16 May 1998
by CHRISTOPHER KREMMER Sydney Morning Herald Correspondent in Kabul
THE Afghan capital, once an island of modernity in an often brutal country, is succumbing to the medieval "eye for an eye" philosophy of the Taliban militia.
In recent months, Kabul residents have turned to the spectacle of public executions, amputations and floggings as virtually their sole form of entertainment. Television is banned. There is no music, a closer look from verses from the Koran, sung without instrumental accompaniment.
Kabul's 16 cinemas have been closed, and football supporters are prohibited from barracking, which the Muslim fundamentalist Government says might disturb people at prayer.
But on May 1 in this war- ravaged city, 20,000 people crowded into the National Stadium to watch a convicted murderer, Wali Mohammed, being shot dead by his victim's relatives. The pre-execution entertainment had consisted of the flogging of two young men who had been caught drinking whisky, much to the amusement of the crowd.
Then Wali Mohammed, hands tied and feet in chains, was made to kneel as his victim's brother shot him three times with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle. As the gunshots rang out, the crowd surged out of the stands, eager for a closer look at the dead man. As his blood oozed into the thick turf, Taliban gunmen fired into the air to restore order.
The condemned are executed employing the methods they themselves used. In one case this year, a killer had his throat slashed by his victim's vengeful relatives. Qisas - the right of revenge - has become the norm in towns and cities in the two-thirds of Afghanistan under Taliban control. But in the capital, occupied by the student militia on September 27, 1996, public punishments are a novelty.
The mullahs - whose interpretation of the Koran this year brought the gory phenomenon to the Afghan capital for the first time - intercede with pleas for mercy, and sometimes families opt to negotiate compensation. A woman from the perpetrator's family can sometimes be handed over to settle the matter.
In the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, himself recently attended what the movement's Sharia Radio station called "a ceremony for the restoration of heavenly order". Three homosexual men were lined up next to a stone wall, which was then pushed over on top of them.
When one of the men dug out of the rubble was found still alive, local theologians interpreted his survival as a sign of Allah's mercy. He was taken to hospital instead of the cemetery.
Doctors - who once swore the Hippocratic oath obliging them to protect life and limb - are forced to carry out the amputations. On February 28 this year, before a capacity crowd of 30,000 people at the National Stadium, four doctors - their identities obscured by surgical masks and shawls - performed amputations on two men who had stolen goods worth $A900 from a local shop.
After administering an anaesthetic, the doctors pinned down Hamidullah and Habibullah, before lopping off their right hands at the wrist. Picking up one of the hands by the little finger, a militiaman raised it in the air and told the crowd: "This is the cut hand of a thief, the Sharia [Muslim law] punishment for any of you caught stealing."
The Taliban tacitly admits it has faced opposition from doctors to their role as butchers performing the brutal entertainments on a field designed for soccer.
"Some may oppose it, but we have our own special doctors who have no problem doing it," the Deputy Interior Minister, Mullah Mohammed Haksar, said. Residents confirm that the incidence of petty theft has declined since the Taliban began administering their rough justice.
The public punishments are announced on Kabul Radio on Thursday nights and are carried out on the Muslim sabbath.
The Taliban enforce their decrees ordering all men to grow beards and all women to
But Islamic scholars outside Afghanistan question the theological basis for public corporal punishments.
The Koran, they say, approves of amputation for thieves only if they are repeat offenders, and then only if a society is free from poverty. After 20 years of war, that is not the case in Afghanistan. Kabul is a bombed-out city of beggars, mainly widows, orphans and the maimed.