Women Keep Low Profile as Taliban Tightens Its Hold on Afghan Capital

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Strict Islamic law is being enforced in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as the fundamentalist Taliban militia consolidates its power after taking control of the capital three days ago.

The previous government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani withdrew its forces from Kabul last Thursday night and Friday morning as the Taliban swept through the capital.

Since then, the city has completely changed. Residents are subdued, and there is an air of uncertainty and anxiety. The few who venture outside can be found walking or on bicycles.

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Most of the city's cars left in a mass exodus Thursday. Many of the cars still in the city have been commandeered by the Taliban, which is also trying to take cars from foreign workers.

The Taliban is implementing a strict system of justice within the city. Yesterday, one alleged thief was paraded through Kabul on the back of a truck, his face painted black and his lower mouth weighed down with a heavy object, forcing it to remain open.

It seems the Taliban likes to put on a show. It made a dramatic entrance into the city, killing former Soviet-backed Afghan President Najibullah upon arrival. Dr. Najibullah was ousted in 1992 by the mujahideen government who has itself just been ousted.

When Najibullah was deposed, he sought refuge in a United Nations compound, which became his home for the next 4-1/2 years. Mr. Rabbani's government and the UN could not agree what to do with him.

The Taliban wasted no time in making its decision.

Najibullah was abducted from the UN compound Friday and, along with his brother Shaipur Ahmadzai, was shot and strung up outside the Presidential Palace in the city center. The bodies were taken down Saturday.

Many press reports said that crowds gathered to jeer at the bodies. When the crowds first gathered, some of the Taliban started a round of chanting. But this was not the reaction of the people of Kabul.

Instead, residents appear to be shocked and revolted by what the Taliban did. Although they know that Najibullah had a shady past (he was head of the secret police for five years), many say he was a great political leader.

The Taliban may have succeeded in making him a martyr in the eyes of the people of Kabul, and it appears Taliban's actions will not be forgotten. The execution has caused unrest in the province where Najibullah came from, something the Taliban will have to deal with.

Little respect for the UN

Many people are hoping that the UN will act, but it appears there is little it can do.

The organization was unable to save Najibullah. The Taliban showed no respect for the fact that he was under UN protection, and it may be an indication of the Taliban's attitude toward the UN in the future.

UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Norbert Holl held a press conference yesterday in Kabul. Dr. Holl appeared reluctant to make a commitment to liaise between the Taliban and the former government.

"How can I speak to the [former government]," he said. "I don't know where they are."

When informed by the press corps of the whereabouts of President Rabbani, he said he would have to wait for Rabbani to contact him.

Women: Don't leave home

Women are now being targeted by the Taliban. For the past two days, there have been repeated broadcasts on local radio ordering women to stay at home and not go to work.

Schools for girls have been closed, and female health workers barred from hospitals. There are reports of women being beaten in the south of the city for being dressed inappropriately. This appears to have caused anger in a traditionally liberal city.

There is great fear among women coupled with anger at being restricted. Many women are the breadwinners for large families, and they are wondering how they will feed their children.

Eighteen years of war in Afghanistan has widowed 25,000 women in Kabul. Realities like this are leading some women to hope that the Taliban will become more moderate.

"I think maybe it will change," one woman says. "Women in Kabul have a lot of problems, and they have to leave their houses to work. The Taliban must realize this or many women will try to leave Kabul."

Covered from head to toe

Few women appear to be venturing out. This writer counted five Saturday and about eight Sunday. Those who do are heavily covered up or wearing burkhas, a one-piece garment that covers the head, body, and face.

Many women say they prefer to live in a situation of war than to have a peace like this. "I'm now living in a grave," says one. She is still trying to work but is terrified of the consequences. Another woman says she would also try to work. "I would prefer to be killed than stay at home," she says.

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