Connect to share and comment

Life under the Taliban

What it was really like, from Kabul to the remote provinces.

The Amr bel Maaruf, or the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, patrolled the streets looking for those who strayed outside the narrow confines of their laws.

“It was like being in prison,” said Abdul Qadir, 28, a shopkeeper. “We lost the feeling of being young.”

Abdul was 15 when the Taliban took over his native Herat, a beautiful, cultured city in western Afghanistan. He recalls with anger and regret the day of his wedding.

“It is one of the bitterest memories of my life,” he said. “Weddings at that time were like funerals, since no one was allowed to play music. I had just picked my fiancee up at the beauty salon, along with my brother. We ran into the Amr bel Maaruf. They did not care that I was about to get married. They took me out of the car, they beat me, and they cut my hair.”

For women, a burqa — an all-enveloping nylon shroud that covers everything, including the face, was all but obligatory. But other items of a woman’s wardrobe were left alone, despite the widespread misapprehension in the West that white shoes were banned because white was the color of the Taliban flag.

“Nonsense,” said Rahmani, who owned a shop in Kabul during Taliban rule. “Women could wear whatever they wanted, as long as they had a burqa on over it. For that matter, women could even wear white burqas, so how could they ban white shoes?”

While women did live under severe restrictions, female doctors continued to work, and women street vendors were allowed to peddle their wares — to other women.

“I was very comfortable under the Taliban,” said Dr. Malalai, a doctor in Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of Balkh province. “I worked part-time, but made enough money for my needs. I could go anywhere, security was not a problem. We did not fear robbery, rape, murder. But now, I work full time and do not make enough money. And if someone offered me a job in one of the outlying districts, I would never go, because of poor security.”

Mazar was a special case in Afghanistan — the only city that actually defeated the Taliban, in 1997. An indeterminate number of Taliban fighters were killed by members of the resistance, largely from the Hazara ethnic group. When the Taliban finally took control of Mazar in 1998, they perpetrated a massacre of Hazara that still haunts the nation.

“In 1998, when Mullah Manon Niazi was governor, he said on the radio that it was OK for anyone to kill a Hazara,” said Shoib, a young reporter who happens to be Hazara. “Our family was hiding for months. It was a very tough time. But they soon replaced him. The new guy — Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, was okay. Things weren’t too bad after that.”