I don’t have a lot of commentary on this piece, except to urge that it be read. It’s just damn good journalism, by Elizabeth Rubin, a woman at the front lines of a war in which the status of women is one of the fundamental issues..
By midday the Northern Alliance commanders were in the city. Gul Haider, a well-known, wooden-legged commander who has been fighting since the days of the Russians, had occupied an Arab and Pakistani military compound. A security guard with the Northern Alliance showed us an address book he’d found with numbers abroad to contact Osama bin Laden. At the Ministry for the Suppression of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue, books and papers written in Arabic littered the floors and desks and cabinets, along with piles of the infamous leather whips made in Pakistan and used by the religious police. One rolled-up edict read: “Three cooks didn’t pray in the evening and were given seven hundred whacks with the cable. In the morning four men left the house without saying prayers and were given seven hundred whacks with the cable.”
A poster-sized statement, drafted by the mullahs here, attempted to lay out all the Koranic justifications for closing down the girls’ schools–namely, because they need to be covered in chadors and separated from men. A bundle of Bibles written in Hebrew along with letters to Israel were bound up in a green bag, most likely confiscated from Jewish Afghans. The man guarding the old ministry shuddered when he saw a pile of turbans on a windowsill. He’d been thrown in prison by the religious police numerous times–because his beard was too short, because he was Tajik, because he was a man from the Panjshir Valley selling rugs.
Perhaps the greatest signs of freedom in Kabul today were the clumps of hair gathering on the barbershop floors, and the children sailing their multicolored kites over every city neighborhood–a pastime forbidden here for the last five years. The barbers, many of whom were arrested eight months ago for giving “Titanic-style” haircuts–combed straight, with a part down the center, and too Western–were celebrating the Taliban defeat by cutting their customers’ beards for free. I met a woman doctor, a cousin of Ahmed Shah Massoud, who held the rank of general in the military for nearly 20 years but was confined to practicing medicine on Taliban wives just once a month at the military hospital. “Tomorrow,” she told me, “they must announce on the radio that we can take off these chadris. And then I’ll put back on my general’s uniform and walk the streets with my face to the air.”