Recently liberated town throws away Taliban's rules

Men line up for barbers, women walk alone and retribution begins


TALOQAN, Afghanistan - In this northeastern town recently freed from the Taliban by Northern Alliance troops, the busiest spot was Amon's Barbershop, where men lined up to have their beards shaved off.

One after another they arrived, and one after another the beards fell to the floor. At the end of the day, Amonullah, the proprietor, stood exhausted in a pile of beard cuttings. He smiled when he realized there was one thing he had forgotten to do.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to shave off my own beard," Amonullah said. With that, he closed for the night, ending the busiest day he had ever known.

In the hours since Taliban soldiers left this town, a joyous mood has spread. The people of Taloqan, who lived for two years under the Taliban's oppressive version of Islamic rule, burst onto the streets to toss off the restrictions that had burrowed into the most intimate aspects of their lives.

Men tossed their turbans into gutters. Families dug out their long-hidden television sets. Restaurants blared music. Cigarettes flared, and young men talked of growing their hair long.

In the most noticeable change of all, women, clad in their head-to-toe burqas, walked the streets alone, no longer required to have a male relative at their side. They walked by themselves and they walked with each other.

"The Taliban, they were cruel people, and the whole city clapped and cheered when they retreated," said Muhammad Humayun, 23, a pharmacist. "The first thing I did was take my turban off and throw it away. I am going to enjoy my freedom."

"All the restrictions, on television, on shaving, on women," said Muhammad Asif, a young shopkeeper. "The Quran says nothing about such things. The Taliban people are a bunch of illiterates."

The ebb and flow of armies always produces quick adaptations of habits and views. Behind the enthusiasm of some residents there might have lurked a cooler calculation of where their best interest now lay. Still, the joy here was palpable.

Taloqan fell to the Northern Alliance on Sunday afternoon, after troops under Gen. Daoud Khan overran Taliban front lines and secured the defection of an important local warlord.

The general and his men rolled into the city at 5:30 p.m., and the townspeople poured into the streets to greet them. The adults threw money and roses, and the children clambered aboard the tanks and trucks.

People are angry at the Taliban for the things they did, but in the hours after the Northern Alliance takeover, it was unclear if the people's thirst for vengeance would be slaked.

Amadullah Gard, the local commander whose defection helped bring about the Taliban's collapse, said more than 400 Taliban soldiers and their supporters had been detained. He said he was not yet certain how they would be dealt with.

Many townspeople said the Taliban should be judged harshly.

There were signs that the Afghan tradition of taking revenge on deposed oppressors might lie dormant here. But elsewhere, near an abandoned Taliban bunker at Kalai Nasro, Northern Alliance soldiers dragged a wounded Taliban soldier out of a ditch. As the man begged for his life, the alliance soldiers pulled him to his feet.

They searched him and emptied his pockets. Then, one soldier fired two bursts from his rifle into the man's chest. A second soldier beat the lifeless body with his rifle butt. A third repeatedly smashed a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher into the man's head.

Nearby lay two other bodies; a fourth was a mile away. Looting by the victorious soldiers was widespread.

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