KABUL, Afghanistan – One of the founders of the Taliban and primarily responsible for their harsh interpretation of Islamic law during their last reign over Afghanistan has said the outright movement will once again carry out executions and amputations hands, but maybe not in public.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi dismissed the outrage over past Taliban executions, which have sometimes taken place in front of crowds in a stadium, and warned the world against any interference with the new Afghan leadership.
“Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we never said anything about their laws and punishments,” Turabi told The Associated Press, speaking in Kabul. “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.
Since the Taliban invaded Kabul on August 15 and took control of the country, Afghans and the world have been watching to see if they will recreate their harsh rule of the late 1990s. Turabi’s comments showed how the leaders of the group remain rooted in a deeply conservative and uncompromising worldview, even as they embrace technological changes, such as video and cell phones.
Turabi, now in his sixties, was Minister of Justice and head of the so-called Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – in fact, the religious police – during the previous Taliban rule.
At that time, the world denounced the punishments of the Taliban, which took place in the sports stadium in Kabul or on the grounds of the sprawling Eid Gah mosque, often frequented by hundreds of Afghan men.
Executions of convicted murderers were usually with a single shot in the head, carried out by the victim’s family, who had the option of accepting the “blood cost” and leaving the culprit alive. For convicted thieves, the punishment was the amputation of a hand. For those convicted of highway robbery, one hand and one foot were amputated.
Trials and sentences were rarely public, and the judiciary favored Islamic clerics, whose knowledge of the law was limited to religious injunctions.
Turabi said this time the judges – including women – will decide cases, but the foundation of Afghan laws will be the Qur’an. He said the same punishments would be reinstated.
“Cutting off your hands is very necessary for safety,” he said, saying it had a deterrent effect. He said the Cabinet was considering whether to impose sanctions in public and “would develop a policy.”
In recent days in Kabul, Taliban fighters have rekindled a punishment they commonly used in the past – public disgrace of men accused of petty theft.
On at least two occasions in the past week, men from Kabul have been crammed into the back of a pickup truck with their hands tied and walked around to humiliate them. In one case, their faces were painted to identify them as thieves. In the other, stale bread was hung around their necks or stuffed into their mouths. It was not immediately clear what their crimes were.
Dressed in a white turban and a bushy, unkempt white beard, the stocky Turabi limped slightly on his artificial leg. He lost a leg and an eye in fighting with Soviet troops in the 1980s.
Under the new Taliban government, he is in charge of prisons. He is one of a number of Taliban leaders, including members of the all-male Interim Cabinet, who are on a United Nations sanctions list.
During the Taliban’s previous rule, he was one of the fiercest and most uncompromising executioners in the group. When the Taliban took power in 1996, one of its first acts was yelling at a female journalist, asking her to leave a men’s room, then slap a powerful slap in the face of a man who ‘is opposed to it.
Turabi was notorious for ripping music tapes from cars, stringing hundreds of meters of destroyed tapes into trees and road signs. He demanded that men wear turbans in all government offices and his underlings regularly beat men whose beards had been trimmed. Sports were banned, and Turabi’s legion of executioners forced the men to go to the mosque to pray five times a day.
In this week’s interview with the PA, Turabi spoke to a female journalist.
“We are changed from the past,” he said.
He said now the Taliban will allow television, cell phones, photos and videos “because it is the need of the people, and we are serious about it.” He suggested that the Taliban saw the media as a way to get their message out. “Now we know that instead of reaching hundreds, we can reach millions,” he said. He added that if the sanctions are made public, people may be allowed to film or take photos to spread the deterrent effect.
The United States and its allies tried to use the threat of isolation – and the economic damage that would result – to pressure the Taliban to moderate their regime and give to other factions, minorities and women a place in power.
But Turabi dismissed criticism of the former Taliban regime, arguing that it had succeeded in bringing stability. “We had total security in all parts of the country,” he said in the late 1990s.
Even as residents of Kabul express fear of their new Taliban leadership, some reluctantly admit that the capital has already become more secure over the past month. Before the Taliban takeover, gangs of thieves roamed the streets and relentless crime had driven most of the people from the streets after dark.
“It’s not a good thing to see these people being humiliated in public, but it stops criminals because when people see it they think ‘I don’t want it to be me’,” said Amaan, a store owner in central Kabul. He asked to be identified by one name.
Another trader said it was a human rights violation, but he was also happy to be able to open his store after dark.