What made you want to leave working in Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani's office to come into cricket administration?
I worked with the government for two and a half years, but my love for cricket and interest in cricket made me come into this field. I applied for the position because cricket is my hobby and I was thinking how to support cricket in Afghanistan. Cricket is not only a game in Afghanistan. It is a tool for peace-building and unity. We are a post-war country. After four decades of war, we really need something to unite our people, to use it as a peace tool. So that's why it was very, very important for me.
You say it is a passion. How did you first develop a love for cricket?
When I was a refugee in Pakistan, I was in grade seven and we would play cricket in our primary school. We had a small ground. I was always skipping my classes to play cricket with the tennis ball. Then we moved to Peshawar and I was playing there with a tennis ball. That was my hobby, always skipping classes and going to a cricket ground. I was not that good bowling or batting, but from my early childhood I was very involved with cricket and always loved the game. At that time we didn't have TVs, so we were listening to radios when there was a match with Pakistan and someone - India or Australia.
What is the No. 1 objective you want to accomplish as chairman?
It's a few things, not just one thing. First, I want to develop our administration. Our team is performing very well but we need to balance it with administration in our board.
Second, I will be providing more technical support for our national team, because they are on a very good stage, [targeting] Full Membership. So in this stage my main focus is how to maintain the sustainability of our team. It's an important thing. Being a good team is one thing but keeping the sustainability of a good team is a tough job and I am committed to keeping my team sustainable in this stage and improving it more.
Third, we will be investing in our infrastructure. We have submitted a US$10 million budget to the government, and hopefully they help us in that, to build five stadiums and five national academies in five regions. By this we can develop our domestic cricket, which is the backbone of our future.
"No one targets players. Our government supports them and provides a safe haven for them, but even the people fighting the government won't target the players"
Finally, I want to introduce cricket to all Afghan provinces. In some provinces, we don't have that much cricket so I will be working on that.
Female cricket is another objective that I have. In our country, there are traditional and religious issues, so we will be very careful of that as well, but in the meantime we will be focusing on this team. The First Lady of the country is much interested to support this area and I will be doing my best to make her help us in this regard.
As great as Afghanistan cricket has been on the field, it has been exclusively tied to men's and U-19 cricket. At the games Afghanistan has played in the UAE, they draw 6000 fans or more, but almost every single one is a male spectator. I know you mentioned there are cultural reasons but what can be done to help change the mindset, among men and women, to encourage women to not only pick up a bat and play but to be spectators too?
First, we have to start from schools. I have discussed with ICC as well - our plan is to introduce female cricket first to schools, because in schools we have infrastructure, we have small grounds and we can spend more money to build infrastructure. That's a very safe area for females. In a traditional and religious society, males and females cannot play together, so we have to think about separate infrastructure for females. We already have interested females in Herat, Kunduz, Kabul, already playing cricket but with limited access. We don't have infrastructure. So that is why I [want] to pave the way and provide more facilities for females.
About the fans and support, we have our female MPs, they are very supportive. They are always with us in big events. In Kabul we have the Shpageeza tournament. You can see hundreds of women coming there and watching cricket, enjoying and giving support to the teams, but again, we need more facilities and more infrastructure - separate ones, because it's a stage-by-stage thing, and I will not go radical. I will be taking steps gradually, but I am very committed to this area.
How much money do you want to invest in women's cricket?
In Herat we have already planned $1 million to invest in a ground. In Kunduz we will spend $500,000 and in the centre we will be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide them facilities, equipment, give them some tours and training.
Just to clarify for people who may not be as familiar with the cultural nuances, you're saying you need to build separate grounds and facilities for men and women because men and women cannot access or share the same facilities even if they are using them on different days? So then won't you essentially have to raise twice the funds, because instead of having one facility used by both teams, you have to build two separate ones?
It's not in every aspect. We may need a separate academy, not a giant academy. We may have a separate practice ground but we may use the [same] general ground for big matches. So in some aspects we need separate infrastructure, like academies, small grounds, gyms. [Women] will be using the Kabul ground, they will be using Herat specifically for them, but sometimes males may use it. I am thinking about practice infrastructure like academy, gym, swimming pool; these should be separate.
For the $10 million proposal submitted to the government - where do you forecast the bulk of that money being spent?
Mainly on infrastructure. We will build five stadiums. Some will be newly built, like in Herat for females, and some we will develop. In five national academies, they'll be equipped with PitchVision and other modern technical equipment. Plus some equipment for the ACB main office.
The budget is coming from the government. Alokazay, our main sponsor, will be spending money on our Kabul ground. We are planning to expand the Kabul ground. The government is very supportive to give us more ground close to the Kabul stadium. So we'll be developing it to a capacity of 20,000, and 2000 will be a separate stand for females, with separate facilities. Alokozay is very supportive of Afghanistan cricket. They have always supported the ACB and we are happy to have them on our side.
"I will not allow any political figure on any level to be involved in the cricket board or to have influence on the cricket board"
How does the issue of player safety within Afghanistan - Shapoor Zadran was allegedly targeted in a shooting in January and the father of Mohammad Nabi was kidnapped and held for ransom in 2013 - affect your development plans in terms of building infrastructure if Afghanistan can't play at home or host international cricket?
Cricket is the only game. All parties love it. I don't see any enemies for our players. No one will target them.
In Nabi's case, it was an economic crime. His father is a famous man and they have a big business. It had nothing to do with cricket. In the case of Shapoor, our investigation showed he was not the target. I was very serious asking the government to investigate it. If it was an attack, I want security for my players, and they proved it was not a real attack. It was about his friends, and it was incidental that he happened to be there.
The security situation is completely different for players. No one targets them. Our government supports them and provides a safe haven for them, but even the people fighting the government won't target the players.
We had a match in Khost province, a border province. There were 80,000 people who came to the game and everything finished without security, so it means no one is targeting cricketers. The only thing that is safe is cricket.
Our players live in very remote areas. Nawroz Mangal lives in a very remote area of Khost, in the mountains, and in that part the government is not in control, but I haven't heard any complaints. So I assure you that Afghanistan is a safe place for cricket. We can assure all international players that if they are coming for a game, they will be secure. In Shpageeza tournament we had guest players from Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and this time we will have from other countries as well, so it shows that we don't have a security problem, especially for cricket.
You own Kabul Eagles, which is one of the first-class franchises in the domestic league. How long have you been doing that for and what can you take from that experience that will help you in your role on the Afghanistan board?
Kabul Eagles, that was my hobby. I bought that team and fortunately they reached the semi-final in their first year, and last year they won the cup. It's not the only thing that gives me experience in cricket. I was very closely involved with ACB and I was helping them when I was in the [presidential] palace. I knew the politics of cricket in Afghanistan. I was in the picture of all involved parties. I personally know the players from the last two years, and I know the administrative staff, so I know the positive and negative points of the cricket board, the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. So this will help me to fix things.
Kenya is frequently used as an example of what can go wrong on and off the field after reaching a comparatively high level for an Associate. So what needs to be fixed and cleaned up to improve administratively to avoid the same fate?
Our team is much [better] than our administration.
We don't have management information system assistance. We will introduce human resources MIS and some other administrative steps will be taken. We need some technical people in our development department, because infrastructure is the main thing for me. When I leave ACB after three years, I want to have a great legacy for Afghanistan in stadiums, grounds and academies. These are the areas I will be focusing on because I want to balance administration with team performance.
First, we have to keep the sustainability and strength of our administration.
We will keep working and focusing on the strengths of our players and providing them opportunities to focus on their strengths.
"I really believe in the talent of our players. We have very good youngsters. Our domestic cricket is amazing"
We will keep cricket away from political involvement. Any time there is politics in cricket, the status of cricket [meets its] demise. I will not allow any political figure on any level to be involved in the cricket board or to have influence on the cricket board. We will select players on a merit basis, not based on relations or support they have in the government. We will keep going as per our strategy, not as per the political demands of the country. We will make sure the cricket board is independent, out of politics, and a merit-based institution. These things will sustain our cricket.
Where do you hope to see Afghanistan cricket in three years' time at the scheduled end of your term?
I want to see Afghanistan as a Full Member, a Test cricket nation, and No. 5 in the rankings. I want to see Afghanistan having international-standard stadiums, grounds and academies. The talent I see in our boys, I am pretty sure that we will acquire the [ranking] but it is up to the administration how they can support ACB to have infrastructure.
I really believe in the talent of our players. We have very good youngsters. Our domestic cricket is amazing. You can see new names in no time that will be joining our national team, our U-19s. These are assets that we naturally have, and I will be doing my best to provide infrastructure, equipment and technical support to players.
I will be very happy to see Afghanistan getting Full Membership and Test status, and to see we are hosting other Full Member countries and we are playing cricket with them, because cricket in countries like Afghanistan, which is a post-war country, is a very good tool for unity and for peace-building.