfghanistanEssa  55′
320 August 2013Afghanistan Football Federation Stadium
Kabul, Afghanistan
Friendly Afghanistan3–0 PakistanAhmadi  20′
Hatifi  32′
Mohammadi  71′
46 February 2015Punjab Stadium
Lahore, Pakistan
Friendly Pakistan2–1 AfghanistanRiaz  18′
Saadullah  91′
Sharifi  56′

Summary of results

TournamentMatches playedPakistan wonAfghanistan wonDraw/Tie/No result
Asia Cup ODI2200
Asia Cup T201100




After Pakistan’s creation in 1947, Afghanistan objected to its admission to the United Nations. The Afghan government of the time decided not to recognize Pakistan as the legitimate inheritor of the territorial agreements reached with the British India. There were several ambiguous and often changing demands from Kabul centered around the aspirations—as Kabul saw it—of the Pashtun and Baluch ethnicities inside Pakistan. For intermittent periods between 1947 and 1973, Kabul extended support to Baluch and Pashtun nationalists inside Pakistan and even called for the creation of a new state called “Pashtunistan.” In 1973, Pakistan, grappling with territorial insecurities, resorted to extending support to Islamists dissidents that opposed Afghanistan’s Republican government of Sardar Daud. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government created the “Afghan Cell” within Pakistan’s foreign office and assigned it a policy that included strengthening ties with and empowering Islamists in exile in Pakistan, and improving Pakistan’s influence over governments in Kabul.

Sardar Daud made friendly gestures to Pakistan in the late 1970s, but his overtures were cut short by a Communist coup in 1978. The new regime in Kabul returned to the support—at least rhetorical—for Pashtun and Baluch nationalists in Pakistan. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was seen by Pakistan as a grave threat to its national security. It also presented Pakistan with a major avenue to build on its 1973 policy of empowering dissident Islamists against the governments in Kabul. Furthermore, Pakistan had been a partner of the United States in the Cold War since the 1950s, and this cooperation had provoked numerous Soviet threats over the years.  The new leader of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in a 1977 military coup, was a fervent anti-communist and Islamist.  General Zia approached the United States for help with organizing a religious resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also began funding the Afghan resistance in 1979.  Accepted doctrine was that America would not overtly reveal its hand in a proxy war with the Soviets, and therefore the CIA worked through its ally Pakistan.  Zia insisted that Islamabad would decide who in Afghanistan received American aid, and the arbiters of this policy ultimately became Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the Pakistani Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, which supported Zia’s dictatorship.  As the war progressed and as US and the Saudi Arabia led Arab funding for the mujahideen skyrocketed, the Pakistani government and the ISI gained enormous influence in Afghan affairs.
The Afghan resistance coalescing in Pakistan was a combination of nationalist and religious parties. At the outset, they were divided into over a hundred groups. In 1980, the ISI reorganized them into bigger units and it officially recognized seven of these Peshawar-based parties.  Anyone wishing to receive aid from Pakistan, the US, the Arabs, and others, had to join one of these groups.  The largest of these factions were the ethnic Tajik-dominated Jamiat-e Islami, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami.  Hezb-e Islami was favored by ISI and had close ties to Zia’s backers in Jamaat-e-Islami. It was also one the most radical of the groups. Gulbuddin’s Hizb ultimately received the bulk of the foreign aid (mostly American and Saudi) during the Afghan resistance.  Pakistan provided the mujahideen with weapons, supplies, training, and bases from which to operate; and Pakistani units, disguised as mujahideen, also participated directly in the fighting.

After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, international interest in Afghanistan and the mujahideen began to wane.  Zia died in a plane crash in 1988, and was succeeded by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of the man he had overthrown and hanged a decade earlier.  However, even though Hezb-e Islami was closely affiliated with Bhutto’s political enemy, Jamaat-e-Islami, the ISI continued to support Hekmatyar’s faction and the other mujahedeen parties against the communist regime of Dr. Najibullah in Kabul.  After Kabul fell in 1992, attempts were made to bring Hekmatyar into a unity government with Rabbani and Massoud, but the Hezb-e Islami commander continued to attack his rivals.  Afghanistan spiraled into a brutal civil conflict between competing mujahideen warlords, none of whom were capable of unifying or stabilizing the entire country. Kabul remained in Massoud’s control.

Benazir Bhutto briefly lost the office of Prime Minister in 1990, but returned to power three years later.  Hekmatyar’s failure to advance against Jamiat and other forces around Kabul led to the decline of Islamabad’s support for his group. Bhutto’s interior minister, General Nasirullah Babur discovered and empowered a group of former Mujahideen from the Kandahar area as Pakistan’s new strategic card in the Afghan conflict. Working through Jamaat-e-Islami’s rival Pakistani Islamist party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Islamabad began supporting the students the party trained in its madrassas in the Afghan refugee camps, who came to be known as the Taliban.  Bhutto was determined to deal a blow to Jamaat-e-Islami, which she believed had aided and abetted her father’s executioner and was partly responsible for her losing power.  She also wanted to weaken the ISI. But in 1996, as Bhutto’s second government was dissolved by Pakistan’s president, and as the Taliban grew into a formidable force, the ISI regained control of Pakistan’s Afghan policy.

During the 1990s, at the center of Pakistan’s Afghan policy was the military’s pursuit of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan that could be useful in the event of any military conflict with India. Bhutto’s second government also sought a stability that will allow it access to the newly independent Central Asian republics.  Pakistan was also seeking a government in Kabul that did not indulge ethno-nationalists issues inside Pakistan, and question the Duran Line as the boundary between the two countries.  The Taliban, with Pakistani and Saudi backing, proved very capable, conquering Kandahar in 1994, Kabul in 1996, and most of the rest of the country by 1998.  Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, extended diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime—the only countries to do so.  Rabbani, Massoud, and other factional leaders retreated to corners in the north of the country and later formed the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (also known as the Northern Alliance).  Hekmatyar sought refuge in Iran in 1997.

In the late 1990s, Pakistan continued to support the Taliban regime in its war against the Northern Alliance, while Russia, all the Central Asian Republics minus Turkmenistan, Iran, and India backed the opposition.  However, after the attacks of 11 September 2001, General Pervez Musharraf—who had seized power in a military coup in 1999—was forced to reverse Pakistani policy and reluctantly joined the US in its “War on Terror.”  Musharraf feared US action against Pakistan and the prospect of a US-Indian alliance.  In return for supporting the US war effort, providing bases, and facilitating the transport of supplies, Pakistan would receive billions of dollars in US aid over the coming years.  Less than two months into the military operations in Afghanistan the US-led coalition, working with the Northern Alliance, toppled the Taliban regime, which fled across the Pakistani border with its al-Qaeda allies.

In Pakistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda regrouped along the border in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Baluchistan province, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).  In 2002, the Pakistani military moved into parts of the FATA in search of Al Qaeda operatives. (The FATA is a largely neglected part of Pakistan that is still ruled by colonial era laws. Pakistan’s constitutional order and liberties does not extend to the region, and political parties are barred from operating there.)  In retrospect, Pakistan’s efforts in the region have been dubbed as half-hearted since Islamabad has pursued a double policy towards Afghanistan. The Musharraf regime declared support for the government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul but retained involvement with the Taliban who were mounting an insurgency against Karzai’s government and its international backers.

Inside Pakistan, newly organized groups known as the “Pakistani Taliban” have gradually emerged on the scene. In 2007, different “Pakistani Taliban” groups coalesced as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan or TTP), lead by Baitullah Mehsud.  The TTP and its affiliate organizations are blamed for dozens of terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan.  Islamabad has shown a willingness to negotiate with the Taliban and has effectively ceded large areas of FATA to their control.  However, by the end of 2007, fighting had spread to the so-called “settled” areas of Pakistan.

Thousands of fighters from Maulana Fazlullah’s Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) effectively took control of the Swat Valley in the NWFP, less than a hundred miles from Islamabad.  Fazlullah and TNSM worked with Mehsud’s TTP, and although they were briefly beaten back by the Pakistani military, they seized Swat again by the end of 2008.  In February 2009, the Pakistani military agreed to a ceasefire and allowed TNSM, under the direction of Sufi Mohammed, to implement Sharia law.7 But militant continued their expansion, reaching areas such as Buner which is only a few dozen kilometers from the capital. In the meantime, local media broadcasted enraging statements from militants such as Sufi Mohammad and videos surfaced showing the gruesome treatment of the population in areas under the control of the Pakistani Taliban. Public outrage, international pressure, and the proximity of the threat to Pakistan’s strategic centers such as Rawalpindi and Islamabad appears to have compelled the military to push back TNSM and other militant advances in areas such as Swat.

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