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Life Under the Taliban.

We talk about the Taliban with Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. His new book is called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (Yale University Press). In the mid 1990s, the Taliban Movement gained power in Afghanistan, a country in the wake of a civil war. The Taliban declared they wanted to restore peace and enforce traditional Islamic law. Instead, The Taliban has shown itself to be a troubling development in Islamic radicalism. It has launched a genocidal campaign against Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan. It has sanctioned acts of international terrorism. It has closed schools for girls, forced women to quite their jobs, and banned movies, TV, and music. The Taliban has inspired fascination, controversy, and fear, not only in Afghanistan, but also throughout the Muslim world and the West. Rashid’s book has been called the most in depth study of the Taliban. Rashid is a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph, reporting on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. He is also author of the book The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism. And we talk to the director of the clandestine girls school system in Afghanistan. The Taliban has outlawed schools for girls. However, some women have decided to break the law and open such schools. Our guest directs 35 girls’ schools in 3 cities in Afghanistan. She struggles to raise the funds to keep the school running, but wants girls to receive an education.



Date: APRIL 12, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 041301np.217
Head: Ahmed Rashid Discusses `Taliban'
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.

On today's FRESH AIR, the Taliban, the radical Islamic group that controls most of Afghanistan. We talk to journalist Ahmed Rashid, who has been covering Afghanistan for 20 years. Since the Taliban's rise to power in the mid-'90s, the group has prohibited girls from going to school, prohibited women from working, decreed what men are allowed to wear and how long their beards must be, and banned all forms of entertainment, including music at weddings.

Rashid's new book is called "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia."

Also, we talk to the director of an underground network of schools for girls, which violates the Taliban edict.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First, the news.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When the radical Islamic group known as the Taliban captured the capital of Afghanistan in 1996, it issued decrees that basically imprisoned women in their homes and controlled the dress and behavior of men. These edicts were strictly enforced by the religious police. Now the Taliban control most of Afghanistan.

My guest, Ahmed Rashid, is the author of the new book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia." He's a Pakistani journalist who has been covering Afghanistan for over 20 years. He was there in 1979 when the Soviets invaded the country. He's since covered the war between the Soviets and the Afghan fighters known as the mujahedeen, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rise of the Taliban.

Most of the Taliban are part of Afghanistan's majority ethic group, the Pashtun. Rashid says the Afghans have been affected by one of the greatest tragedies of this century, the longest-running civil war in this era, which has resulted in the death of over 1.5 million people and the total destruction of the country.

I asked him to describe what is prohibited under the Taliban's rule.

AHMED RASHID, "TALIBAN": Well, since they came to power in 1994, they've banned almost all cultural entertainment, which includes music, dancing, TV, videos, owning satellite dishes. They've in fact held hangings for TV sets. They take out TV sets into the streets and they hang them symbolically from trees. They rip out cassette, music cassette tapes and videotapes and hang them from the trees, and people are assembled in the village or in the town and told to watch this as a kind of entertainment.

So -- and of course there are huge bans on women being educated, women working. But perhaps, you know, the most devastating thing has been the kind of cultural bans that they have imposed, because, you know, Afghanistan is a multiethnic society. It's got enormous diversity of cultures. And as a result, has, you know, songs, dancing, other forms of entertainment, circuses, acrobats, you know, all that kind of thing. They've banned everything.

GROSS: What are some of the edicts controlling the lives of women?

RASHID: Well, they are very severe. I mean, basically the Taliban do not allow women to have an education, and they don't allow them to work. And when they first came into Kabul in 1996, they actually forbade them to even go out shopping. And this has been -- so you had men actually going out to buy vegetables and meat and stuff like that. And, you know, this has been relaxed.

And most detrimentally, they forbade women to work in the medical profession, so you had a catch-22 situation, because Afghan women normally prefer to go to, you know, women doctors, women nurses to be treated. They don't like male doctors to see, you know, their body parts. But you banned women from working in the medical profession, so women have nowhere to go to be looked at, you know, medically if they had anything wrong with them, because the Taliban then also passed an edict that no Afghan women can be looked at by a male doctor.

So that situation existed for about 18 months before, you know, under enormous pressure from the United Nations and from humanitarian aid groups, they finally relented, and now allow women patients to be looked at by women doctors and nurses. But, of course, you know, the medical profession has virtually collapsed there, and there's very little treatment available for women outside the major cities.

GROSS: You say that urban men have fared nearly as badly as women under the Taliban.

RASHID: Well, there are very strict restrictions also placed on men, that they have to pray, they have to keep beards, they have to wear, even -- you know, as the women are covered up completely in the purdah or the covering, you know, which covers their face and body, men have to wear their shelvar kamis (ph), their baggy trousers and shirt in a certain way. They have to cut their hair in a certain way.

And, you know, I mean, in Afghanistan you've got several ethnic groups, in fact, who don't have very -- a lot of body hair, but they have to keep very long beards, and it's impossible, because these -- you know, some of these ethnic groups don't have beards at all. I mean, they're like the Chinese that they are, in fact, of Mongol origin, and they don't have body hair, they can't grow beards or mustaches.

And, you know, the Taliban will slam them into jail, take them into jail and tell them, you know -- and hold them for up to three to four weeks until they grow a beard. Well, these guys will say, Well, look, I -- you know, we can't grow these beards. What are we supposed to do?

And, you know, so there are very, very severe restrictions even for men.

GROSS: And are also severe antihomosexual edicts.

RASHID: Yes, you know, this is very strange, because actually Pashtun culture is very much orientated towards homosexuality, and they're -- you know, there's a whole sort of underground within Pashtun -- the Pashtun tribes are, you know, constitute 40 percent of Afghan's population. And the majority of Taliban are from the Pashtun tribes. And there's enormous tradition of Pashtun jokes, Pashtun underground humor, and there's an enormous indulgence in, you know, elderly men preferring young boys to women.

Now, the Taliban have tried to eliminate this, and have condemned it very forcibly and have an amazing array of punishments for the -- if anyone is caught in the homosexual act. And the major punishment is actually, for the older homosexual, to be sentenced, and the punishment is that he is brought under a mud or brick wall which is about six to eight feet high, and the wall is then toppled in top of him by a tank. And he comes under the rubble and is supposed to die. And if he dies, well, he dies. But if he doesn't die, then he's allowed his freedom.

So it's a kind of trial by fire kind of -- type of punishment. And these walls are specially built, and this is public -- you know, the public is invited to watch this. And, of course, you know, this public punishment is one of the aspects, you know, public executions, public chopping off of limbs for robbery, which has gone a long way to further brutalize, you know, Afghan society, because, you know, children come into this, see this. It's very, very grim.

GROSS: Oh, in fact, you write about how when the Taliban first came to power, they wanted to open up the soccer stadiums again, and the U.N. helped them do it by helping to refurbish the old stadium, which had been, you know, you know, kind of demolished during all the civil wars. And what did they end up using it for first?

RASHID: Well, you know, they banned all sports activities, first of all, every single sports, and even things like kite flying, soccer, you know, cricket, any kinds of sport. Finally they relented after several years and allowed football, because there was so much sort of public pressure. Football is a very popular sport.

So, you know, to help this along, the U.N. decided, Well, let's try and renovate these bombed-out, you know, small soccer stadiums and put in some seating and things like that. And they did that in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, which was the first, you know, soccer stadium that was renovated and where the Taliban were going to allow soccer games.

But then on what they started using these soccer stadiums for was public executions. You know, in the legal system, which is a very rough and ready legal system, the punishment, you know, for murder is public execution, where the murdered victim's family is brought into the stadium and is asked to carry out the execution. So if my brother has been killed, I will be brought into the football stadium. I will be given a gun, and I will be asked, you know, by the mullah whether I forgive this guy, and I will accept blood money, that is, a monetary compensation from the murderer's family.

And if I say no, then I will be asked to kill the victim in front of up to 10,000, 15,000 people. And, you know, this public execution is usually done on a Friday afternoon, which is the holy day of the week, (inaudible), and everybody troops into the stadium after Friday prayers and watches this being carried out, and there are kind of, you know, stalls set up and tea and kebabs are sold. So it's like a kind of very extended long Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon in Western terms, you know, entertainment. And it's about the only entertainment in town.

And, you know, these kinds of public executions, which have nothing to do with Islam, which is very much part of the Pashtun tribal tradition of an eye for an eye, you know, a tooth for a tooth kind of thing, it has no sanction in the Koran, it's not sanctioned in any of the Prophet's sayings or his edicts. It is very much a Pashtun tribal tradition which the Taliban have turned, very wrongly, into a kind of Islamic precept.

GROSS: My guest is Ahmed Rashid, author of the new book "Taliban." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Ahmed Rashid. He's a journalist who's been covering Afghanistan for more than 20 years. He's from Pakistan, and his new book is called "Taliban."

You actually interviewed the head of the religious police, the Taliban religious police, in Afghanistan. Tell us something about this man and how he approaches his job.

RASHID: Well, the religious police are modeled on something similar that exists in Saudi Arabia, where there's a group of volunteers who are sort of paramilitary-type guys who are young people who go around the town and make sure that everyone has gone to say his prayers at the right time, everybody's looking right, having a long beard, wearing their clothes in the appropriate way. And they carry big sticks and have guns, and they're, you know, very severe, very hostile. And people are very scared of them.

You know, and this man in particular, you know, this mullah, an enormous figure, very frightening, insisting that, you know, what he is doing is basically carrying out the edicts of the Koran. And when you try and

you know, I'm a Muslim, I'm a practicing Muslim, and I know a great deal about my religion also. And when you try and point out, well, some of these edicts that you're doing, I mean, nowhere in the Koran does it say that you have to be beaten to go -- before you go -- you know, to force you to go to the mosque. I mean, religion allows, you know -- Islam very much allows you, you know, you can say your prayers or you don't have to say your prayers, you know, and certainly it doesn't force you to wear a long beard or wear your clothes in a certain way.

And really, you know, there's no sense of being allowed to discuss anything. You know, this is the law as we see it. This is Islam as we see it. And even you as a Muslim are not allowed to criticize this. And if you are criticizing this or trying to discuss this with me, then you're not a good Muslim.

And of course, you know, this is very much against all kinds of Islamic tradition, because Islamic tradition very much encourages debate and discussion. And the whole basis of Islam is ishtahad (ph), which is, you know, debate and discussion, so that there -- you arrive at a consensus of what the truth is based on the reality of the days or the century that you're living in.

And this has been completely ignored by the Taliban and has -- is even more ignored by the religious police.

GROSS: The military leader of the Taliban is Mullah Muhammad Omar (ph). And you say no leader in the world is surrounded by as much secrecy and mystery as he is. What is so mysterious about him?

RASHID: Well, Mullah Omar has never -- you know, he doesn't appear in public. He has never had a picture taken of him. Nobody has ever seen his face, you know, outside the coterie of the Taliban leadership or the military commanders. He doesn't give public speeches, you're not allowed to photograph him, he's never been on TV, he's never met with Western journalists or Western diplomats. He doesn't meet non-Afghans, he doesn't meet foreigners, except for, you know, a few Saudis and Pakistanis.

So, you know, this is a leader of 18-20 million people, and nobody has ever seen him, nobody knows what he looks like. Nobody's ever heard him on the radio, nobody's ever heard his voice. So it is quite an amazing situation, similar, perhaps, to, you know, what happened in Cambodia in the 1980s. But in a sense, he's very reclusive, very shy. He hangs out with, you know, with his senior Taliban leaders and military commanders. He meets them. But there's very little access to him even from Taliban fighters, Taliban sympathizers.

So it is a very strange situation, and, you know, Afghanistan is not this kind of very reclusive society. I mean, you know, they've had a monarchy before, then they had a communist regime, and then they had mujahedeen leaders who were very public figures. I mean, the mujahedeen, you know, who fought the Soviets in the 1980s would fight alongside their men. They would have public meetings, they would go into the refugee camps and, you know, show themselves and explain their policies, et cetera.

It's unprecedented in Afghanistan. And certainly there's no tradition of this in Islam. I mean, the Prophet was not a reclusive person. The Prophet was very much a man of the people, who like all the great prophets spread his message through, you know, through public meetings, as it were. I mean, the Prophet, you know, was a politician as much as Jesus Christ or the Buddha or anyone else was. But, you know, the message was spread by meeting your public and trying to convert the public to your beliefs.

GROSS: Have you tried -- although it's impossible, have you tried anyways to get a meeting with Mullah Omar?

RASHID: Oh, yes, I mean, every time I go to Kandahar, you know, I put in for an interview. But (inaudible)...

GROSS: How, how do you do that? How do you do that?

RASHID: Well, you know, he -- there are several doorkeepers who kind of man -- you know, who are very important senior political figures within the Taliban movement, who are called the doorkeepers, in the sense that they control the access to Omar. And you have to go through them, and you have to try and have appeal to them, you know.

And it's just not been -- I mean, I've interviewed every Taliban leader of, you know, the ministers, military commanders, but I have been consistently, for five years, been refused an interview or even a meeting with Omar, in the sense that he'll please just let me sit in while he's meeting with some petitioners or while he's meeting with some of his leaders from, you know, other parts of Afghanistan who've come to see him.

But, you know, that's impossible. And this reclusiveness means he -- you know, he's only been to Kabul, the capital, once for two days. He's never left Kandahar, which is the southern city, the southern base for the Taliban. He's never traveled in Afghanistan. He's never seen the rest of his own country. He doesn't know the problems that exist in the rest of the country because he's never left the south.

GROSS: Now, the Taliban have been referred to as an army of students. Are they actually students?

RASHID: Well, you know, it's a mishmash, but they are second-generation mujahedeen. That is, they did not themselves fight the Soviets in the 1980s. They are the children of the people who did fight the Soviets. Many of the foot soldiers are, of course, teenagers, and some of them go back -- you know, some of them are 12 years old, 13 years old, they're fighters.

But the leadership is basically in its late 20s, early 30s. They grew up in the refugee camps in Pakistan. Their fathers were fighting the war. They fought perhaps in the latter stages, the last stages of the war, after the Soviets, you know, withdrew in 1989. But, you know, they model themselves on being called Taliban. That is, that they are the seekers of knowledge and the seekers of knowledge, and they want to convert, you know, the country, as in any kind of messianic movement.

So they model themselves on, you know, what they learned from their (inaudible) and they model themselves on this kind of regeneration student-type movement. But many of them are not students any more.

GROSS: Now, you make a comparison between the mujahedeen, who fought the Soviets in the '80s, and the Taliban today. You say the Taliban, you know, are truly orphans of the war, many of them grew up in refugee camps. And the mujahedeen had these connections to the past. They could talk about their tribal lineage, their clan lineage. They remembered their -- the land that they grew up on, they knew the legends and stories from Afghanistan's history.

Whereas the Taliban are really disconnected from that, and many of them just have no knowledge of the past.

RASHID: The -- exactly. I mean, the Taliban have basically grew up in refugee camps, you know, outside Afghanistan. And the fact that they went to these musruthahs (ph), these Islamic schools, which gave them a very, a very narrow and what I call a very primitive interpretation of Islam, which had, you know, no context of dealing with Islam in the context of Afghanistan's history, its culture, its traditions, its multiethnic diversity, they learned nothing about their own country while they were growing up.

And so they returned to their country with a very -- with almost no sense of the history of their country and the diversity. And they returned with this kind of one-dimensional attempt to impose a very primitive interpretation of Islam on their fellow countrymen, who -- many of them were not willing to accept it, because they come from different tribes, they come from different ethnic backgrounds.

And they have their own ways and means of practicing Islam, which they've been doing for centuries. And they're not willing to accept this Taliban interpretation of Islam.

And, you know, even, you know, after five years, you would expect a movement, once it is realized that, look, you know, we can't force this down people's throats, we have to kind of adapt, we have to see which ethnic area we're moving in, you know, if we're trying reconquer the whole of Afghanistan, we have to try and be flexible and adapt. They have not year done that. And that, I think, has created a great deal of hostility against the Taliban, especially in those areas where, you know, where the non-Pashtuns live, and that is in northern Afghanistan, and that is the area which they're still trying to conquer.

GROSS: Were the young Taliban raised in such a way that -- totally stripping women of their rights becomes kind of simple for them?

RASHID: Yes, you know, I think the whole interpre -- you know, their interpretation of women's rights also has to be seen in this background context of these refugee camps. Many of the major Taliban leaders are orphans, in fact, of the war, literally, in the sense that they lost their fathers and their mothers, their entire family was wiped out during the war.

We should remember that, you know, out of a population of 18 million Afghans, 1.2 million Afghans were killed during the Soviet war in the 1980s, and that's not counting the people who've been killed in the 1990s in the civil war. So there's been an enormous, you know, one in 18 Afghans have been killed. It's an enormous loss of life.

So you had orphans, you know, growing up in these camps without women. Secondly, these refugee camps, because of the war, tended to exercise much greater segregation of men and women than existed back in the villages, in the Afghan villages, you know, where there was much more mixing. I mean, the women were working in the fields, they were, you know, drawing water, collecting wood, they were doing all sorts of things. You know, and there was much more integration even amongst -- even if -- even amongst non-relatives, you know, men and women were mixing much more.

In the refugee camps there was much greater segregation. And these boys, once they went to these musruthahs, which were like very strict boarding schools in a way, they were completely cut off from women, even from, you know, their mothers, their sisters, and any kind of normal family, you know, life, which involved men and women mixing in a relatively free atmosphere.

So, you know, their whole background has been in a kind of womanless existence, which, of course, makes them, you know, very accepting these kind of edicts that the Taliban leadership passed on women.

GROSS: Ahmed Rashid is the author of the new book "Taliban." He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Coming up, teaching girls in Afghanistan to read in violation of the Taliban edict outlawing schools for girls. We talk to the director of an underground network of girls' schools in Afghanistan, and we continue our conversation about the Taliban with journalist Ahmed Rashid.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Ahmed Rashid, author of the new book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia."

The Taliban is the extremist Islamic group that now controls most of Afghanistan. Rashid is a Pakistani journalist who has been covering Afghanistan for over 20 years. He's a correspondent for "The Far Eastern Economic Review" and "The Daily Telegraph."

What are the origins of the Taliban army? I mean, how, how did this group of very kind of extremist Muslim radicals get organized into an army that has taken over most of Afghanistan?

RASHID: Well, after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, you had a long period of very bloody civil war between, you know, many, many warlords, which went on till about 1995. And nobody really controlled the whole of Afghanistan. Afghanistan was de facto divided between, you know, dozens of these warlord factions, and the alliances kept shifting. And what you had then was basically the second generation of Afghans, completely fed up with their fathers, their fathers, having driven out the Soviets, you know, then fall back into fighting each other.

And the youth was extremely disillusioned, you know, that not only was, you know, Islam not being implemented and Shari, our Islamic law, not being implemented, but, you know, the whole of society was being decimated in a much worse way, even, than what happened during the Soviet period.

So, you know, a bunch of these young, disillusioned people got together in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan and established links with, you know, similar disillusioned young people in the refugee camps in Pakistan. You know, and they set about, with basically three or four very simple principles. They wanted to disarm society to prevent warlordism, the only way to prevent warlordism was to disarm the population. And everybody in Afghanistan was very heavily armed.

They wanted to open the roads and get rid of these petty warlords and, you know, allow economic, you know, traffic and food, et cetera, to flow between one area and the other without being taxed. And they wanted to impose their version of Islam.

So it was a very -- it was not an agenda for controlling Afghanistan, for wanting to set up a government in Afghanistan. It was a kind of messianic agenda of cleansing society. And they received an astonishing welcome. I mean, once they set off on this path in late 1994, you know, towns and villages just opened up their arms to them, you know, opened up their gates to them, basically. The warlords just kind of melted away, because they saw that the public was kind of welcoming them.

So there was a kind of cachet, almost, of -- it was kind of trendy, you know, to join up with the Taliban. These were going to be the purifiers, the cleansers of Afghan society and bring peace to Afghan society.

And what we see then by 1996, when they capture Kabul, the capital, they've become much more politicized, they want control of Afghanistan, they want to impose their view -- version of Islam on the rest of the country, and they become much more ideologized in the sense that a lot of outside militants, Islamic militants, you know, you get Osama bin Laden, you get influence from Pakistani militants, Kashmiris, militants from Central Asia come in and influence and tell the leadership, Look, you are the model for us. You have a big role to play in the -- in bringing about Islamic radicalism in the whole region.

And the Taliban kind of get ideologized and start thinking beyond the borders of Afghanistan and get very heavily influenced by these kind of outside influences. They also benefit from them, because people like bin Laden give them a lot of money, fund development projects for the Taliban, build houses for the Taliban leaders.

So there's a mix of ideology and business, where the Taliban become ideologized, and they also take, you know, get advantage from these militant groups outside.

And then the whole shape and nature of the movement changes.

GROSS: I, I, I, I think one of the things that has probably made things even worse in Afghanistan is that the way you describe it, all the intellectuals, all the professionals have left the country. And so the power-sharing, the power fighting now is going on in an exceedingly unintellectual atmosphere without a professional class.

RASHID: You have had the most amazing ways of, you know, people leaving Afghanistan at various stages. You know, I mean, for example, when the Soviets invaded in 1979, you had all the old regime people leaving, of course. But since then, you know, at every stage of the war in Afghanistan, either, you know, one or the other ethnic group is leaving, one or the other, you know, group of technocrats is leaving.

You -- and now you have a stage in Afghanistan where literally in Kabul, you know, the capital, with the -- over a million people, you don't have a telephone operator, you don't have an electrician, you don't have a plumber, you don't have -- you know, anyone with even the minimal skills has actually left the country. He's gone to Iran, he's gone to Pakistan, he's gone to Central Asia. Or if he's slightly wealthier, he's fled further afield to Europe or America or somewhere else.

So, you know, you have not just eliminated your sort of intellectual and political class and your ruling elite, as it were, or business people, you've gone right down the chain of social class structure, if you like, in a country which was already very impoverished. And when we're talking about, you know, there were very few electricians in Afghanistan, or plumbers in Afghanistan anyway.

But you've gone right down the social structure, where your entire working class, your entire -- anyone with the slightest skill at anything has left the country and is using his skill elsewhere.

So what you're left with, basically, is what I call now, you know, the lumpen elements, you know, Karl Marx called, you know, called these kind of unemployment working class the lumpen proletariat. So these are lumpen elements with no skills whatsoever, except for fighting.

GROSS: It sounds like it might get even worse, because education is being so short-changed now. I mean, it's been illegal for girls to get educated, though there are these home schools in some areas. But it sounds like boys aren't getting much of an education either.

RASHID: No, they're not, because, you know, education was carried out by women. I mean, 60 percent of the teachers for the boys' schools were women. But they were not allowed to work, so that means half, you know, more than half the boys' schools closed down. So, you know, when the Taliban took a major city, and they stopped women from working, every single boys' school closed down, except for a few religious schools, musruthahs.

So there was just no education available. And even now, the Taliban have not allowed women to go back to teach. So all you have is a minimum of a few musruthahs, that is, religious schools operating, who only teach Koranic subjects, religious subjects. They don't teach, you know, maths or history or geography or whatever. I mean, they don't teach any of the sort of secular subjects.

So in fact, what you have now in the -- you know, in the Taliban-controlled areas is basically, you know, an entire generation or several generations of children completely missing out on a normal education.

So, you know, you're not going to get doctors, engineers, architects, or anyone with even a minimum education, you know, in the next 10 years.

GROSS: My guest is Ahmed Rashid, author of the new book "Taliban." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Ahmed Rashid, author of the new book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia."

We're going to pause in our interview for a moment here and hear from a woman from Afghanistan who runs around 35 home schools for girls in three different cities in Afghanistan. And these are pretty secretive schools that are run inside the homes of women, and girls can come in and learn to read. It's kept pretty secretive because schooling for girls is illegal.

This woman needs to remain anonymous, so I'm not going to give you her name. She's currently in the United States fund raising for the schools through the American Jewish World Service.

Before we hear from her, exactly how secretive and how risky are these home schools now for girls?

RASHID: You see, these home schools have arisen in some areas where individual Taliban administrators, who are a bit more modern, moderate, who are facing a lot of public pressure to start, have allowed these home schools, as it were, to exist in the underground. But there has been no Taliban edict, you know, Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban or the ruling council of the Taliban, have issued no edict allowing these home schools to exist.

So basically they're allowed to flourish or exist on the basis of one individual Taliban administrator in that certain area because he wants to allow this to continue and to happen. So they are very vulnerable, very fragile, very secretive. And the Taliban administrators who are allowing this to happen cannot report back to their bosses that, you know, we're allowing this to happen.

GROSS: Well, let, let's hear the director of the 35 home schools for girls in three cities in Afghanistan. And again, I won't mention her name, name, because to protect herself, she needs to remain anonymous.

Since it's very difficult now for girls to get an education in Afghanistan, did the girls who are going to school understand the importance of it and understand what's at stake and what's at risk, do you think?

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: They definitely -- they do understand what is in stake and what is their risk. They take that risk. And in any society, when there is a risk, if you want to take the risk, you have to be aware of it, what does that risk involve?

The risk is that if the teacher is not careful, the teacher, first of all, there is a procedure that they do not allow any (inaudible). They will not take any children (inaudible) they don't really have a confident (inaudible) trusting, which means that from their community.

So they pretty much, they know each other, and pretty much this is with the extended families that (inaudible) set up. But if they are not careful and they miscalculate this, then the teacher could be tracked and her house can be taken away from her, or her family can be -- she can be separated from her family or the children can be separated from their family. So it's a very, very big risk. That's the reason we are very, very careful about this.

GROSS: Now, what are some of the ways that you manage to keep the schools kind of secret, while at the same time letting parents know that the school exists and they can send their daughters?

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: Well, it's not that the school is secret. The school is set up by the environment of parents, teacher, community. So in that community, the parents pretty much all involved with the teachers. They know who is the teacher, they know where is this school, they know how to take their children to that school. So it's not hidden that way.

In another way, that we already careful about it, which the schools are careful about it. It means that they are -- try to regulating the traffic, that's the main purpose. And so in different hour, different time, the children come to school and go, so that they do not attract attention. And that's the way that they go about it.

GROSS: So the children go to school at different times?

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: Yes, they go in different times. As a matter of fact, the school is open from morning to 4 to 5:00 in the evening, and continuously the children come and go. And the teacher continues to work with them in different -- in multigrade system, so the children can come and go during all these hours.

GROSS: Tell us something about who the teachers are. Most of the teachers at these schools, teachers who used to teach at public schools.

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: Yes, these teachers are experienced teachers, they have been taught in the school for many, many years. And that is that they strongly believe in education. That's the reason that they put themself in such a risk, and their family in such a risk. And they start to open these schools. Really, they are the source of setting up the school by themself. They set up the school, and they come to Afghan Institute of Learning for assistance and for support.

GROSS: What is taught in the schools, and what are some of the things that the teachers consider most important for girls in Afghanistan to learn?

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: In this (inaudible) right now, really, they are in primary school. The things that they are teaching is the same thing that they are teaching in Pakistan refugee school. Inside Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same curriculum being taught. And that is for the first grade through third grade they teach them mathematic, reading, and Arabic, and religion. Once they get to the fourth and fifth and sixth grades, they have science, social science, plus mathematic, reading and writing, and Arabic and religion.

GROSS: Do girls who you're working with have an opportunity to get an education beyond sixth grade now?

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: Well, our hope, our hope is that they continue to going to beyond sixth grade. And what is right now our objective, that we are trying to make sure that they get the basic education which is reading, writing, and learning something about themself and how to be a good citizen and learn how to think for themself. And hopefully by the time that they are ready, the government of Afghanistan allow them to go to a school, and there will be school system for them that they continue their education.

GROSS: What was the law about girls getting an education when you were growing up?

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: When I was growing up, and as a matter of fact, I was the -- one of the first group who got educated. At the time that I was there is '60s and '70s. Very, like, 10 to 20 percent of the girls in major city went to school. And but there wasn't a law that we shouldn't go to school, there wasn't school available. But once they had it, so the major city, everybody went to school. And everybody who could send their children to school, they did send their children to school.

GROSS: Will you be going back to Afghanistan soon?

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: I will go inside Afghanistan. I will go in Pakistan. And about the time, I don't know. But I will go.

GROSS: Is it dangerous for you to go to Afghanistan?

GIRLS' SCHOOL DIRECTOR: Yes. Every -- the same as other place. But I have to be very careful. My life is -- if it's being tracked, it's OK, that's my mission, and I know that I will not be -- I mean, it's risky for me, but I'm willing to take that risk.

GROSS: We've just heard from the director of about 35 home schools for girls in Afghanistan. She's from Afghanistan, and she's currently in the United States fund raising for the schools through the American Jewish World Service. I can't mention her name because she needs to remain anonymous for reasons of self-protection.

With me is Ahmed Rashid, who is the author of the new book "Taliban," and he has covered Afghanistan for over 20 years.

Would you say that there is any kind of, like, underground movement of women in Afghanistan now who are trying to regain some of the rights that they've lost since the Taliban took over?

RASHID: Well, you know, there is certainly in the major cities, especially, you know, in Kabul. But I think the problem is that there is -- you know, society has just been totally devastated, the families destroyed, you know, everyone has lost somebody in the war. There is no food. There's very little international humanitarian assistance coming in.

There's complete exhaustion, a war-weariness amongst the population that really does not allow them to resist or protest very much. I mean, there's a daily battle to get your daily bread, to get, you know, to feed your children, to survive. And that is absorbing much and most of the energy of Afghan women.

I go into my book in some detail as to how family life has just been totally destroyed. Family life in Muslim societies is very, very important, and is one of the kind of bedrocks of the whole social and political structure. But, you know, the fact is that, you know, there have been so many losses in each family, some -- you know, 80 percent of Afghans are displaced from their original abode of residence, meaning that either they have moved to other countries, or they've been internally displaced within Afghanistan, they've had to move from one city to another because of the war.

That's an enormous proportion. I mean, you've lost your home, you've lost all your belongings, you've lost, you know, key members of your family. And, you know, the family itself is dispersed. So there is a war-weariness and exhaustion which doesn't allow for much kind of opposition to Taliban rule.

GROSS: One of the paradoxes of the Taliban is that although addiction is very harshly dealt with by the Taliban, the Taliban make a lot of money from, from, from the poppy economy, and Afghanistan is, I think, what, second only to Burma in poppy production? So much of the Taliban economy is based on this. They -- I -- what do they do, do they tax growers and transporters of, of poppy?

RASHID: Well, last year, Afghanistan produced 4,600 tons of raw opium, which is refined into heroin, double the production in 1998. And it is now, in fact, the largest producer of heroin in the world. What they do is that there are several taxes that they impose. The farmers, the growers, as it were, of the poppy, are taxed by local -- their local Taliban commanders and governors of the local districts. And this is a small agricultural tax, you know, that is -- that goes into the local district Taliban coffer, as it were.

Where the main income for the war budget comes from, and something like 40 to 50 percent of the Taliban war effort is run now on the basis of the income they get from the sale of heroin. And where they get that tax from is that they tax the drugs mafia, basically the transporters and the buyers of opium, who then ship the stuff out of Afghanistan along various networks, through Pakistan, through Central Asia, through Iran.

They impose a 20 percent tax on these guys, who -- and that goes, you know, and that is taxed in key -- on key transport routes, which are very easy to tax, obviously, because there are anyway very few roads in Afghanistan. And that money goes directly into the war budget, as it were, which is controlled by Mullah Omar.

GROSS: So because the Taliban are making such a big profit on, on, on heroin, they've enabled Afghanistan to become this huge exporter of heroin, which is, I imagine, affecting not only the region but the world.

RASHID: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it's not just the Taliban. I mean, the anti-Taliban alliance is doing the same thing. (inaudible) everyone in Afghanistan, you know, all the warlords have been funding, and increasingly so, funding their war efforts, you know, through, you know, through the sale of drugs.

And it's having a huge impact. You know, it's leading to addiction in the entire neighborhood, because obviously if you're export -- Afghanistan is a landlocked country. They have to export it through, you know, these six or seven neighbors that they have. They have to -- you know, the drug market have to encourage addiction in these neighboring countries to create the markets and to create the transport routes to get it out to the West.

So it's, you know -- Iran now, for example, from nowhere after the Iranian revolution, Iran has 3 million addicts now, heroin addicts. And despite the very strict, you know, Islamic precepts against addiction.

China, which again has huge, you know, laws and restrictions against addiction has something like 2 to 3 million addicts now, because a lot of the huge influx of heroin from Afghanistan. So Pakistan has 5 million addicts.

So, you know, first of all, the neighborhood is getting affected very badly, and then of course, you know, this heroin is also reaching Western markets.

GROSS: My guest is Ahmed Rashid, author of the new book "Taliban." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Ahmed Rashid, author of the new book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia."

You know, in terms of Afghanistan's place in kind of international politics, there are several things. I mean, there's the exportation of heroin. There's the fact that Afghanistan has become a kind of training place for terrorists. And also, it's important in terms of international oil. Can you talk a little bit about Afghanistan's importance now in terms of the possibility of a pipeline through Central Asia, and how that affects international policy?

RASHID: Well, there have been a huge scramble, you know, since the breakup of the Soviet Union by Western oil companies to exploit the, you know, huge oil and gas resources in Central Asia. The big problem has been trying to extract this from Central Asia and delivering it to the markets, either in the Far East or in the West.

And the fact that Central Asia, like Afghanistan, is also completely landlocked, and you have to cross huge distances and territories and areas of great instability to build these pipelines. We've just seen how, for example, the war in Chechnya has devastated one major pipeline route to the West.

Now, these companies, and, of course, the Central Asian states also want to build pipelines going east, through Pakistan to India, to markets in Asia, and pipelines down to the coast in Pakistan. But, you know, any such pipeline would have to cross Afghanistan, because Afghanistan holds the key to any eastward pipeline, southern and eastward pipeline.

And you did have a battle between several oil companies in the mid-'90s who wanted to build a pipeline -- gas pipelines from Turkmelistan (ph) to potential gas markets in Pakistan and in India, which would have had to cross some 800 miles of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. There was no other way to do it. And the competition for these pipelines brought the Taliban into sort of immediate international focus, where you had, you know, companies, countries backing the Taliban because of wanting to build these pipelines.

So that is, for example, one reason why the Pakistan government has backed the Taliban for so long, because they're very much in favor of the building of this pipeline. That is why for a time between '94 and '96, you had the U.S. backing the Taliban also.

GROSS: How much power would you say the Taliban have in Afghanistan now, and do you think that -- do you think that they're becoming any more or less powerful?

RASHID: Well, I -- you know, they are still expanding. They want to conquer the rest of the country. The rest of the country's being held by the Northern Alliance, led by Emet Shamasud (ph). But they only control about 15 to 20 percent of the country now, and the Taliban are probably going to launch another offensive this summer to try and conquer the remaining 20 (ph) percent.

But, you know, the fact is that the -- there are splits developing within them. There's a terrible humanitarian crisis inside Afghanistan, which is -- means that there's a lot of public pressure on the Taliban to try and, you know, deliver economic goods, as it were, and develop the economy, which they're not doing.

So I think they've reached basically the extent of their power. They will not be able to conquer the north, because they're disliked so intensely. They will not be able to deliver food and humanitarian aid and, you know, develop the economy, et cetera, for the population unless they very radically change their makeup, and that doesn't seem possible at the moment.

GROSS: You're going to keep covering Afghanistan?

RASHID: Yes. You know, I hope so. I hope, you know, I'll be able to go back to Afghanistan after this book. I (inaudible)...

GROSS: Why, too critical and maybe you won't be allowed in?

RASHID: Yes, yes. I mean, I don't know quite how long the, you know, what the Taliban will think of this book. It is very critical. But I think it's still very balanced, you know, and is trying to explain the origins of the Taliban. There have been several times when I've been refused visas for months at a time, you know, by the Taliban. But I travel a lot in non-Taliban areas too, you know, I go to the north, and there's, you know, I go and see the opposition, I go to Taliban-controlled territory several times a year.

GROSS: I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

RASHID: Thank you.

GROSS: Ahmed Rashid is the author of the new book "Taliban."

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today was Roberta Shorrock. Our engineer was Chris Fraley (ph). Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant. Ann Marie Baldonado directed the show.

I'm Terry Gross.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Ahmed Rashid
High: Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid discusses his new book, "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia." Rashid's book has been called the most in-depth study of the Taliban. Rashid is a correspondent for "The Far Eastern Economic Review" and "The Daily Telegraph," reporting on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. He is also author of the book "The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism."
Spec: Afghanistan; Media; Government; World Affairs; Asia; Religion; Women

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Ahmed Rashid Discusses `Taliban'
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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