The Taliban have quietly announced the return of an infamous government ministry that in the 1990s deployed patrols of men with whips to ensure women adhered to rules on not working outside the home or the mandatory wearing of burkas.
Despite promises they would not enforce the same draconian social rules the return of the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has done little to dispel concerns of a return to those days.
After Tuesday’s announcement of the new cabinet, the English translation released by Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid differed in a significant way from the Dari language release: the Vice ministry was the only ministry not translated into English, apparently because of its negative reputation from the 1990s.
“They’re bringing back the guys with the whips to make sure women wear burkas and don’t leave the house,” said a Western aid worker, who remains in Kabul and asked not be named for security reasons, of the notorious patrols which would enforce dress codes for men and women, enforce participation in public prayers and patrol for inappropriate contact between men and women.
The consequences of this decision are “going to end up on the women,” said the aid worker. “They’ll keep smiling and asking for aid, but they're crushing protests by women asking for basic rights, beating up the media, this Vice ministry will just be a religious way to crack down on anyone the Taliban doesn’t like.”
A women walks in Kabul following the city's capture by the Taliban. Photo: Wali Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
In the 1990s, during the first iteration of Taliban rule, the West was shocked by images of patrols beating men and women with whips on the street for violating bans on shaving, socialising between the sexes, not wearing a burka, banning music and most television and other tenets the group claims are critical pieces of Islamic law despite widespread criticism by Muslim scholars of the group as pursuing an extreme interpretation.
While the Taliban have claimed to have learned lessons about overreach from their first time in power, footage of the group destroying musical instruments at a music school, attacks on women-led protests demanding equal rights as well as the detention and beating of journalists have done little to quell fears of a return to the 1990s.
The Taliban this week also entered the abandoned Norwegian embassy complex to destroy bottles of wine, examine cross country skis and rip apart now banned DVDs by hand.
“There’s more and more of these incidents every day,” said the aid worker. “I don’t think they’ve changed much.”