When calling league was a safety risk
Global upheaval is global unpredictability

Taliban had time, & are not so benign

Hand-compiling the Kabul Weekly newspaper
Hand-compiling the Kabul Weekly newspaper (Martin Hadlow)


SAMFORD VALLEY - After living and working for long periods in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, I align myself with those who would consider themselves 'professional optimists.'

However, even my optimism was tempered when I read Tony Kevin's view of the Taliban and how it operates, 'The Afghanistan disaster, Russia & China'.

I spent almost three years in Afghanistan heading a UN agency involved in rebuilding the nation's educational base, in supporting the country's cultural efforts (museums etc), along with establishing a free press.

I arrived in Kabul in November 2001, just a few months after 9/11, so am aware of what the Taliban left behind.

I met the women school teachers who had courageously taught in clandestine 'home' teaching environments, only to be dragged out by Taliban thugs, beaten and thrown into prison.

I saw the Gandhara artifacts and other treasures which had been smashed to pieces with metal bars in the country's museums.

I walked the ground around the Bamiyan statues, those 6th century structures that were so cruelly destroyed by the Taliban, and I supported the male and female journalists and producers who had been barred from any kind of work, given that the press was outlawed.

This week, Radio Television Afghanistan, the national broadcaster, dropped all popular music broadcasts and changed its name back to Voice of Sharia. Does that give a hint of future developments?

While I fully respect the author's opinion, he might wish to reflect on his view that, "Afghanistan may well settle into a relatively moderate and modernising Government..."

For me, this was the first time I have ever seen the words 'moderate' and 'modernising' used in the context of the Taliban.

The other comment about "...a team of more secular Taliban leaders" also completely misjudges this body of zealots. A true oxymoron. And to add the rider "...as in Iran" is simply astonishing.

To also read that "Pakistan was a powerless and passive spectator" after the US intervention/invasion certainly gave many of us a chuckle.

The Taliban emerged in northern Pakistan in the 1990s and reports from the streets of Kabul this week indicate Afghans are hearing Taliban fighters speaking Pashto with Pakistani accents. Just a coincidence, I would imagine.

I'm very pleased to see that the author promotes the stamping out, by the Taliban, of the "very profitable opium trade." Absolutely.

However, it makes us all wonder who, then, was countenancing the trade when the Taliban was in total control of the country from 1996 to 2001.

"Saigon and Kabul tell the same story". No they don't. But that's for discussion another day.

One small aside for the author's attention: the citizens of Afghanistan are not Afghanis. They are Afghans. The currency is called the Afghani.

I remain hopeful and 'professionally optimistic', but I'm a realist. With Afghans being executed on the streets, gangs going from house to house in search of former government employees, and women forced from offices and schools, the starting point is not looking good.

When I arrived in Kabul in 2001, there was a well-known saying circulating that 'NATO has a clock, the Taliban has the time'.

It proved to be true.

Martin HadlowDr Martin Hadlow had a 16-year career with UNESCO, where he served in senior field postings in Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Jordan and Iraq. Following the events of 9/11, he volunteered to head UNESCO's humanitarian office in post-Taliban Afghanistan where he initiated and advised on programs in education (especially for children and women), communications & media, culture, and freedom of expression. Early in his career Martin was a distinguished broadcasting executive in Papua New Guinea and the Solomons. We worked together on many broadcasting projects including the establishment of Radio New Dawn FM in Bougainville. More recently he was Associate Professor and foundation Director of the Centre for Communication and Social Change at the University of Queensland - KJ


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Martin Hadlow

The photograph accompanying this article shows the 'Kabul Weekly' newspaper being compiled by hand.

The newspaper was established by Fahim Dashty, a journalist who had been in the same room as the legendary 'Lion of the Panjshir' Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance forces, when the latter was assassinated two days before the 9/11 attacks.

Two Al-Qaeda operatives, disguised as journalists, visited Massoud at his headquarters in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul and detonated a bomb hidden in a television camera during an interview.

Massoud was killed instantly, while Fahim Dashty suffered severe burns and other injuries. He was evacuated to France for treatment.

At the time, I was Director of UNESCO's Division of Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace based at our HQ in Paris and met Fahim while he was recuperating.

He expressed his desire to return to Kabul to establish a newspaper, the 'Kabul Weekly', and did so in late 2001/early 2002. By this time, I was based in Kabul heading UNESCO operations and was delighted to provide funding to help with the purchase of newsprint and to cover some printing costs.

Fahim Dashty became a good friend and took on a key role in leading a union of journalists and promoting press freedom in Afghanistan. He later took up a role with the Massoud Foundation and returned to the Panjshir Valley.

Sadly, just four or five days ago (either 4th or 5th September) he was killed. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear, but it seems that he was killed in combat during fighting between Northern Alliance forces and the Taliban.

Vale my friend Fahim Dashty. A true pioneer of press freedom in Afghanistan.

Martin Hadlow

The traditional practice of 'purdah' (seclusion of females behind veils or curtains) has, of course, been known in several societies and religions (not just Islam) for many years.

Modesty of dress in women, including some form of light head covering, is another commonly held social and cultural virtue which continues to be embraced by a number of religious beliefs today, including branches of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and so on.

The Taliban's more radical interpretation of the Holy Koran and its teachings brought the full-body covering burqa to the women of Afghanistan as an identification and control mechanism, and a tool of repression and subjugation.

Television footage of women enclosed in the blue burqa being brutally executed by an AK-47-touting Taliban male executioner shocked the world.

I asked female staff in my office in Kabul how they felt about the burqa during the times they were forced to wear it during the previous Taliban period (1996-2001).

They all rejected it outright with much vehemence. They saw it as something which might have some favour in more remote parts of the country where old traditions and male dominance held greater sway..

The 'modern' Afghan women indicated to me that they greatly preferred a modest covering, such as a head and neck scarf, as both a representation of their cultural and religious beliefs, and as an attractive item of fashion to enhance their femininity.

One told me that the full-length burqa also brought health issues, not the least being problems caused by heat while wearing such non-ventilated, heavy fabric during Summer.

It was also not possible to exercise in such a clumsy piece of clothing. Even walking in the streets caused dust to drift upwards inside the burqa towards the face.

According to a staff member this resulted in eye problems (such as conjunctivitis) for the wearer as the dust could not be naturally expelled through the small piece of mesh covering part of the face.

Chips - Keith's interesting link to the history of the burqa probably answers all your other queries.

Chips Mackellar

Amongst all the current news items about Afghanistan, serious though they all are, it is refreshing to have an expert's opinion of the Taliban.

But one feature about them which intrigues me is why they insist on women wearing the burka when the Koran clearly makes no mention of it.

The Pickthall English translation of the Koran at Sura 24:31 states than when not in the privacy of their homes women should "draw their veils over their bosoms". Apart from dressing modestly, this is the only dress regulation for women in the Koran.

The country with the largest Muslim population in the world is Indonesia. Yet its Religious Department's official translation of the Koran states much the same, telling women to "menutupkan kerudung kepalanya sampai ke dadanya" which translates as "cover with a veil their heads as far as their bosoms."

So where do the Taliban get this nonsense about burkas?
Perhaps, Keith you could ask Dr Hadlow.

I'm certain Martin will respond if he has something to add. Meanwhile, here's an excellent brief history of the various veils in Islam here - KJ

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)