Taliban Family Values

Vice Steps Out of the Closet in Afghanistan

Certainly any society that fetishizes women by cloistering them even when they're walking down the street—that much certainly hasn't changed, even in the cities—offers a natural market for dirty-movie entrepreneurs. But the post-Taliban sex life of Afghans is transforming more than just their wet dreams.

Many Afghans are doing the unthinkable: They're dating, or to be more specific, fucking without permission. A week and a half ago, the only way you could get laid here was to get hitched to your parents' friends' child—and you never got to see what was behind door number one until it was too late. People dodged this convention occasionally, but if they got caught by the Religious Police they were offered a choice—being stoned to death or buried alive. "If I want her to come to me, she does," Jovid confided about his girlfriend. Neither of their parents know about this "secret love."

"Do you two have sex?" I asked.

"Of course!" he brightened.

"And if she gets pregnant?"

"In Afghanistan this kind of relationship is just like marriage."

What a difference a few thousand cluster bombs make: Afghanistan has evolved from the Hephthalites and the Sassanids to Home Fries in 10 days. And it's not just kids: Married women are getting busy on the side while their husbands kill their countrymen at the airport. "The important thing," one thirtyish woman said, "is for him not to know about your secret love."

This brought up an intriguing issue. What about prostitution? Not to worry, half a dozen unrelated sources assured me. Men were pimping their daughters to the highest bidder all over town. The going rate: $100 per night, and an impressive variety of ages and ethnicities—Uzbek, Hazara, you name it—were available.

Striking about a culture condemned by Iran for taking Islam too far is the fact that few Afghans bother to heed the call to prayer. In neighboring Pakistan, taxi drivers stop their cars in the middle of the street, whip out a prayer mat, and get busy chatting up Allah whenever a nearby loudspeaker belches out a mullah's beseeching cry; here no one even bothers to blink or roll their eyes as they line up at the bustling opium market to score some Friday night rhapsody to go along with a screening of Thounders Boobs. No one is frying up a meal of pigs' feet wrapped in bacon, at least not yet, but that's more of a concession to regional culinary preferences than strict adherence to Islam.

Even the daytime Ramadan fast, the only aspect of the Muslim religion still universally observed after Taliban logos started getting painted over, fell by the wayside just days later. Countless vendors fired up their grills and began serving up beef and lamb kebabs to eager customers in mid afternoon. "Isn't that illegal?" I asked one such entrepreneur. "People are hungry," he shrugged. "They've been fasting all day."

Even that simplest of Muslim prohibitions, the stricture against drinking alcohol, is yesterday's news. "Please bring wine" is the second line you'll hear after being invited to dinner. The third is: "How about whiskey?" Supplies are sparse, but the way things are going, expect a fully stocked Cork-N-Bottle to open in Kunduz within minutes.

Petty thievery, punishable by amputation until late, has made an impressive comeback in this brave new world of no payback. Throngs of boys blowing off their madrassa studies to hang around the Afghan version of the mall bumrush the slow, the dimwitted, and the foreign, dozens of little hands eagerly snatching watches from wrists and bundles of afghanis from pockets. Gap-toothed graybeards of 40—halve the age Afghans would appear in America to guess their real age—chortle as these children of the corn grab burkaed butts and scamper off to shoplift Iranian sweaters and Chinese lighters.

The ample supply of opium here comes as a real mystery. About a year ago, the Taliban government had announced that Afghanistan, formerly exporter of half the world's heroin, had virtually eradicated its opium crop by the edict of Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The world didn't trust but did verify, and it turned out to be true. No one at the bazaar could explain where the bricks of brown paste had come from so quickly, but they didn't much care: "It is so much cheaper than food," a toothless codger reasoned.

While I talked to him, a fellow journalist arrived with breaking news: Taliban prisoners had tried to escape in Mazar-i-Sharif and were engaging U.S. and British commandos in a ferocious firefight. Secret Talib cells had ambushed Alliance forces in Taloqan and Dasht-e Qal'eh. Northern Afghanistan, it seemed, was once again in play.

"I'd better go home and smoke this while I still can," the old man told me. "I'm glad I didn't shave my beard."

Related Articles:

"How We Lost Afghanistan" by Ted Rall

"Gimme Danger: Drearily Awaiting Death on the Front Line" by Ted Rall

"Mujahideen Come Home: Things Change—and Remain the Same—in Post-Taliban Jalalabad" by Michael Kamber

"Talking Jihad: Three Views of One War" by Michael Kamber

"The Forgotten Refugees: Stranded for Decades, 2 Million Afghan Refugees Struggle to Survive in Pakistan" by Michael Kamber

"After the Taliban: Could a Coalition Government Withstand Afghan Rivalries?" by Michael Kamber

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