The Birds of Kandahar

by Alexander Cockburn

Further evidence of the bright era now dawning in Afghanistan: life is returning to normalcy in Kandahar after the grim supervision of the Taleban clerics. On accounts by Tim Reed in the London Times and more recently John Lee Anderson in the New Yorker, joyful sons of sodom are to be seen driving along the boulevards of the ancient city, their catamites demurely installed in the passenger seat. Reid knowledgeably discloses that Kandahar has long been fabled as the San Francisco of South Asia. So delirious are the peculiar enthusiasms of the Pashtun that local wisdom has it that birds fly over the city using only one wing, the other covering their posterior.

It seems that the rape of young boys by warlords was one of the key factors in Mullah Omar mobilising the Taleban, in yet another manifestation of that intolerance that has so aroused the indignation of many liberals, prompting them to cheer on the B-52s. There was a famous fracas in 1994 when two warlords faced off in a dispute over which of them would have the right to rape an attractive young fellow who had fallen into their clutches. There was gunplay in which civilians were killed. Eventually the lad was freed by Mullah Omar’s group and the one-eyed zealot was promptly inundated with requests to help in other such disputes.

The inhabitants of Kabul, who had seen their city devastated and thousands killed in the war between muj warlords similarly yearned for the security, albeit puritanical, offered by the Taleban. Farmers and poor city dwellers who had seen mass rapes of their daughters by the warlords’ armed rabble, strongly supported the Taleban, reckoning that the compulsory burkas were no bad thing if it betokened the safety of women going out in public.

One of Omar’s first decrees when the Taleban took power in 1994 was the suppression of homosexuality. Accused sodomites endured Trial by Wall Push. Reid offers the example of one such trial in February of 1998 when “three men sentenced to death for sodomy in Kandahar were taken to the base of a huge mud and brick wall, which was pushed over by tank.” Two of them died, but in an instructive example of how the Taleban tempered its stern ways with a acknowledgement of the captious workings of Allah, one crawled away to live and love another day.

But now pre-Taleban normalcy is now returning to Kandahar, just as it is to the rest of Afghanistan, where tens of thousands are fleeing to Pakistan to escape banditry and starvation. “One can see the pairs returning”, Reid reports. “Usually a heavily bearded man, seated next to, or walking with, a clean-shaven, fresh faced youth.” He adds that “it is usually a terrible fate for the boys concerned” but that they accede out of poverty. “Once the boy falls into the man’s clutches – nearly always men with a wife and family – he is marked for life, although the Kandaharis accept these relationships as part of their culture.”

“They say birds flew with both wings with the Taleban,” Muhammad tells Reid. “But not any more.” Is it not stirring to learn of such fruits of Pax Americana!

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