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Judicial CP - October 1996

Corpun file 04857


Los Angeles Times, 2 October 1996


Afghan Capital's Residents Face Fundamental Shock

Victorious Taliban's rural, deeply conservative Islamic beliefs threaten to dramatically alter life in Kabul.

By John-Thor Dahlburg
Times Staff Writer


KABUL, Afghanistan -- The white banner, proclaiming that there is no god but Allah, floats now atop the clock tower of this nation's presidential palace, heralding what is shaping up as one of the poorest and most fundamentalist of the world's Islamic states.

In recent days, women who have ventured onto Kabul's dusty streets without cloaking themselves from head to toe in opaque, suffocating gowns have been lashed with whips or fan belts.

A thief was trussed up like a roasting chicken, a weight hung from his lower jaw and currency notes stuffed into his gaping mouth. He was driven around in the back of a pickup truck, witnesses said, as loudspeakers blared the warning that anyone violating Islamic law would be punished.

Employees of government offices have been instructed on the radio by the city's new rulers to grow beards in keeping with Afghan tradition if they want to keep their jobs.

Women have been told to stay home from work until further notice.

Early Friday, soldiers of the Taliban militia swept into Kabul, Afghanistan's capital and most important city, after forces loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani, his defense chief, Ahmed Shah Masoud, and Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar fled in disarray.

Leaders of the conquering band of Islamic fundamentalists promised the restoration of peace and order in Afghanistan after nearly 17 years of virtually uninterrupted warfare. But many in this war-battered city are consumed by worry and fear that their latest ordeal is beginning. For if the Taliban are to be judged by their deeds so far, their goal is to transform Afghanistan into a state even more fundamentalist and puritanical than neighboring Iran, into a country where women cannot bare even their eyes in the street and where television is outlawed on religious grounds.

The militia, which emerged in late 1994 from students in Koranic schools along the Afghan-Pakistan border, advocates punishments for criminals that include execution for murderers, stoning for adulterers and amputation for thieves.

"We love our country and people, and, in the meantime, we love Islam," Shirmohammed Stanekzai, the Taliban's foreign affairs spokesman, told a news conference Tuesday. "In any case, we want to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan. If somebody is against that in the world, that's up to them."

As a result of recent battlefield successes, the Taliban now claim to hold three-quarters of this Texas-sized country. Since their arrival in Kabul, all roads to other parts of Afghanistan have been opened, prices have come down in the bazaars and the airport is back in operation. The bombardments that Kabul residents suffered over the past 4 years -- and which killed tens of thousands of civilians -- have ceased.

Still, many in this city are far from overjoyed at the advent of the Taliban. "These people, they are just coming from the mountains, from the forests. They are wild," shuddered an Afghan employee of a humanitarian relief organization who met with the six-member shura, or council, appointed by the Islamic militia Friday to govern Kabul. "They are just like forest animals."


Reassuring Promises

"We want to establish an Islamic government that will not be against or opposed to the modern world," the Taliban official stressed. Kabul's new rulers have laid claim to Afghanistan's seat at the United Nations, he said, and promised to adhere to all of the nation's international obligations.

But for many people in Kabul, the Taliban's record and events since the takeover of the city have led to deep pessimism. "In Afghanistan, any changes that come are negative and more negative," said a 43-year-old engineer gloomily. "We only go backward."


In Bibi Mehru, in eastern Kabul, residents watched one morning as five Talibs dismounted from their jeep and used a fan belt to whip half a dozen women who were clad in head scarves instead of burqas, which cover the wearers from head to toe while providing woven screens that allow them to see but conceal their eyes from others.

Corporal Punishment

At Pul-i-Khishti mosque in the city's center, a teenager wearing a burqa was whipped anyway for not wearing socks and showing a few inches of bare ankle.

"Concerning dress, there are certain rules and regulations in Islam," Stanekzai explained. But pressed by reporters as to what constituted decent female dress in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, he said an Islamic court must decide.


Copyright (c) 1996 Times Mirror Company

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