WORLD

EXTREME MAKEOVER

AFGHAN AUTHORITIES ARE TRYING TO RID KABUL OF ITS SEEDY REPUTATION BY RE-INJECTING ISLAM INTO THIS CITY OF SIN

ADNAN R. KHAN April 3 2006
WORLD

EXTREME MAKEOVER

AFGHAN AUTHORITIES ARE TRYING TO RID KABUL OF ITS SEEDY REPUTATION BY RE-INJECTING ISLAM INTO THIS CITY OF SIN

ADNAN R. KHAN April 3 2006

EXTREME MAKEOVER

AFGHAN AUTHORITIES ARE TRYING TO RID KABUL OF ITS SEEDY REPUTATION BY RE-INJECTING ISLAM INTO THIS CITY OF SIN

ADNAN R. KHAN

Since the fall of the Tali-

ban in 2001, Kabul has transformed from an austere fulcrum of religious zealots into the pre-eminent red-light district of the Muslim world. “It’s getting out of hand,” says Saeed Jamaluddin, a 26-year-old judge in Afghanistan’s fledgling criminal courts. “Afghans were finding used condoms on the streets and foreign men were walking around in the open with prostitutes.” So now, four years after Kabul’s theological iron curtain was pried open by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the capital is teetering on the brink of another revolution, as authorities try to mount a crackdown against excess.

But making over this new City of Sin is proving to be a real challenge. “Alcohol and prostitution are illegal in the Afghan constitution,” says Abdul Jabar Sabit, a legal adviser to the Ministry of the Interior. “But what happens inside private homes is none of our business.” And the occasionally sordid lives of foreign contractors, aid agency workers and diplomats in Kabul has remained only nominally clandestine. Many of Kabul’s trendy restaurants, clustered around the expat

community in the Shar-e-Naw and Wazir Akbar Khan districts, openly sell alcohol to foreigners and Afghans alike.

Meanwhile, prostitution, considered to be urban enemy No. 1 by Afghan authorities, remains a fast-growing industry. During the last few years, brothels have popped up all over the city. Russian brothels are the exclusive domain of Afghanistan’s expat community—they are far too expensive for domestic buyers. But some Chinese brothels, which are much cheaper, have opened their doors to Afghans. “It’s the Afghans who are the problem,” says one British national who admits to frequenting brothels on a regular basis. “If the houses catered only to the foreigners, this crackdown would never have happened.” In early February, police rounded up dozens of Chinese sex workers, who, if not for the intervention of the International Organization for Migration, would have been thrown in jail. Instead, they were taken to a safe house before being sent back to China. “I know for a fact,” says the British national, “the brothels the police raided were the ones serving Afghans.”

In Kabul, considered one of the safest places in Afghanistan only a year ago, the backlash against what are perceived as Western-inspired vices has, at least in part, contributed to a rise in attacks against foreigners. Due to the subsequent tightening of security measures, UN staff are now restricted to their cars and guest houses, barred from walking the streets and slapped with a 9 p.m.

curfew. Kabul is on a knife-edge, with gov

ernment officials struggling to strike a balance between the opendoor policies intended to make Westerners feel welcome and the taboos of a society that for years lived according to the Islam of the extremist Taliban.

Many worry that Kabul’s seedy reputation may anger people in other parts of Afghanistan and further fuel the growing insurgency currently under way—the Taliban has promised a deadly spring offensive against foreign military forces in Afghanistan and the country’s Western-backed government. That would be bad news for NATO troops—including Canadians, who recently expanded their missions into the southern parts of the country where the insurgency is considered to be the most intense. “That’s partly why this crackdown is happening now,” explains Abdul Rauf Naufi, imam at the Khwaja Ali Muafaq Ali Mosque in Shar-e-Naw district. “Because of the cartoon incident and other actions against Muslims that have been reported in the media, the police were worried about the safety of foreigners, that they could be the targets of violence. So rather than wait for something to happen, they’ve taken action.”

Another factor is that the new Afghan parliament is under a great deal of pressure to assert its authority. Cleaning up Kabul’s image and putting the Islam back into the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is one of the government’s top priorities. “There are many former mujahedeen sitting in the parliament,” says Naufi. “These are former jihadis, a few former Taliban, but mostly those who fought the Russians. They feel very strongly about Islam. They are worried Afghans are being corrupted by the foreign influence.” Kabul’s Sin City heyday appears to be over, but the damage may already be done. M