Ever since the end of 2001, when the Taliban were pushed out of Kabul into the countryside and the badlands, restrictions on various activities banned under their draconian rule have eased considerably, at least in the major cities.
The Al-Qaeda has been forced to seek sanctuary along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Afghan women have been allowed to find work outside their homes in Kabul and some other towns. Likewise, girls have been allowed to attend school. Song and dance is not banned, and it is possible to buy CDs and DVDs of songs and yes, movies.
There is a downside to this, of course. Under the Taliban, travelers were able to use the major roads which were quite safe, although they were full of axle breaking potholes. Today, the Kabul to Kandahar highway may be paved all the way but traveling on it is sometimes like running a gauntlet under fire. Cities and towns have become prey to lawlessness. Corruption and prostitution are on the rise. Outside Kabul, effective power is wielded by warlords.
As the BBC photograph shows, dog fighting that had been banned by the Taliban on religious grounds is back with a vengeance. Man’s best friends, in this case Kurd hounds, are made to fight till they bloody each other and one of the beasts forces its opponent to back down. Wagers are placed and a lot of money changes hands.
While this sport is totally unacceptable on moral grounds, it has to be said that the Afghan owners are extremely fond of their fighting dogs, feed them well and exercise them regularly. More often than not, the owner intervenes if his dog is in danger of suffering crippling injuries. This is in marked contrast to the treatment of fighting dogs in the United States, where a fight to the finish is quite common. Not so well known is the fact that Afghans were also fond of ram fighting. This blood sport is reportedly still going strong in the countryside.
Another evil banned by the Taliban was narcotics. During their rule 150 tons of opium, the raw material from which heroin is manufactured, was produced in Afghanistan; now the annual production is estimated to be 15,000 tons. Reportedly, senior members of the ruling party and their associate warlords are involved in the international narcotics trade which runs into billions of dollars.
Having seen the writing on the wall, and recalling that one of the causes of the Taliban regime’s unpopularity was that Mullah Omar banned poppy cultivation in 2000-2001, the new Taliban too have started to allow opium poppy to be grown in areas under their control, using the proceeds to finance their resistance against NATO.
Western news sources indicate that the present generation Taliban youth are far less puritanical than the Taliban of Mullah Omar’s generation. As the Telegraph wrote about six weeks back, the Taliban-Pasthun resistance against foreign presence in Afghanistan is moving closer to the model of the mujahideen who fought the Soviets in the 1980s. They are less inspired by the fanatical Taliban who had studied in Pakistani madrassas during the anti-Soviet phase. Reportedly, the morale of the insurgents is high and they are determined to fight indefinitely against the NATO forces in Afghanistan.