The first edition of the Crosslines Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan, which was published in 1998 during the height of the first Taliban era (1996-2001), quickly became known as the “Taliban edition.” (Three more fully-revised editions were published with the last one in 2014). This was primarily because its editors (Edward Girardet and Jonathan Walter) spent part of 1997 reporting from Talib-controlled Afghanistan before returning to Geneva, where they holed up in a Swiss NGO hostel to write and do the final editing. This included commissioning a wide array of essays and ‘infobriefs’ by Afghan experts ranging from experienced journalists and human rights specialists to agricultural researchers, humanitarian aid coordinators and ethnologists.
When published, the book quickly became a must-read for anyone dealing with Afghanistan or the region. This first edition was quickly pirated and sold in Kabul by street children. The editors weren’t too happy about getting ripped off by a Pakistani publisher (there was – and still is – no effective copyright in either Pakistan or Afghanistan) as all proceeds were supposed to be poured back into the project for updating purposes, but at least the kids were making something out of it.
And when the U.S. military and its Coalition partners invaded in October, 2001, to oust the Taliban, copies were picked up left and right by soldiers, aid workers, journalists and diplomats. Whole sections were unabashedly re-produced by organizations, such as NATO and Oxfam, for their own use. None bothered to contribute to our reporting kitty, but at least they were informed.
One of the most popular sections was our “Tali-Bans” chapter, where we reproduced verbatim the sixteen decrees issued by Amr Bei Maruf wa Nai Az Munkar, otherwise known as the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, in other words, the Religious Police. It was hard to fathom the rationale behind them, such as bans on kite flying, a popular pastime of children, or the keeping of pigeons, but the Taliban obviously had their reasons.
But some of the Bans were positively medieval, such as different proposed options for dealing with homosexuals or the virtual incarceration of women in their homes. Since the Talib takeover of Kabul in mid-August 2021, gay men and women have voiced their concerns on the BBC and other international media, but also UN agencies such as UNICEF and UNHCHR, about the treatment they can expect to receive. Some have already been reported beaten savagely and killed by the Taliban or Afghans seeking to ingratiate themselves with the new masters of Kabul. The irony is that many well-known Afghan jokes and even poetry refer to the men of Kandahar (where the Taliban originated) indulging in buggery or the use/abuse of little boys for sexual pleasure.
It will be interesting to see whether the ‘new’ Taliban embrace, either fully or partially, any of these former decrees now that they have taken the bulk of the country, including a largely westernized Kabul of 5-6 million people, over half of whom (60 per cent of Afghans are under the age of 25) have never experienced the first harsh rule (1996-2001) of the Taliban. When the anti-Taliban United Front, or Northern Alliance relinquished the Afghan capital in November 1996 to avoid bloodshed, the city had barely one million people and was heavily devastated.
The question now is whether people will bow down to any of the new decrees. For example, while it was relatively easy to ban music cassettes and videos during their first regime (the further away from Kabul the 1990s Taliban themselves continued to listen to music or wanted photographs taken of themselves), how are they going to deal with the internet, computers and smart phones in 2021? Even the Taliban have relied heavily on social media to get across their points of view.
The 1996-1997 ‘Tali-Bans’ (Verbatim)
- To prevent sedition and female uncovers. No drivers are allowed to pick up female who are using Iranian Burqa (chador). In the case of violation the driver will be imprisoned. If such kind of female are observed in the street, their house will be found and their husbands punished.
- To prevent music. In shops, hotels, vehicles and rickshaws, cassettes and music are prohibited. If any music cassette found in a shop, the shopkeeper should be imprisoned and the shop locked.
- To prevent beard shaving and its cutting. If any observed who has shaved and/or cut his beard, they be arrested and imprisoned until their beard gets bushy.
- To prevent not-praying and order gathering prayer at the bazaar. Pray should be done on their due times in all districts. If young people are seen in the shops they will be immediately imprisoned. If five people guarantee (their good character), the person should be released otherwise the criminal should be imprisoned for ten days.
- To prevent pigeons and playing with birds. This habit/hobby should be stop. After ten days this matter should be monitored and the pigeons and other playing birds should be killed.
- To eradicate the use of addiction and its user. Addict should be imprisoned and investigation made to find the supplier and the shop. The shop should be locked and both criminals (the owner and the user) should be imprisoned and punished.
- To prevent kite-flying. Advise the people of its useless consequences such as betting, death of children and their deprivation from education. The kite shops in the city should be abolished.
- To prevent idolatry. In the vehicle, shops, room, hotels and any other places, pictures/portraits should be abolished. The monitors should tear up all pictures in above places. The vehicle will be stopped if any idol is found in the vehicles.
- To prevent gambling. The main centres should be found and the gamblers imprisoned for one month.
- To prevent British and American hair style. People with long hair should be arrested and taken to the Religious Police department to shave their head. The criminal has to pay the barber.
- To prevent interest charge on loans, charge on changing small denomination notes and charge on money orders. All money exchanger should be informed that the above three types of exchanging the money are prohibited in Islam. In the case of violation the criminal will be imprisoned for a long time.
- To prevent washing cloth by young ladies along the water streams in the city. Violator ladies should be picked up with respectful Islamic manner taken to their houses and their husbands severely punished.
- To prevent music and dances in wedding parties. The above two things should be prevented. In the case of violation the head of the family will be arrested and punished.
- To prevent the playing of music drum. If anybody does this than the religious elders can decide about it.
- To prevent sewing ladies cloth and taking female body measures by taylor. If women or fashion magazine are seen in the shop the tailor should be imprisoned.
- To prevent sorcery. All the related books should be burnt and the magician should be imprisoned until his repentence.
Further decrees, including rules for foreigners.
Further decrees specifically aimed at foreigners, UN agencies and other international organizations were issued by the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
“There must be a group of people amongst you to conduct the others towards goodness, welfare, virtues and prevent them from vices. The Islamic Shari’a law is completely valid in our country. Therefore, all the Muslim citizens should observe and act accordingly.”
“All the expatriates who are living in Afghanistan should respect and observe the Islamic laws and rules. Based on the policy and working directions of this Department we communicate the following:”
- All the humanitarian assistance provided by the International Community should be given without condition.
- The Islamic Shari’a law of our country do not allow the employment of women in Government Departments or International Agencies. Women should not go outside their residence. This should be observed by all International Agencies and Afghan NGOs.
- Women are allowed to work only in health sector at the hospitals and clinics. Agencies should not employ women in any other sector.
- Any local staff member of Agencies who do not observe the Islamic Shari’a law should be advised by the agency. Again in case of violation this department will have to take a serious action against the staff member.
- Assistance to widows, poor women should be done through their blood relatives without employment of female surveyors.
- Women are allowed to work in vocational sectors like embroidery, weaving etc. In the case they do not go out from their houses. Our department should be informed before hand through the blood relatives.
- If the International Agencies of Afghan Agencies decide to employ or assist females, they should first obtain permission from our department.
- To identify the real beneficiaries in surveys, the Mullah Wakil and three elders of the district should be contacted.
The Religious Police continued to release various press releases with new rules, such as “we kindly request all our Afghan sisters to not apply for any job in foreign agencies…” (November, 1996)
“Women, you should not step outside of your residence. If you go outside the house you should not be like women who used to go with fashionable clothes wearing much cosmetics and appearing in front of every men before the coming of Islam…” (January, 1997)
“Some of the Aid Agencies in Kabul and provinces are using some pictures of people in their publications which is against the Islamic Shari’a law…” (February 1997)
“Hereby we announce to all expatriates and national staff of Non Governmental Organizations to avoid carrying video, casettes and alcoholic drinks to or from Afghanistan…” (March 1997).
“All animal pictures and drawings of crosses hung in motor vehicles, houses and any other place should be removed…” (October 1997).
On gay men…”We have a dilemma on this. The difficult is this. One group of scholars believes you should take these people to the top of the highest building in the city, and hurl them to their deaths. (The other group) believes in a different approach. They recommend you dig a ditch near a wall somewhere, put these people in it, then topple the wall so that they are buried alive. A third group of scholars argue that homosexuals should be put on public display for a few hours with blackened faces…” Mullah Hassan, Governor of Kandahar.
On women…“Women just aren’t as smart as men. They don’t have the intelligence. We categorically refuse to let women vote or participate in politics.” Nur Mohammed, Governor of Herat (The Sunday Times, London, 24 March, 1996)
- Beating with whips and imprisonment for minor offenses.
- Amputation of hands for theft
- Execution for murder
- Death by stoning for adultery or “multiple intercourse’ (sleeping with two men in one month), if witnessed by at least four people.
For further details on The Essential Field Guides to Afghanistan (1998-2014), please see: LINK