KANDAHAR JOURNAL; SHH, IT'S AN OPEN SECRET: WARLORDS AND PEDOPHILIA
The following interview was reported in The New York Times on 21 February 2002. As explained on the page Greek love in India & Central Asia, it is presented here as a unique exception to this website's unwillingness to describe the practice of Greek love in the 21st century.
By Craig S. Smith 21 February 2002
Back in the 19th century, ethnic Pashtuns fighting in Britain's colonial army sang odes talking of their longing for young boys.
Homosexuality, cloaked in the tradition of strong masculine bonds that are a hallmark of Islamic culture and are even more pronounced in southern Afghanistan's strict, sexually segregated society, has long been a clandestine feature of life here. But pedophilia has been its curse.
Though the puritanical Taliban tried hard to erase pedophilia from male-dominated Pashtun culture, now that the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is gone, some people here are indulging in it once again.
''During the Taliban, being with a friend was difficult, but now it is easy again,'' said Ahmed Fareed, a 19-year-old man with a white shawl covering his face except for a dark shock of hair and piercing kohl-lined eyes. Mr. Fareed should know. A shopkeeper took him as a lover when he was just 12, he said.
An interest in relationships with young boys among warlords and their militia commanders played a part in the Taliban's rise in Afghanistan. In 1994, the Taliban, then a small army of idealistic students of the Koran, were called to rescue a boy over whom two commanders had fought. They freed the boy and the people responded with gratitude and support.
''At that time boys couldn't come to the market because the commanders would come and take away any that they liked,'' said Amin Ullah, a money changer, gesturing to his two teenage sons hunched over wads of afghani bank notes at Kandahar's currency bazaar.
Most men here spend the vast majority of their time in the company of other men and rarely glimpse more than the feet of any woman other than their mother, sister or wife. The atmosphere leaves little room for romantic love, let alone recreational sex between men and women. But alternative opportunities are not hard to find.
Muhammad Daud, 29, says he first spotted Mr. Fareed seven years ago at an auto repair shop owned by Mr. Fareed's father and pursued the boy for months.
''If you want a haliq'' -- a boy for sex -- ''you have to follow the boy for a long time before he will agree,'' said Mr. Daud, smiling at Mr. Fareed in a hostel in Kandahar where the two consented to give an interview.
''At first he was afraid, so I bought him some chocolate and gave him a lot of money,'' said Mr. Daud, laughing. ''I went step by step and after about six or seven months, he agreed.''
''At that time, I had no beard,'' Mr. Fareed said, smiling.
The Taliban took care of that problem by resorting to an ancient punishment prescribed by the Shariah, a compendium of Islamic laws: they pushed a wall on top of anyone found to be homosexual.
Odd as the punishment sounds, it resonates with many Afghans who live in a world of mud-and-wattle walls, many of which have long since lost their usefulness. There are plenty of 12-foot-high, 2-foot-thick earthen walls around waiting to be toppled.
On the outskirts of Kandahar, Mr. Fareed pointed to a mound of rubble and described how he had watched the Taliban lay a man there in a shallow pit in front of a high wall and then ram the wall with a tank from the other side, knocking it over on top of him.
''When the wall fell, people said he was dead, but later we heard that he wasn't dead,'' said Mr. Fareed.
The man was Mullah Peer Muhammad, a former student of the Koran who had become a Taliban fighter and was later put in charge of boys then incarcerated at Kandahar's central prison. He was convicted of sexually abusing the inmates.
After the wall fell on him, his family dug him out and took him to the hospital. He spent six days there and another six months in jail, but according to the punishment, survivors are allowed to go free. He now lives in Pakistan, his former neighbors say.
A man who said he owns the wall that fell on Mr. Muhammad said he had seen the Taliban knock successive sections of the wall on another man seven times, digging him out each time and moving him along the remaining wall before he died. The man had been convicted of raping and killing a boy.
''We had to be very careful then,'' said Mr. Fareed, shrinking instinctively from the crowd that had gathered around the site during a reporter's visit. He said he and his lover could meet only at night in each others' homes, but that they tried to refrain from physical contact for fear that the Taliban's extensive intelligence network would discover them.
Now the Taliban are gone and the commanders have returned, some with their predilections. The problem is so widespread that the government has issued a directive barring ''beardless boys'' -- a euphemism for under-age sex partners -- from police stations, military bases and commanders' compounds.
While men are courting boys once again, few do so openly.
''Still, we feel ashamed in front of our older brothers or parents,'' said Mr. Fareed.
But he insisted that he does not regret being lured into a relationship by his older friend. When asked if he would do the same to a young boy, Mr. Fareed said, yes.
''I'm looking for one now,'' he said with a smile.