Afghanistan - The employees of Afghanistan's hated religious police still
gather every morning at the cold concrete building where Taliban officials
once concerned themselves with such matters as the proper length of a
pious man's beard.
there is not much work to be done now that the Northern Alliance has taken
over Kabul and the Taliban has fled. After signing in and exchanging a few
pleasantries, the staff of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and
the Prevention of Vice calls it a day and goes home.
you don't show up for work and don't sign the time sheets every day, the
new government will think you're a Taliban," said Farhad, an employee
in the ministry's personnel office. Like most of the staff, he has not
been paid for five months and does not want to sacrifice his back pay by
not showing up for work.
employees who gather here every day are career civil servants. They say
they are the support staff, and it is not their place to question the
judgment of political leaders or to be held accountable for their actions.
officials who enforced the Taliban's puritanical Islamic codes with public
floggings and humiliations are long gone.
just not those of us at the ministry of virtue and vice who worked for the
Taliban," said Jaweed, who worked in the ministry's finance office
for a year. "All government workers are in the same position."
might expect that an agency with such a dastardly reputation as the
ministry of virtue would disappear with the transfer of power to a new,
more enlightened, government. But employees here expect that a new regime
will retain a ministry of Islamic moral enforcement once an interim
administration is in place.
all Islamic governments there's a need of a ministry of virtue and
vice," said Mohammed Razie Wazir, 35, whom the Northern Alliance
leaders dispatched to the ministry as caretaker until an interim
government is appointed after talks now under way in Germany.
envisions a more liberal ministry that suggests rather than imposes a code
for Islamic dress and behavior. He says there will be no more use for the
leather lashes and wire cables he found in the ministry's offices,
formerly used by the religious police to beat conformity into the
ministry would tell people the benefits of having a beard," he said.
"Then I think it's the choice of people whether to grow one."
uncertainty about what type of government will emerge from the talks in
Bonn and the sorts of restrictions it will place on personal behavior
weighs heavily on the minds of Kabul residents. Few women have shed the
full-length veils called burqas that were imposed upon Afghan women in
Kabul after the Taliban took control in 1996.
are waiting for a clear word from the government," said Mariam Afzal,
a middle-aged former teacher who began work last week with an
international humanitarian agency but is not ready to shed her burqa.
people are uneducated," she said. "If we suddenly take our
burqas off, they may think we've converted to Christianity and react
is ample reason to believe the new government will keep some sort of state
Northern Alliance leaders trace their roots to the mujaheddin government
that ruled Afghanistan before it was ousted from the capital in 1996. The
Islamic government created a department of virtue and vice in its justice
ministry whose main purpose was to vet employees for purity of thought.
Taliban elevated virtue and vice to a full cabinet ministry and ordered
teams of enforcers to throttle violators in public. The religious police
rarely attempted to enforce the rules inside people's homes.
every one in Kabul knows somebody who has been treated harshly by the
religious police - the Amre Belmaruf. Known derisively as the "Uncle
Maruf," the moral police often received only rudimentary religious
education. They would accost women walking with men, forcing them to prove
that their escorts were their brothers or their betrothed.
rules of public behavior were restrictive. For instance, tailors could not
take the measurements of women because it was too intimate for Taliban
puritanical tastes. So garment makers devised elaborate methods to put
lookouts in the street to warn them while they worked with women
Amani, a 26-year-old Afghan widow who arrived in Kabul last June after
spending more than a decade in Iran, was unaware of the extent of the
Taliban's reach until she went alone to a tailor's shop.
she inspected pages of fashion designs, the Taliban rushed in and demanded
to know what she was doing. "They asked me to stand up and then they
came at me with the lash and started beating," she said.
tailor defended her, saying she was new to Afghanistan and ignorant of the
rules. So the police started beating him.
left, but I later learned the tailor spent two months in jail getting
religious studies," Amani said.
of the former employees of the ministry have now trimmed the bushy beards
the Taliban required to honor the Prophet Muhammad. A few said they
disapproved at the time of the enforcers' harsh treatment of the
a 68-year employment officer who has worked in government for three
decades, said the Taliban sacked him and more than 50 others for objecting
to Taliban tactics.
told them that what they were doing was against Islamic law," said
Noori, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name. His job was restored
only a few months ago.
former employees doubted the religious police were systematically
undermining civilian rights.
think the Taliban were telling people to be kind," said Mohammed
Yusef, 57, who was responsible for organizing Muslim clerics. "It was
only a few ignorant ones who didn't know Islamic law well who were beating
people in the market."
said he is worried that the new government will be too liberal, judging by
the changes that have happened thus far - leaders have lifted bans on
music, movies, photography and beard length.
upset," said Yusef, whose flowing white beard is untrimmed.
"It's our job in the ministry of virtue and vice to tell people
they're not doing the right thing. It's my job to tell them, 'You're not
in compliance with sharia law.' "
speech prompted an interruption from Mohammed Ismael, 38, a guard at the
ministry's front gate. He said he once saw Taliban outside the building
tie up a woman, beat her and throw her into a vehicle because she was
walking with a man - her brother, it turned out.
was a big shame for the woman to get arrested in public," said Ismael.
"I think many people who work for virtue and vice are covering the
facts, and I wanted to tell you what was in my heart."
things haven't changed. Inside the foyer of the ministry, whose records
Wazir said were looted, are various posters with reminders about moral
poster said: "If a woman is under a burqa, she is like a jewel."
outlined 10 commandments of good behavior, explaining much about the
Taliban's humorless culture. The rules include obeying calls to prayer,
reading from the Koran, and learning Arabic, the mother tongue of all
Arabs. It warns that a Muslim should not make jokes about Islam, not talk
loudly, and not laugh, "because laughter will make your heart
final notice from the Taliban bulletin board may no longer apply now that
more than 200 former ministry employees have disappeared: "No
vacancies. All office jobs are full."