Islam in Afghanistan

May 12, 1992

Liberation in Afghanistan, it turns out, means a ban on sale or consumption of alcohol and mandatory head scarves for women. So far, gambling at cock fights is officially unnoticed. There is doubt, however, whether the regime that decreed the new Islamic laws has the power to prevent the looting of Kabul by the military forces propping it up. Or the power to get the 2 million residents and refugees in the swollen capital fed.

Even before the decree, women in the capital, including professionals needed to make modern things run, were wearing baggy clothes and head scarves, lest they be beaten by guerrilla rustics with assault rifles who now control the streets.

These are the moderates. One of insurrectionist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's objections to the interim ruling council of Sibghatullah Mojaddidi is its insufficiency of Islamic zeal. The rival leaders who put the theology professor Mojaddidi in charge, because his movement was the weakest, are distressed that he has reinterpreted his two-month term to mean two years. They are still giving him two months.

Religious motives aside, Mr. Hekmatyar has ethnic objections to what's going on in the capital, which used to be in the hands of his people, the Pashtuns. The guerrilla commander who constitutes the real authority in the city, Ahmed Shah Masood, is a Tajik from the north and bitter enemy of Mr. Hekmatyar. The latter also objects to the presence of the Dostum militia, largely Uzbeks, who supported the Communists until the end. The argument is that Kabul is a Pashtun town. The catch is that during the long years of anti-Soviet fighting in the north, many non-Pashtuns fled to Kabul, changing its ethnic composition.

All else aside, these quarrels are more about Kabul than about Afghanistan. The country can hardly be said to exist. Each city and province is governed by a locally arranged coalition.

There is no doubt that Afghanistan's pendulum is swinging in an Islamic direction, because the crowds with guns are more devoutly Islamic than the people at large. The regime with the best chance of lasting will be the one most tolerant of all ethnicities, with the widest tent for variations of belief. It will also be one that can clear the mines and get the crops sown. Those are problems with which the ruling council has not begun to wrestle.

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