Taleban Try Hearts-And-Minds Tactics
I was in Kabul when some of my friends from Tagab started calling me to tell me I should go there to get married. Although my family is originally from this district, I have lived mostly in other provinces. But they told me, “God has blessed the youth in Tagab.” I thought they were just teasing me, but what they said was true; God had really blessed the youth in Tagab, because the Taleban had passed laws there banning huge dowries and significantly lowered other wedding costs.
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The youth were happy about the law, because the problem of exorbitant wedding costs is a serious one all over Afghanistan. Traditionally, young men have had to go abroad to earn money in order to get engaged or married on their return.
This issue was very interesting to me and I decided to write a report about it. I shared the idea with the IWPR office in Kabul, who told me to write the story as soon as possible.
However, writing such an article was not easy for someone who had shaved his beard and moustache in contravention of the Taleban’s rules. Not only that, but I have worked in the media for the past two years. It is risky for someone like me to enter an area controlled by the Taleban. What if they arrested me as a spy and hung me? Many people have been killed this way.
I called a few friends in Tagab and told them that I was coming, and they promised to help me. Early one afternoon, I left Kabul in a taxi heading for Tagab. The four other passengers in the car asked me why I was going there. They had beards and moustaches, and were wearing turbans and scarves. I had put on a big waistcoat and a traditional pakol hat. I did not want them to know that I was a reporter and was going to the area to write a story, so I told them, “I am from Jalalabad. Pomegranates have grown ripe in Tagab. My aunt lives there. They have invited me for a pomegranate picnic.”
But the passengers were not that stupid. They looked at each other and laughed. One of them said, “Young man, you are going after pomegranates, but what if somebody thinks you are a spy? Some strangers came from other areas to Tagab and then they were hung on trees.”
On the way, they showed me the places where such incidents had happened. I was scared; the perspiration started flowing over my body. Sometimes, I wanted to tell the driver to stop so I could get off, but I had to continue – I had no choice. So the other travellers would not see my fear, I would also make some jokes with them.
Then as we drove through a village, a man in military uniform appeared. He had a gun. I thought he was someone from the army, but the driver knew he was Taleban. At this moment, I was neither alive nor dead. I thought that someone had informed the Taleban that I was coming and that they would drag me out of the car.
The uniformed guy poked his head into the car and looked at everyone. I looked back at him. A little further down the road, someone was aiming at the car with a rocket launcher, and men with their faces covered were in the ditches by the sides of the road. The Taleban gunman asked the driver, “Have you given a ride to an infidel?” The driver answered briefly, “No. Thank God they are all Muslims”. The car started moving again.
After we had driven away, I felt a bit better. Finally, we got to Tagab and I stayed with my friends for the night. It was raining hard. In the morning, I went to visit some places with my friend. I did not tell anyone that I was a reporter, because the people are scared of the Taleban there and they do not talk about them to journalists.
We went to talk to a young farmer, Abdullah. He was very happy as he worked in his pomegranate orchard, digging water channels and sawing dry branches off the trees. He said that the reason behind his happiness was the law passed by the Taleban.
While laughing, he said, “I had leased my land to pay the dowry, but God and the Taleban were very merciful. They passed a law which changed our fortunes.” He insisted that we should either eat pomegranates or drink tea, but I wanted to finish my work fast and get out of there.
After saying goodbye to Abdullah, we saw a good-looking young man walking with the aid of sticks. I told my friend, “Because of the wars, our handsome youth became disabled at the very start of their life”. Smiling, he told me, “The poor guy was not hurt in the war. He lost his leg in the war of dowry.”
I was amazed. When we got closer to him, my friend called out, “Hello Gul Ahmad. Where are you going?” Gul Ahmad greeted us and we sat in the shade of a tree. He told me the whole story of how he was injured when he went to Iran to earn dowry money. He had broken his leg while passing through mountainous terrain..
I then talked to Abdul Hakim Akhondzada, the governor of Tagab district on the phone, because he was out of town. “I consider this action of the Taleban against Sharia (Islamic law) but removing some traditions is not so bad,” he told me.
In the evening, I went to my friend’s house and talked to him about contacting the Taleban. He was also scared and suggested that I speak to another friend of mine who had connections with the Taleban. I called him and he told me to meet him the following day.
As I set off in the morning, I prayed a lot. My friend took me to a very remote part of the district. The closer we got to the Taleban headquarters, the more their number increased. Most of them looked angrily at me because I had shaved my beard and moustache. My heart was beating fast.
When we got to their commander, he asked, “Are you a journalist?” I said yes.
“Most spies come masquerading as journalists and then report back to the foreigners. Are you not one of them?” he asked.
I told him my reason for writing the report, and convinced him that the dowry ban was viewed as a positive move and that talking to me would make them more popular.
I interviewed him and left the place immediately.
I went to talk to a mullah of a mosque near the district and afterwards straight away left for Kabul. When I arrived there, I felt so relieved. I felt like I had a narrow escape.