U.N. chief arrives in Kabul to review aid effort
Friday January 25, 6:11 PM
KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Kabul on Friday to assess the needs of the battered country as a clash between U.S. forces and al Qaeda remnants served as a reminder of dangers lurking in Afghanistan.
The U.S.-led war on terror spread around the globe while John Walker Lindh, the American charged with trying to kill his fellow countrymen as a fighter for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, was ordered held without bond after appearing in a U.S. federal court.
In London, two Algerians accused of being members of the far-flung al Qaeda network were ordered held in custody in the English city of Leicester, a multi-ethnic community long seen as a model of religious harmony.
Reflecting Washington's continued urgency in its 18-week war, President George W. Bush proposed doubling spending on homeland security and warned the American people they were still at risk.
"They still want to come after us," he told local officials gathered at the White House.
Hours earlier, U.S. special forces raided what they said were compounds controlled by Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, blamed by Washington for abetting bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
Military sources in Washington said as many as 15 enemy fighters were killed in the Thursday clash in southern Afghanistan. One American soldier was wounded in the ankle.
The United States holds bin Laden responsible for the September 11 attacks on America that killed an estimated 3,100 people.
Annan arrived in Kabul aboard a flight from Pakistan to review the activities of the U.N.-mandated International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), the 17-nation mission charged with helping the interim administration maintain peace.
He is the latest in a lengthening list of high-profile visitors whose trips reflect Afghanistan's slow emergence into the world community after years as a pariah state.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell both visited earlier this month, while German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is due shortly.
Annan received a rousing welcome from Afghan dignitaries at Kabul airport -- which a day earlier saw the first international flight by the state carrier Ariana in three years.
An honour guard of U.N. mine clearers -- dressed in blue body armour -- raised their metal detectors in salute as he reviewed their ranks.
RENEWED U.S. BOMBING
But beyond Kabul, fighting persisted with U.S. warplanes bombing suspected al Qaeda hideouts in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, a Pakistan-based news agency reported.
The private Afghan Islamic Press, citing sources in the Pakistani border town of Parachinar, said there had been heavy bombing in the Chagoti Ghar mountains not far from the Afghan town of Khost and close to the Pakistani border.
The relentless pursuit on the ground and from the air, however, has yet to yield any sign of the Saudi-born militant bin Laden, whose potent message of anti-Western "jihad" -- or holy struggle -- has caught fire with many across the Muslim world.
Conflicting reports and speculation have him dead of kidney failure, safe in remote western Pakistan tribal areas, or still hunkered down inside wild and remote Afghanistan, a land the size of Texas.
Alleged bin Laden follower and al Qaeda member Lindh, dressed in a green prisoner jumpsuit, his hair closely cut and beard shaved, said quietly "I understand" when the four charges against him were read at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.
He was charged last week with conspiring to kill Americans abroad and providing support to two terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. He was also accused of engaging in prohibited transactions with the deposed Taliban government.
After reading him his rights and accepting his attorneys, Magistrate Judge W. Curtis Sewell ordered Lindh held without bail until further hearings on February 6.
Flanked by his lawyers and guards, Lindh, 20, stood silently at the podium, his head down and arms by his sides, as he listened to the charges and possible penalties, which include a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The Californian who converted to Islam as a teenager has not yet been formally charged by a grand jury and was not asked to enter a plea.
Visiting Washington, Afghanistan's new interim foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, warned Pakistan and Iran against interfering in his country's affairs and said he would have liked more international security forces spread across the nation.
Recent news reports have suggested that Iran, one of a number of countries that interfered in Afghanistan over the past two decades, was again seeking to establish a foothold.
Abdullah said he could not confirm the reports but "it will be an extremely big mistake by any of our neighbour countries to resort to the old methods of interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan".
Iran, Pakistan and other countries should know the "rules of the game have changed" and ties between Afghanistan and its neighbours would be built on mutual respect, a recognition of sovereignty and non-interference, he said.
Annan makes historic visit to Afghanistan despite security fears
Friday January 25, 5:53 PM AFP
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Afghanistan on an historic visit intended to launch the next phase of the war-torn nation's planned transition to stable government.
Annan, who is the first UN secretary general to step on Afghan soil since 1959, met interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and visited a recently reopened girls' school.
No details were immediately available of Annan's meeting with Karzai, who returned from an overseas trip just minutes before the UN chief arrived from Islamabad, where he held talks with Pakistani leaders.
Annan was due to hold a press conference later before flying to Iran.
His visit came amid rising concern over the security situation, with increasing reports of banditry, lawlessness, factional fighting and tribal tensions around the country.
Annan flew into Kabul barely 24 hours after US special forces engaged remnants of the Taliban regime in southern Kandahar province in a grim reminder that the shooting war was far from won.
His trip to the region is aiming to bolster both international and Afghan commitment to bringing peace and stability to a nation which in the past 23 years has seen Soviet occupation, battling warlords and the Taliban.
It comes in the wake of the goodwill generated by the international donors' conference in Tokyo earlier this week, which produced pledges of 4.5 billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan over five years.
"I hope we can count on sustained international support, sustained not only in terms of financial and material terms but also political and moral support," Annan said in Islamabad Thursday.
Ahmed Fawzi, spokesman for UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Friday the visit would demonstrate the world body's commitment to the country.
"It is to express solidarity with the people of Afghanistan in their time of need."
After meeting Karzai, the UN chief visited a girls' school which had been closed during the five-year rule of the Taliban.
Teachers and students aged 12 to 22 sang songs and waved banners reading "We want peace" in English, Pashto and Dari as Annan toured Zarghoona High School, which reopened on January 1 and already has 4,000 pupils.
Fawzi said the school symbolised the new era in Afghanistan.
"Education is important for the people of Afghanistan," Fawzi told reporters. "It is high on the list of the interim administration's priorities."
Francesc Vendrell, deputy to Brahimi, Thursday described the reconstruction effort as "possibly the largest task the United Nations has ever undertaken in terms of the size of the country and the numbers of the population."
Vendrell said Annan would encourage the interim administration to adhere to the next phase of the Bonn accord, which maps out transition arrangements before elections due to be held in two years.
The UN head is due to announce the composition of a special commission that will organise a Loya Jirga, or council of tribal elders, to select a transitional authority after the interim administration's six months tenure expires five months from now.
One of the main obstacles to creating a unified national government is the security situation.
Pockets of fighters belonging to the Taliban regime and September 11 terror suspect Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation are still being rooted out by Afghan and US forces.
US forces killed at least 12 mostly Afghan fighters and captured 27 in raids on two compounds in mountains north of the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar on Thursday, US defense officials said. A US commando was lightly wounded.
Earlier this week factional fighting between rival warlords erupted around Qala-e-Zal, 60 kilometres (37 miles) northwest of the northern city of Kunduz.
There were also reports of Pashtun tribal groups vying for power in the eastern city of Khost and increasing tension between the governor of Kandahar province and his counterpart in Herat, in western Afghanistan.
Afghan official warns against foreign interference
Friday January 25, 1:36 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghanistan's new interim foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, warned Pakistan and Iran on Thursday against interfering in his country's affairs and said he would have liked more international peacekeepers spread around the nation.
Abdullah, on a visit to Washington, also said he believed Taliban leaders ousted from power in Afghanistan by a U.S.-led war against terrorism were now in Pakistan.
But he doubted Saudi-exile Osama bin Laden, alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was dead.
He spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations ahead of talks on Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The two ministers are to lay plans for a visit by the war-ravaged country's interim leader Hamid Karzai next week.
Recent news reports have suggested that Iran, one of a number of countries that interfered in Afghanistan's conflicted history over the past two decades, was again seeking to establish a foothold.
The New York Times reported recently that Iran was working to consolidate its influence in the western part of Afghanistan through a firm alliance with the local ruler and the steady shipment of aid and supplies that may include weapons.
This is a concern because it could undermine Afghanistan's best chance to establish a stable, functioning society.
The opening was created after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban and broke up bin Laden's Afghanistan-based al Qaeda network.
INTERFERENCE IS "BIG MISTAKE"
Abdullah said he could not confirm the Times or other stories but "it will be an extremely big mistake by any of our neighbor countries to resort to the old methods of interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan."
Instead, "from our point of view, the new situation in Afghanistan is an opportunity for our neighbors, Iran and Pakistan. They can benefit from it in a positive way" by becoming a partner in Afghanistan reconstruction, he said.
Iran, Pakistan and other countries should know the "rules of the game have changed" and ties between Afghanistan and its neighbors will be built on mutual respect, a recognition of sovereignty and non-interference, he said.
Iran has pledged $560 million over three years for the Afghan reconstruction effort and new ties are also beginning with Saudi Arabia, which had bankrolled the Taliban.
Abdullah and Karzai had a "very encouraging" visit to Saudi Arabia last week and believe the kingdom will contribute to Afghanistan's reconstruction, the foreign minister said.
Although Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has broken with the Taliban -- which Islamabad helped create -- Abdullah made clear that Musharraf should do more.
"Pakistan should seize this opportunity to clean the house because those elements that supported the Taliban for so long are still there in Pakistan ... (and they are) very strong, armed and well-equipped," Abdullah said.
At present, a force of about 1,000 international soldiers are in the capital Kabul under British command and another 3,500 are on the way.
But Abdullah said: "I would have preferred that the peacekeeping forces or the multinational forces (be) in some major cities beyond Kabul, in major cities in northern Afghanistan and eastern Afghanistan.
"The security challenge is a big challenge (and) the presence of the multinational force in Kabul proved to be a stabilizing factor," he said, adding this could be expanded if the peacekeepers were deployed in other major cities as well.
Asked if he would press the United States and the United Nations to expand the peacekeeping operation, Abdullah replied: "We will make our position clear."
U.N. envoy Francesc Vendrell on Wednesday said that Afghanistan may need 30,000 peacekeepers, many more than planned, to rebuild the country.
Abdullah did not endorse a specific number but said that if peacekeepers were deployed to other cities, this would automatically require more forces.
Abdullah was asked about reports that Pakistan evacuated, with U.S. complicity, thousands of Pakistanis working for the Taliban back to Pakistan.
He said he believed "most of the Taliban leaders presently are in Pakistan (but) I don't believe that thousands of people were evacuated in a sort of organized way to Pakistan."
U.S. troops kill Taliban fighters in raid on compounds
Friday January 25, 10:40 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Elite U.S. troops attacked two guerrilla compounds in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing up to 15 Taliban fighters and capturing 27 others, Pentagon officials said. One U.S. soldier was wounded.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the special forces strike north of Kandahar showed that pockets of resistance remained in the country despite the U.S.-led rout of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group and the former Taliban government.
Rumsfeld and Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refused to discuss numbers killed in the pre-dawn raid, but Myers said 27 Taliban were captured and that a U.S. special forces soldier was wounded in the ankle.
Other Pentagon officials, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that as many as 15 Afghan Taliban fighters had been killed.
According to Rumsfeld, diehard supporters of al Qaeda and Taliban are fighting on in a number of places in Afghanistan. "We are going to pursue them...and we are going to keep at them until we get them."
"We're doing it systematically and I think you can expect that it will continue for some period of time."
The latest action flared early in the day 60 miles (96 km) north of Kandahar, officials said.
NO 'WALK IN THE PARK'
"This would never be described as a walk in the park. any firefight is intense," Myers said in response to questions by reporters.
The general said intelligence information before the raid indicated that the two compounds might have been used by al Qaeda leadership but that they instead had apparently been used by Taliban leaders.
Myers added there was no immediate indication that Taliban leaders such as fugitive supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had been killed or captured.
The U.S. special forces soldier wounded in the action had been evacuated, he said.
The United States launched its war in Afghanistan in October in response to September 11 attacks on Washington and New York which killed more than 3,000 people.
The Taliban have been driven from power and U.S. forces are now hunting fugitive bin Laden, accused by Washington of masterminding the September attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
The U.S. military's bombing campaign has come to a virtual halt in Afghanistan over the past two weeks but American warplanes continue to fly the skies over that war-shattered country looking for "targets of opportunity".
Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials have also said in recent weeks that the focus of the U.S. military campaign has shifted to ground operations to root al Qaeda and Taliban out of hiding places and searching caves and tunnels for intelligence information in the U.S. war on terrorism.
Panel Says Taliban, Al Qaeda Remnants May Pose Conventional, Chemical Threat
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian police are tracking 200 suspected Muslim militants after earlier arrests netted men trained at camps in Afghanistan and the southern Philippines, the country's police chief said on Thursday.
Malaysia is holding 48 men under a security law which allows detention without trial following arrests going back to May.
Police say some of the homegrown militants had contact with members of the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Inspector General of Police Norian Mai released more details of men caught in a sweep that began in early December, at the same time that neighbouring Singapore cracked a militant cell with al Qaeda links.
Southeast Asian governments are cooperating to stamp out cross-border terrorism, and both Singapore and Malaysia named the same Indonesian preacher as a leader of their groups.
Indonesian police questioned Abu Bakar Bashir on Thursday. The militant cleric subsequently released a statement praising bin Laden, but denied belonging to al Qaeda.
NO PAS MEMBERS
The Malaysian police chief said all 48 of the detainees belonged to a group called Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM), but those caught since early December belonged to a separate wing.
The police say the KMM aims to overthrow the government and install an Islamic state in multicultural Malaysia.
When asked how many more suspects the police were investigating, Norian said: "I would say about 200."
He also said, unlike those caught in the first round of arrests, none of the men arrested later were members of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), the fundamentalist party leading opposition to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
"Our investigations until now reveal that 19 of the 23 suspects (arrested since December 9) received militant training overseas, ten of them in Afghanistan," Norian said.
The other nine trained at Camp Abu Bakar run by the Moro Islamic Liberation front in southern Philippines, he said.
Several of the men were Singaporeans and Indonesians with permanent residency status in Malaysia.
Three of those arrested were lecturers at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), one was a teacher at a religious school, 13 were businessmen, two were taxi drivers and one was a factory worker.
He said several KMM suspects arrested in the southern state of Johor had contact with the Jemaah Islamiah cell broken by Singaporean police.
But he said the two groups were different although they shared common ideologies.
"Our group is our group, but the connection is there."
Government and police sources told Reuters on Wednesday that the men caught since December had since been identified as Jemaah Islamiah members.
WHITE HOUSE WATCH: Bush Warns Threats Remain
Friday January 25, 6:13 AM
By Alex Keto
A Dow Jones Newswires Analysis
WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--Despite the military's success in Afghanistan and no new terrorist strikes in the U.S. since Sept. 11, President George W. Bush said Thursday that the threat the U.S. faces is real and pledged billions to boost defenses at home.
"We're still under attack. They still want to come after us. These are evil people that are relentless in their desire to hurt those who love freedom," Bush said.
To deal with this threat, Bush announced he will seek an additional $18.2 billion in spending on security measures within the U.S. in fiscal year 2003. This would roughly double the amount of spending on domestic security which in fiscal year 2002 stood at $19.5 billion.
The president told a gathering of the nation's mayors that the largest single bloc of money in the fiscal year 2003 request will be earmarked to provide the funds for the training and equiping of so-called first responders: the police, firefighters and emergency care-workers. The federal government will distribute $3.5 billion to state and local governments to do this.
The remainder of the funding will be spread across a multitude of agencies in the federal government to strengthen borders, conduct research into bioterrorism, improve intelligence-gathering and boost security on transportation networks.
However, Bush also said the best way to protect the country from terrorist attacks is to go on the offensive overseas and to keep at the job until it is finished.
"To make sure that our homeland is secure for a long time, we as a nation must be patient enough and resolved enough to hunt down the killers and the terrorists wherever they try to hide, and bring them to justice. And that's exactly what this country's going to do," Bush said.
"They think they can hide. And they may be able to hide today, but we'll get them," Bush added.
US Military Raids Compound In Afghanistan
U.S. special forces raided a compound in Afghanistan, taking a number of people prisoner and killing others after a firefight, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers said.
"Operationally, yesterday our time, early today Afghan time, we conducted a raid against Taliban leadership in the mountain region north of Kandahar. Our forces attacked two compounds and detained 27 individuals. There were enemy forces killed in this action, and one U.S. Special Forces soldier was slightly injured. He was wounded in the ankle and has been evacuated. I can't go into any more detail at this time because we still have our eyes on the targets there and there is a potential for further action," Myers said.
Myers declined to say whether the target of the attack was Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and there was confusion over whether every one of the prisoners was a Taliban fighter as opposed to an al-Qaida fighter.
The confusion stemmed in large part from the fact the U.S. military was still trying to determine exactly who was caught. What was clear is that the new haul of prisoners brings the total number of detainees being held by the U.S. to 455.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that there are a number of such compounds scattered throughout the country and indicated that similar raids could be in the works.
Live By Greenspan, Perhaps Die By Greenspan
A little more than a year ago, Bush's effort to pass his ten-year, $1.3 trillion tax cut received a huge boost when Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan said that cutting taxes was preferable to creating new government programs.
The White House touted the comments, made before Congress, as proof the tax cuts were sound economic policy.
However, a year later, Greenspan did the White House no favors Thursday in testimony before Congress in which he said he was "conflicted" about the need for an economic stimulus package at this point. Greenspan offered the opinion the economy may do perfectly well on its own without a lot of politicians riding to the rescue.
Whether the Fed chairman's comments will let the steam out of the president's drive to get an economic stimulus package passed in Congress remains to be seen.
However, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer offered only a lukewarm endorsement of still trying to get the legislation through Congress. In fact, Fleischer outlined a scenario under which the White House would conclude it was more trouble than it was worth to get the legislation through Congress.
"The president would prefer to err on the side of helping create jobs and helping the unemployed. Now, if the year goes along and the Senate continues to fail to take action and there are increasing signs that the economy is coming back to sufficient levels, then that could change events. But that's not the case today as we speak, and that's why the president continues to urge the Senate to take action," Fleiscehr said.
U.N. Monitors Warn of Afghan Missiles
Panel Says Taliban, Al Qaeda Remnants May Pose Conventional, Chemical Threat
By Colum Lynch
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 24, 2002; Page A14
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 23 -- The head of a U.N. committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban said today that remnants of the Islamic movement and its al Qaeda supporters may possess surface-to-surface missiles capable of delivering conventional or chemical weapons.
Michael Chandler, a British official who heads the U.N. Monitoring Group on Afghanistan, said the Taliban had acquired at least 100 Scud missiles and four mobile Scud launchers before it was driven from power. Chandler also cited unspecified "reports" that the Taliban may have acquired stockpiles of weapons containing the nerve agents sarin and VX.
"They were there. Where are they now?" Chandler said. "Someone needs to go and find and catalogue these nasty things and either blow them up, demobilize them so they can't be used again or put them in somebody's safe hands."
While U.S. officials believe that the Taliban and al Qaeda have sought to acquire chemical and nuclear weapons, they have never contended that the groups have actually obtained any.
Chandler's agency told the 15-nation Security Council last week that it has not been able to verify what happened to the weapons.
In a report to the council, Chandler's sanctions panel said the Taliban may possess an unspecified number of Scud-B (R-17) missiles with a range of up to 180 miles and Frog 7 missiles with a range of up to 43 miles. It voiced concern that they could be used against a British-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.
"These missiles may be fitted with conventional, chemical or nuclear warheads," the report said.
The Security Council has not formally responded to the report.
The sanctions panel was established last October to help the council enforce an embargo on the Taliban militia then ruling Afghanistan. Its mandate has since been broadened to help the council crack down on the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
It frequently relies on confidential information provided by U.N. members, foreign intelligence agencies, and international law enforcement and arms control agencies, diplomats said. Its report provided little evidence to back the suspicions that the Taliban and al Qaeda had acquired chemical weapons.
U.S. officials, however, say that the Taliban and al Qaeda have moved aggressively in seeking to obtain chemical and nuclear weapons. U.S. officials have provided journalists with copies of al Qaeda manuals containing instructions for the production of chemical weapons.
Jamal Ahmed Fadl, a former associate of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, told a New York jury last year that he had tried to buy a cylinder of uranium from a retired Sudanese military officer. He also said that al Qaeda and the Sudanese government had cooperated in an effort to develop chemical weapons in a Khartoum factory between 1993 and 1994.
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 24, 2002; Page A15
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Jan. 23 -- At the dank city jail, prisoners joke with their young guards through the flaking steel bars, and a kite flies from the roof. The detainees are unsure when they will stand trial under Afghanistan's interim government, but they are no longer afraid of beatings from Taliban jailers.
In a labyrinthine bazaar, opium dealers openly trade in balls of the sticky brown paste, unconcerned about the law. Just across the alley, former soldiers study beside small boys in a makeshift language school, no longer worried about Taliban police officers storming into class and demanding that everyone wear turbans.
Although the new provincial government does not yet possess either the cash or the infrastructure to regulate and organize public life, it has already provided something equally valuable to a populace long stifled by the rigid Islamic regime: breathing space.
And although the conservative ethnic Pashtun culture of Kandahar has prevented dramatic change from sweeping this provincial capital, its more carefree -- and in some cases unsavory -- traditions are beginning to reassert themselves after seven years of puritanical Taliban prohibitions.
Sometimes, both aspects of this newly revived culture can be found in the same spot. On one dusty corner, Mohammed Ismael's open-air bird shop is filled with with the chirpings and cooings of pigeons and caged songbirds, once banned by the Taliban as un-Islamic. But his most prized pieces of merchandise are male partridges, trained to fight each other to the death.
"The Taliban sent me to jail three times for selling birds," Ismael said. "They paraded bird fighters in the market to shame them. But to us it is a good business. Everyone loves to hear the birds singing, and everyone likes to watch the bird fights."
On another corner, two adjoining shops are doing brisk business in items that might seem contradictory cultural emblems. Sayed Rasool, 18, has reopened his once illegal kite stall and now sells the multicolored paper objects to dozens of youngsters. Next door, Sardar Mohammed, 65, who has been selling women's head-to-toe burqa veils here for a quarter-century, said he now has more customers than ever.
"The ladies are allowed to go shopping now, so they are coming to me and choosing their favorite colors," he said, standing before his display of mustard and lime veils. "They wore the burqa before the Taliban, and they always will. We are Muslims, and the burqa is a part of our culture. To us, it is just like a law."
Although video and audio cassette shops have now opened on many blocks, offering a variety of Hindi pop tunes and action films of the Stallone-Schwarzenegger-Seagal genre, most Kandahar residents seem to prefer traditional Afghan fare, especially classical ballad singers from pre-Taliban times.
A few customers still purchase Taliban-era tapes of political chants with such somber titles as, "Your orphaned son was a martyr" and "Behave with the people in Islamic ways." But the best-selling cassette, by the Afghan female singer Naghma, features such romantic Persian tunes as "I Didn't Love Anyone Until You" and "Please Come Dance With Me."
One of the more controversial but long-accepted practices of Pashtun culture, open sexual partnerships between older men and teenage boys, was banned and severely punished by the Taliban, with older offenders crushed under walls and their teenage partners sent to Islamic reform schools.
Now, some in Kandahar say the practice could flourish again, although provincial authorities are trying to prevent it within the armed forces, which were notorious for the abuse of adolescent soldiers by older commanders in pre-Taliban days. Under the new government, all troops must be old enough to grow beards.
Extramarital relationships, which were punished with equal severity by the Taliban, may make a discreet comeback but are unlikely to flourish openly, largely because they are strongly frowned upon by Pashtun society.
"The Taliban beat people with sticks for these bad acts, but the shame they bring on people is even more powerful," said a pharmacist named Aziz. "In our society, there is no need for such punishments. There is no fear now, but there is still great shame."
One place the newly relaxed official atmosphere has made a palpable difference is the city jail, a dilapidated compound that houses an assortment of alleged Afghan counterfeiters, thieves and murderers, along with a handful of foreign prisoners from the Taliban era who were accused of being spies.
In the Afghan detention wing today, prisoners chatted easily with their youthful guards. They said they were treated with kindness and allowed to exercise and receive medical attention. Several who had been jailed during Taliban rule said they were beaten constantly.
"The Taliban sentenced me to death twice, but the new government said they have decided not to kill anyone, so I am happy here, even though I do not know what my fate will be," said Habibullah, 27, who said he had killed four men in a political feud during the Taliban era and had spent the last four years in prison.
The foreign prisoners, who are kept in a separate wing around an open courtyard and are allowed to meet journalists and other visitors face to face, described a more stark contrast between their past and present treatment.
One Saudi displayed a pair of steel leg shackles he said the Taliban had placed on him for months after arresting him in a border market. A 24-year-old Russian named Mohammed Asham said he had been hung from chains and beaten 1,300 times with electrical cables after the Taliban caught him crossing the border and accused him of being a spy. Today, both men mingled and joked familiarly with their unarmed guards.
"I know what the Taliban jails were like, because they arrested me once for not having a beard," said Juma Khan, 25, a guard. "None of us has been paid yet, but we want to do our jobs honestly and correctly."
The pros and cons of Kandahar's new laissez-faire brand of governance are especially evident in a bustling alley of the main bazaar. On one side today, opium traders casually plied their trade in a row of caves smeared with opium paste. They said they had no fear of being raided by police, and that the authorities had provided them with guns to protect their premises at night.
On the other side, an energetic teacher named Naimatullah was conducting an outdoor literacy class for 50 men and boys. During the Taliban era, he said, religious police often invaded his classes, checking for turbans and beards. Now, the authorities leave the school alone and two former Taliban soldiers have enrolled, squeezing into tiny desks among much smaller boys.
"I used to study the Koran in a madrassa [an Islamic academy], but now I want to learn to read and write," said Mullah Saifullah, 20, a former member of the Taliban who was awkwardly copying the Pashto alphabet. "When I make a mistake, the younger boys help me," he added. "There is no shame in this. One is never too old to learn."
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