Gay Afghanistan News & Reports 2002-06


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Islam and Homosexuality
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1 Startled marines find Afghan men all made up to see them 5/02

Three similar stories by major newspapers:

       2 Shh, It’s an Open Secret: Warlords and Pedophilia (New York Times) 2/02

       3 Kandahar’s Lightly Veiled Homosexual Habits (Los Angeles Times) 4/02

       4 Kandahar comes out of the closet (Times of London) 12/02

5 A Critique of Western Journalists’ Reporting Bias about ‘Gay Kandahar 4/03

6 Afghanistan has its first official AIDS deaths 6/04

7 Interview with Michael Luongo on his return from ‘gay Afghanistan’ 7/04

8 American arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of soliciting gay sex 9/04

9 The boy singers of Kabul 4/05

10 Mazar-i-Sharif’s young women meet their lovers in secret4/05 (background story)

11 Afghan tribesman faces death for wedding to teenage boy 10/05

12 Correspondence with GlobalGayz – ‘secret sex life of …’11/06

13 The Return of the Taliban 11/06

1 – Startled marines find Afghan men all made up to see them

by Chris Stephen, The Scotsmen, May 24, 2002

In Bagram British marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat–being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers.

An Arbroath marine, James Fletcher, said: "They were more terrifying than the al-Qaeda. One bloke who had painted toenails was offering to paint ours. They go about hand in hand, mincing around the village." While the marines failed to find any al-Qaeda during the seven-day Operation Condor, they were propositioned by dozens of men in villages the troops were ordered to search. "We were pretty shocked," Marine Fletcher said. "We discovered from the Afghan soldiers we had with us that a lot of men in this country have the same philosophy as ancient Greeks: ‘a woman for babies, a man for pleasure’."

Originally, the marines had sent patrols into several villages in the mountains near the town of Khost, hoping to catch up with al-Qaeda suspects who last week fought a four-hour gun battle with soldiers of the Australian SAS. The hardened troops, their faces covered in camouflage cream and weighed down with weapons, radios and ammunition, were confronted with Afghans wanting to stroke their hair. "It was hell," said Corporal Paul Richard, 20. "Every village we went into we got a group of men wearing make-up coming up, stroking our hair and cheeks and making kissing noises."

At one stage, troops were invited into a house and asked to dance. Citing the need to keep momentum in their search and destroy mission, the marines made their excuses and left. "They put some music on and ask us to dance. I told them where to go," said Cpl Richard. "Some of the guys turned tail and fled. It was hideous."

The Afghan hill tribes live in some of the most isolated communities in the country. "I think a lot of the problem is that they don’t have the women around a lot," said another marine, Vaz Pickles. "We only saw about two women in the whole six days. It was all very disconcerting."

A second problem the British found came minutes after the first helicopter touched down at one of the hilltop firebases, when local farmers appeared demanding compensation for goats they claimed had been blown off the mountains by the rotor blades. "Every time we landed a Chinook near a village, we got some irate bloke running up to us saying his goat has just got blown off the mountain ridge by the helicopter – and then he demanded a hundred dollars compensation," said Major Phil Joyce, commander of Whisky Company, one of four companies deployed. As patrols moved away from the landing zones, the locals began pestering Afghan troops attached to the marines with ever more outrageous compensation demands–topping off at a demand from one village elder for $500 (£300) for damage to a tree by the downdraft from helicopters.

But the marines were under orders to win the "hearts and minds" of local farmers in what is one of the few remaining Taleban bastions. "I managed to barter him down to two marine pens, a pencil and a rubber," Major Joyce said. "He went away quite happy ."

2 – Shh, It’s an Open Secret: Warlords and Pedophilia

by Craig S. Smith, New York Times, February 21, 2002

Kandahar, Afghanistan – 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.

3 – Kandahar’s Lightly Veiled Homosexual Habits

Society: Restrictions on relations with women lead to greater prevalence of liaisons between men, a professor says.

by Maura Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2002

Kandahar, Afghanistan – In his 29 years, Mohammed Daud has seen the faces of perhaps 200 women. A few dozen were family members. The rest were glimpses stolen when he should not have been looking and the women were caught without their face-shrouding burkas.

"How can you fall in love with a girl if you can’t see her face?" he asks. Daud is unmarried and has sex only with men and boys. But he does not consider himself homosexual, at least not in the Western sense. "I like boys, but I like girls better," he says. "It’s just that we can’t see the women to see if they are beautiful. But we can see the boys, and so we can tell which of them is beautiful."

Daud, a motorbike repairman who asked that only his two first names and not his family name be used, has a youthful face, a jaunty black mustache and a post-Taliban cleanshaven chin. As he talks, his knee bounces up and down, an involuntary sign of his embarrassment. "These are hard questions you are asking," he says. "We don’t usually talk about such things." Though rarely acknowledged, the prevalence of sex between Afghan men is an open secret, one most observant visitors quickly surmise. Ironically, it is especially true here in Kandahar, which was the heartland of the puritanical Taliban movement.

It might seem odd to a Westerner that such a sexually repressive society is marked by heightened homosexual activity. But Justin Richardson, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, says such thinking is backward–it is precisely the extreme restrictions on sexual relations with women that lead to greater prevalence of the behavior. "In some Muslim societies where the prohibition against premarital heterosexual intercourse is extremely high–higher than that against sex between men–you will find men having sex with other males not because they find them most attractive of all but because they find them most attractive of the limited options available to them," Richardson says.

In other words, sex between men can be seen as the flip side of the segregation of women. And perhaps because the ethnic Pushtuns who dominate Kandahar are the most religiously conservative of Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups, they have, by most accounts, a higher incidence of homosexual relations. Visitors might think they see the signs. For one thing, Afghan men tend to be more intimate with other men in public than is common in the West. They will kiss, hold hands and drape their arms around each other while drinking tea or talking.

Moreover, there is a strong streak of dandyism among Pushtun males. Many line their eyes with kohl, stain their fingernails with henna or walk about town in clumsy, high-heeled sandals. The love by men for younger, beautiful males, who are called halekon, is even enshrined in Pushtun literature. A popular poem by Syed Abdul Khaliq Agha, who died last year, notes Kandahar’s special reputation. "Kandahar has beautiful halekon," the poem goes. "They have black eyes and white cheeks."

But a visitor who comments on such things is likely to be told they are not signs of homosexuality. Hugging doesn’t mean sex, locals insist. Men who use kohl and henna are simply "uneducated." Regardless, when asked directly, few deny that a significant percentage of men in this region have sex with men and boys. Just ask Mullah Mohammed Ibrahim, a local cleric.

"Ninety percent of men have the desire to commit this sin," the mullah says. "But most are right with God and exercise control. Only 20 to 50% of those who want to do this actually do it." Following the mullah’s math, this suggests that between 18% and 45% of men here engage in homosexual sex–significantly higher than the 3% to 7% of American men who, according to studies, identify themselves as homosexual.

That is a large number to defy the strict version of Islam practiced in these parts, which denounces sex between men as taboo. Muslims seeking council from religious elders on the topic will find them unsympathetic. "Every person has a devil inside him," says Ibrahim. "If a person commits this sin, it is the work of the devil." The Koran mandates "hard punishment" for offenders, the mullah explains. By tradition there are three penalties: being burned at the stake, pushed over the edge of a cliff or crushed by a toppled wall.

During its reign in Kandahar, the Taliban implemented the latter. In February 1998, it used a tank to push a brick wall on top of three men, two accused of sodomy and the third of homosexual rape. The first two died; the third spent a week in the hospital and, under the assumption that God had spared him, was sent to prison. He served six months and fled to Pakistan. Apparently to discourage post-Taliban visitors, the owners of a nearby house have begun rebuilding on the site. "A lot of foreigners came and started interviewing people," says Abdul Baser, a 24-year-old neighbor, who points out the trench where the men were crushed. "Since then they have rebuilt the wall."

But many accuse the Taliban of hypocrisy on the issue of homosexuality. "The Taliban had halekon, but they kept it secret," says one anti-Taliban commander, who is rumored to keep two halekon. "They hid their halekon in their madrasas," or religious schools.

It’s not only religious authorities who describe homosexual sex as common among the Pushtun. Dr. Mohammed Nasem Zafar, a professor at Kandahar Medical College, estimates that about 50% of the city’s male residents have sex with men or boys at some point in their lives. He says the prime age at which boys are attractive to men is from 12 to 16–before their beards grow in. The adolescents sometimes develop medical problems, which he sees in his practice, such as sexually transmitted diseases and sphincter incontinence. So far, the doctor said, AIDS does not seem to be a problem in Afghanistan, probably because the country is so isolated.

"Sometimes when the halekon grow up, the older men actually try to keep them in the family by marrying them off to their daughters," the doctor says. Zafar cites a local mullah whom he caught once using the examination table in the doctor’s one-room clinic for sex with a younger man. "If this is our mullah, what can you say for the rest?" Zafar asks. Richardson, the psychiatry professor, says it would be wrong to call Afghan men homosexual, since their decision to have sex with men is not a reflection of what Westerners call gender identity. Instead, he compares them to prison inmates: They have sex with men primarily because they find themselves in a situation where men are more available as sex partners than are women. "It is something they do," he notes, "not something they are."

Daud, the motorbike repairman, would concur that the segregation of women lies at the heart of the matter. Daud says his first sexual experience with a man occurred when he was 20, about the time he realized that he would have difficulty marrying. In Pushtun culture, the man has to pay for his wedding and for gifts and clothes for the bride and her family. For many men, the bill tops $5,000–such an exorbitant sum in this impoverished country that some men, including Daud, are dissuaded from even trying.

"I would like to get married, but the economic situation in our country makes it hard," Daud says. Daud talked about his sex life only in private and after being assured that no photos would be taken. "I have relations with different boys–some for six months, some for one month. Some are with me for six years," he says. "The problem is also money. If you want to have a relationship with a boy, you have to buy things for him. That’s why it’s not bad for the boy. Some relationships need a lot of money, some not so much. Sometimes I fix a motorbike and give it to him as a present."

It is not easy to conduct homosexual affairs, he admits. Home is out of the question. "If my father were to find me, he’d kick me out of the house," Daud says. "If you want to have sex, you have to find a secret place. Some go to the mountains or the desert."

Opinions differ as to whether homosexual practices in Kandahar are becoming more open or more closed since the Taliban was defeated. For instance, after anti-Taliban forces arrived in the city in early December, some Westerners reported seeing commanders going about town openly with their halekon. But that has changed in recent weeks since Kandahar’s new governor, Gul Agha Shirzai, issued an order banning boys under 18 from living with troops. Officially, the ban is aimed at ending the practice of using children as soldiers.

"It is not that way," says one of the governor’s top aides, Engineer Yusuf Pashtun, objecting to the insinuation that the boys may have been used for sex. The governor’s order said only that "no boys should be recruited in the army before the age of 18," he adds. Still, the anti-Taliban commander, who is close to Shirzai, acknowledged that one goal of the order was to keep halekon out of the barracks. The move simply drove the practice underground, he says. Zafar, the doctor, says that in the community at large the Taliban frightened many men into abstinence. "Under the Taliban, no more than 10% practiced homosexual sex," he says. "But now the government isn’t paying attention, so it may go back up to 50%."

But Daud thinks the opposite may happen. If coeducation returns and the dress code for women eases, men will have fewer reasons to seek solace in the beds–or fields or storage rooms–of other men. "As for me, if I find someone and see she is beautiful, I will send my mother over to her" to ask for her hand in marriage, Daud says. "I’m just waiting to see her."


4 – Kandahar comes out of the closet

From Tim Reid in Kandahar, The Times of London, January 12, 2002
Our correspondent sees the gay capital of South Asia throw off strictures of the Taleban

Now that Taleban rule is over in Mullah Omar’s former southern stronghold, it is not only televisions, kites and razors which have begun to emerge. Visible again, too, are men with their ‘ashna’, or beloveds: young boys they have groomed for sex. Kandahar’s Pashtuns have been notorious for their homosexuality for centuries, particularly their fondness for naive young boys. Before the Taleban arrived in 1994, the streets were filled with teenagers and their sugar daddies, flaunting their relationship. It is called the homosexual capital of south Asia. Such is the Pashtun obsession with sodomy – locals tell you that birds fly over the city using only one wing, the other covering their posterior – that the rape of young boys by warlords was one of the key factors in Mullah Omar mobilising the Taleban.

In the summer of 1994, a few months before the Taleban took control of the city, two commanders confronted each other over a young boy whom they both wanted to sodomise. In the ensuing fight civilians were killed. Omar’s group freed the boy and appeals began flooding in for Omar to help in other disputes. By November, Omar and his Taleban were Kandahar’s new rulers. Despite the Taleban disdain for women, and the bizarre penchant of many for eyeliner, Omar immediately suppressed homosexuality.

Men accused of sodomy faced the punishment of having a wall toppled on to them, usually resulting in death. In February 1998 three men sentenced to death for sodomy in Kandahar were taken to the base of a huge mud and brick wall, which was pushed over by tank. Two of them died, but one managed to survive. "In the days of the Mujahidin, there were men with their ‘ashna’ everywhere, at every corner, in shops, on the streets, in hotels: it was completely open, a part of life," said Torjan, 38, one of the soldiers loyal to Kandahar’s new governor, Gul Agha Sherzai.

"But in the later Mujahidin years, more and more soldiers would take boys by force, and keep them for as long as they wished. But when the Taleban came, they were very strict about the ban. Of course, it still happened – the Taleban could not enter every house – but one could not see it." But for the first time since the Taleban fled, in the past three days, one can see the pairs returning: usually a heavily bearded man, seated next to, or walking with, a clean-shaven, fresh faced youth. There appears to be no shame or furtiveness about them, although when approached, they refuse to talk to a western journalist.

"They are just emerging again," Torjan said. "The fighters too now have the boys in their barracks. This was brought to the attention of Gul Agha, who ordered the boys to be expelled, but it continues. The boys live with the fighters very openly. In a short time, and certainly within a year, it will be like pre-Taleban: they will be everywhere." This Pashtun tradition is even reflected in Pashtun poetry, odes written to the beauty and complexion of an ‘ashna’, but it is usually a terrible fate for the boys concerned. It is practised at all levels of Pashtun society, but for the poorer men, having an ‘ashna’ can raise his status.

"When a man sees a boy he likes – the age they like is 15 or 16 – they will approach him in the street and start talking to him, offering him tea," said Muhammad Shah, a shop owner. "Sometimes they go looking in the football stadium, or in the cinema (which has yet to reopen). He then starts to give him presents, hashish, or a watch, a ring, or even a motorbike. One of the most valued presents is a fighting pigeon, which can be worth up to $400 (£277). These boys are nearly always innocent, but such is the poverty here, they cannot refuse."

Once the boy falls into the man’s clutches – nearly always men with a wife and family – he is marked for life, although the Kandaharis accept these relationships as part of their culture. When driven around, ‘ashna’ sit in the front passenger seat. The back seat is simply for his friends. Even the parents of the boys know in their hearts the nature of the relationship, but will tell people that their son is working for the man. They, like everyone else, will know this is a lie. "They say birds flew with both wings with the Taleban," Muhammad said. "But not any more."

5 – Kandahar: Closely Watched Pashtuns–A Critique of Western Journalists’ Reporting Bias about ‘Gay Kandahar

by Brian James Baer, Gay and Lesbian Review, March – April 2003

Soon after American troops entered Afghanistan following the events of 9/11/2001, reports began to appear in major press outlets documenting a phenomenon that had previously received scant attention: widespread homosexual activity among Afghan men, in particular among the Pashtun of the southern region of Kandahar. It seemed that Western forces sent into Afghanistan to liberate Afghan women had unwittingly liberated Afghan homosexuals, and Western journalists weren’t sure what to make of that.

Shortly after the 9/11 attack, an article titled “Repressed Homosexuality?” appeared in The Times of London (October 5, 2001) suggesting a link between misogyny and homosexuality within the Taliban. A few months later a piece called “Kandahar Comes out of the Closet,” also in the Times (January 12, 2002), offered anecdotal evidence of the re-emergence of visible homosexual activity in the Kandahar region following the defeat of the Taliban. This story was picked up inThe New York Postunder the title “A Gay Old Afghan Time Again.” Two days later,The New Yorker published a lengthy report by Jon Lee Anderson on post-TalibanKandahar in which he too broached the subject of homosexual activity. At last,The New York Times weighed in with a piece called “Shh, It’s an Open Secret: Warlords and Pedophilia” (Feb. 21, 2002). A spate of articles followed with titles like “Kandahar’s Lightly Veiled Homosexual Habits(Los Angeles Times, April 3) and “The Royal Marines and a Gay Warlord(Sun Herald [Sydney], June 9). Even USA Today (June 3) got into the act with a piece that discussed the threat of AIDS in post-Taliban Afghanistan, a nation seen as particularly vulnerable because of “promiscuity and homosexuality without the use of condoms.”

What makes these reports of open homosexual activity in Kandahar surprising is that they seem to contrast so markedly with the repressive policies of the Taliban—and Islamic societies in general. The official Taliban punishment for homosexual activity was to topple a stone wall upon the offender (most died from the experience but the occasional survivor was set free). Although this particular punishment was confined to Afghanistan, the persecution of homosexuals was and remains widespread throughout the Middle East. As Surina Kahn of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (ilghrc) has observed: “Homophobia runs through mainstream, conservative, and fundamentalist elements of Islam.” Moreover, in recent years even some of the more progressive governments in the Middle East have been cracking down on homosexual activity in order to appease increasingly powerful and vocal fundamentalist groups. This was illustrated by the arrest of 52 suspected homosexuals in Egypt in May 2001 at a riverboat disco on the charge of “practicing debauchery with men.”

Against this backdrop the open homosexuality of Pashtun men might seem the height of social tolerance. However, when read within the context of Western views of childhood sexuality, the love of youths (referred to as ashnas or haluks) among the Pashtun of Kandahar became a disturbing example of pedophilia. Several of these reports noted that the rape and kidnapping of youths had increased in the years preceding the Taliban takeover, and that the Taliban persecution of homosexual activity had been greeted by many Afghanis with enthusiasm. The tendency of Western observers to focus on instances of abuse was matched by a tendency to reduce same-sex relations to a Pashtun “obsession with sodomy.” Despite the jocular tone of these exposés, their subtext was clearly aimed at discrediting the Pashtun tradition by equating it with the ultimate American taboo, adult sex with minors.

A Secret in Plain View
Modern Western cultures, particularly Anglo-American ones, construct homosexuality as a secret—as the secret
, according to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in The Epistemology of the Closet (1990); but this is not necessarily the way that other cultures have constructed it. Western journalists relentlessly projected onto Kandahar the two great secrets of contemporary American society: closeted homosexuality and child abuse. Viewing homosexuality as something that’s kept secret, Western journalists found the patterns of silence and disclosure in Afghanistan to be rather baffling. They noted, on the one hand, a reluctance on the part of Kandaharis to discuss their homosexual liaisons. When asked about these relationships by one reporter (a female), a local contact replied: “These are hard questions you are asking. We don’t usually talk about such things,” Tim Reid of The Times of London noted the Kandaharis’ reticence and accused local parents of “lying” when they, “who know in their hearts the nature of the relationship [between their son and an older man], say that their son is working for the man.” Of course, what Reid calls a lie others might see as a tactful way of refusing to discuss a private matter.

But if Kandaharis seem unwilling to speak about their sex lives, as Tim Reid noted, “there appears to be no shame or furtiveness” in the behavior of male-male couples. Michael Griffin, also of the Times, reflecting on the history of these relations, declared that “in Pashtun society, man-woman love was the one that dared not speak its name: boy courtesans conducted their affairs openly.” Reid wrote of pre-1994 Kandahar, where “the streets were filled with teenagers and their sugar daddies, flaunting their relationship.” It’s a bit ironic that Reid’s exposé was titled “Kandahar Comes out of the Closet,” for it promises an act of disclosure that the Pashtuns fail to deliver. At the same time, the Pashtuns’ behavior suggests a lack of shame that’s inconsistent with the Western view of “the closet.” Reid seems to be caught in the paradox of Western sexual discourse, which (as Foucault argued) is organized around the imperative to control sexual behavior by talking about it. In the end, Reid squares Kandahari behavior with Western expectations only by castigating the Pashtun for “lying” to avoid the subject and for “flaunting” their behavior in public.

The other Big Secret is that of pedophilia, the secret within the secret of homosexuality in the popular imagination, the ultimate taboo. Despite statistical evidence demonstrating that pedophilia in the West is more common among heterosexual men, the association of homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children remains prominent in Western anti-gay discourse, propelling “save our children” campaigns to restrict their contact with gay adults. By constructing age-stratified homosexual activity in Kandahar as pedophilia, Western journalists provided themselves a link to the ever-popular issue of child abuse—especially hot, what with the unfolding scandal in the Catholic Church. Needless to say, Western reports on age-stratified homosexuality in Kandahar typically stressed the “innocence” of the minors involved. For example, Reid wrote that Kandaharis preferred “naïve young boys,” while the Post described them as “fresh-faced.”

In their reporting Western journalists insisted on reducing relationships that are often long-term emotional bonds to a crude sexual bargain. The New York Times’ Craig Smith, for example, translated the term haliq, which crudely means “beautiful boy,” as “a boy for sex.” Michael Griffin, while noting the “rich tradition of homosexual passion” celebrated in Pashtun poetry and dance, nonetheless referred to it as “male prostitution.” Reid put forth that boys are “groomed for sex” with an older man, which is “usually a terrible fate for the boys concerned.” Without a shred of evidence, he described the courting of an ashna, which typically involves elaborate and expensive gift-giving. Smith’s contact provided the following description of this courtship: “‘If you want a haliq—‘a boy for sex’—you have to follow the boy for a long time before he will agree,’ said Daud, smiling at Fareed in a hostel in Kandahar. ‘At first he was afraid, so I bought him some chocolate and gave him a lot of money,’ said Daud, laughing. ‘I went step by step, and after about six or seven months, he agreed.’”

The fact is that these relationships may last for many years; and, as one contact noted, “sometimes when the halekon [sic] grow up [and are no longer sexually desirable], the older men actually try to keep them in the family by marrying them off to their daughters” (LA Times, April 3, 2002). While Craig Smith reported that his contact, Mr. Fareed, “does not regret being lured into a relationship by his older friend,” his use of the word “lured” again portrayed the ashna as an unwilling victim.

Tim Reid pronounced solemnly that “once the boy falls into the man’s clutches, he is marked for life,” but added immediately that “the Kandaharis accept these relationships as part of their culture.” But if indeed they’re accepted, why would someone be “marked for life”? This non sequitur reveals that Reid merely assumed that psychic trauma and social stigma could be the only consequence of these relationships. In fact, evidence from Islamic cultures that have a tradition of age-stratified bonding suggests that the matter is forgotten when the minor comes of age. “[N]o one,” writes Stephen O. Murray in Homosexualities (2000), “not even those who remember it from personal experience, will mention in his presence (or, probably, at all) his pre-adult sexual behavior. His male honor depends on his conduct as an adult.”

Another of Reid’s underlying assumptions about homosexuality is revealed in his statement that the TalibanMullah Omar, suppressed homosexual activity “despite the Taliban disdain for women, and the bizarre penchant of many for eyeliner.” The New York Post, which picked up Reid’s story, recapitulated his strange logic: “Despite the regime’s hatred of women and penchant for eyeliner, homosexuality was banned.” Like the association of homosexuality with misogyny, the attempt to equate the Taliban’s use of eyeliner with homosexual activity depends on a rusty Western stereotype that seems to have life in it yet. Jon Lee Anderson’s article in The New Yorker implied a connection between homosexuality and effeminacy by juxtaposing a report on the enduring tradition of pederasty among the Pashtun with a description of local practices that include the use of eyeliner and toe-nail polish and the wearing of colorful, high-heeled sandals a size or two too small—which “means that you mince and wobble as you walk.”

Maura Reynolds of The LA Times noted that “there is a strong streak of dandyism among Pashtun males. Many line their eyes with kohl, stain their fingernails with henna or walk about town in clumsy, high-heeled sandals.” But this equation makes sense only if we accept two Western assumptions: that homosexuality and effeminacy are automatically linked; and that the practices described are in fact “effeminate.” By that logic, turning to the West, what are we to conclude about 18th-century aristocrats in their wigs, face powder, tights, and high heels? Reynolds’ own research should caution against such simplifications. She quotes one local source as saying: “Hugging doesn’t mean sex, locals insist. Men who use kohl and henna are simply ‘uneducated.’” Moreover, her contact Daud, who’s unmarried and has sex only with men and boys, “does not consider himself homosexual, at least not in the Western sense.” And although he has never been physically intimate with a woman, he assures Reynolds: “I like boys, but I like girls better.”

The Making of a Minority
Western views on homosexuality can be neatly divided into two overarching traditions: a Freudian school that sees all sexuality as “polymorphous” and homosexuality as one position on a fluid continuum; and a gay liberationist view that sees homosexuality as a distinct identity analogous to that of an ethnic minority. In Kandahar, there is clearly no sense in which homosexuality constitutes a minority identity—but this did not prevent Western journalists from constantly using the language of the Western gay rights movement to describe it. Thus, for example, faced with estimates from her informants that “between 18% and 45% of men [in Kandahar] engage in homosexual sex,” Maura Reynolds observed dryly that this is “significantly higher than the 3% to 7% of American men who, according to studies, identify themselves as homosexual.”

Journalists repeatedly used Western concepts such as “gay” and “the closet” to characterize the Kandahar situation, thus imposing their notion of homosexuality as a minority identity. The term “gay” is used in the title of the New York Post article—“A Gay Old Afghan Time Again”—as well as in the article itself: “Men accused of being gay were executed by having a wall toppled on them.” The word also appears in the headline of Smucker and Kili’s story, “The Royal Marines and a Gay Warlord,” even though the Afghan doctor quoted by Reynolds cautions that, among the Kandaharis, “homosexuality is what they do, not what they are.” The picture of homosexual behavior that emerges in even the shortest press accounts is complicated and, to the Western eye, contradictory. Smucker and Kili’s article profiles an Afghan warlord, Malim Jan, who has “two wives and ‘several boyfriends,’” and who has now taken a fancy to the Royal Marines visiting his camp.

Another way that journalists like Craig Smith and Maura Reynolds try to reconcile the evidence for polymorphous sexual desire with Western binarism is by interpreting the widespread homosexual activity as an aberration, a product of the extreme segregation of women in traditional Muslim cultures. This segregation presumably places women sexually out of bounds, forcing men to go elsewhere for gratification. And yet, as Tim Reid points out, the men who court adolescent boys are typically married with children, while the “gay warlord” profiled by Smucker and Kili has “two wives and ‘several boyfriends.’”

Michael Griffin appears initially to follow a similar line of argument, attributing the popularity of homosexual sex to the Taliban’s extreme misogyny or “gynæophobia.” Near the end of the article, however, he writes that the Taliban’s “gynæophobia appeared [to be] the product of a repressed homosexuality” (italics mine). Here he reverses the terms of his original argument, namely that homosexuality is the product of gynaeophobia. Which is it, then? By arguing that homosexual activity is not an effect of misogyny but rather its cause, Griffin seems to be positing a primary homosexual desire, albeit a repressed one, that will not simply disappear with the eventual liberation of Afghan women.

Whatever the cause of homosexuality in Kandahar, the future of same-sex relations there is uncertain
. While some predict an increase in tolerance of homosexual activity with the defeat of the Taliban, a recent law forbidding “beardless youths” in the army appears intended to restrict the practice of man-boy love—a possible reaction to the sudden Western interest in this subculture. This may signal a broader crackdown on homosexual activity throughout Afghan society. Moreover, the slow liberation of Afghan women and the opening of Afghanistan to the West promise to influence the construction of (homo)sexual behavior there in unpredictable ways, as a deeply traditional Islamic society, suddenly in the world spotlight, comes to terms with this sudden invasion of modernity.

Brian James Baer, associate professor of Russian Literature and Translation at Kent State University
, is presently completing a book on the representation of homosexuality in post-Soviet culture.
The idea of homosexuality among rugged Afghan fighters was treated—often within the same article—both as a cultural curiosity and as an instance of abusive pedophilia. In the end, these Western press’s accounts revealed at least as much about current Western fears and prejudices as about the local practices they concerned. leader,

6 – Afghanistan has its first official AIDS deaths

by Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters, June 1, 2004

Kabul – The deaths of an Afghan man and two of his children marked the first official fatalities from the AIDS virus in deeply conservative Afghanistan, a health ministry official said on Tuesday. A 45-year-old man along with his six-month-old son and two-year-old daughter died recently in a Kabul hospital where they were being treated for AIDS, said Dr Naqibullah Safi, the head of the ministry’s HIV department. Safi did not identify the man. The wife of the victim was alive, he said.

"The man had been suffering from AIDS for the past seven years or so," Safi told Reuters, adding that the deaths were the first official AIDS fatalities registered with the ministry. He said between 200 and 300 men and women were registered as AIDS sufferers in Afghanistan. But he said the real number of sufferers would be far higher, because many Afghans with HIV or AIDS would avoid talking about it publicly.

Safi linked AIDS cases in Afghanistan to drug abuse as well as sex. There was little awareness in the war-shattered country about the disease and how it spreads, he said. Most affected people appear to have contracted AIDS from Afghans who had lived abroad as refugees but who have returned home in their millions since late 2001. The risk of HIV/AIDS increased after the hardline Islamic Taliban regime was toppled nearly three years ago, as drug abuse spreads in the world’s largest source of heroin and new freedoms appear in cities, including prostitution.

The ousted Taliban would publicly lash or stone to death adulterers, including women, and the harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law appeared to have curbed promiscuity and slowed the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. President Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-backed government has come under fire from some Islamists for failing to clamp down on brothels that have opened in the capital.

7 – Follow-up interview with Michael Luongo on his return from ‘gay Afghanistan’: on Afghani male intimacy and sex

July 2004

GlobalGayz: During your visit to Kabul and Kandahar could you discern the overall level of comfort Afghanis have with with guy-sex? Did they seem to know what to do? Were they actively engaged or passively led?

Michael Luongo: I can’t really say what they actually do in bed, but Afghan men in general picked up very quickly that I was gay, and with such male to male intimacy in this country, it’s not really a problem. Men are allowed to do as they please, and if it means that the possibility of sex between men can occur, than so be it. I was often asked for sex in very public, and even religious and government settings, which was actually shocking to me.

GG: My understanding is that Muslim guys (gay and straight) are so conditioned toward heterosexual marriage that they feel OK about MSM as long they are tops after a certain age (about 17, when they switch from boy bottoms to man tops). Did you discern anything about this aspect? Talking is one thing, actual sex-in-the-dark is another and reveals more than words.

Luongo: I think certainly most men want to play the active role. There were men I met whom it would be understood played the passive role, but these things are never said. In conversations, men did ask to penetrate me, and I said no. Reversing the question, I could never get a response back. Also, the men who seemed most aggressive about wanting what we would call gay sex were also the most aggressively heterosexual appearing – soldiers, policemen, and the like.

GG: You wrote about the keen interest the native guys have in sex; did you discern their interest in homosex was only sublimated proxy hetero interest? Or is there a deeper appeal for genuine homosex/intimacy that includes wet kissing and active oral. (I think wet kissing and active oral separate the pseudo-gay from the real gay person vs fucking which anyone can do.) I guess this question essentially asks, are these guys bisexual by nature or is their playing around just a temporary stage–situational homosexuality?

Luongo: I was at a party where clearly the men wanted to fool around with each other and played at that sort of thing, but would still discuss women. In fact, even knowing that I was a gay man, I had more experience with women than any of them, none of whom had ever seen a woman naked. Imagine being 26 and in that same situation in the USA? Still, ultimately sex between men was the point of the party. One man sat close to me caressing and playing very tenderly with my arm and hand; at some points he would say, "I wish you were a girl. So I think yes, in some cases, it is substitution, and yet also, based on our own stereotypes of what a gay man should be, there were some men who would be gay in Western setting. So it is both, but perhaps situational in more cases. (But I also say we should throw out all of our Western notions of gay and assume that sexuality is fluid and people do not need to define oneself. That is the beauty of such a situation, and is perhaps the way homosexuality truly is, rather than a constructed identity which in the West means we pay $10 for beers in gay bars when straight people pay $2 for the same in their bars.)

GG: In Kandahar, as we know from mainstream reports, gang leaders and warlords seduce younger men as their paramours. Did you find this to be true? I assume the younger one takes the feminine sexual role? How long do these big guys keep these little lovers? Until they marry? And then they in turn take younger guys or do these relationships last many years?

Luongo: Western journalist want to state that the evidence on this is clear, and yet I am not so sure after having been there. This tradition/pattern is something hard for an outsider to prove. In the recent past the Taliban ensured that many such people were killed – even if they themselves, also to a degree practiced such a thing. There are an inordinate amount of young beardless ‘soldiers’ in Kandahar in comparison to other parts of the country. But does that mean they are all the lovers of older soldiers? I can not say for sure. I would say, based on what people tell me who live there, anecdotally, yes. There are hospital cases where younger men have been anally traumatized, either by rape, or simply sex that is rough. Still, it is hard to say how many.
There are also adult homosexual relationships, but this too is hard for me to prove.
Mazar is another city known for these practices as well; it is not solely a Kandahar characteristic. What was put to me very poetically by an American woman living there is that in Kandahar, there is a tradition of keeping beautiful things. Anyone who goes to this city will immediately notice the love of ornamentation, and it is the most beautiful city in the country in my opinion. People also keep pets, especially birds, which is not common in other parts of Afghanistan. This perhaps extends to beautiful young men who are kept by older men as trophies to have around, buy things for, to keep, to show to friends and play with, but whether that extends to sex is a case by case arrangement.

GG: In your story you mentione that a construction worker said to you, "You like homosex?" in front of the other guys? Was that a risky moment for you? Is there gay bashing in Afghan culture? What happens if
straight guys there find out that a friend is really gay?

Luongo: It was not the construction worker who asked me if I liked homosex, but rather all the old men who had gathered and were pushing us together. I was shocked at the openness of this, as we were also at a mosque, but with 20 people watching, all was OK. I would not say it was a risky moment – I felt more at risk going to a remote party where I had no clue how to get home or where I even was.
Romantic overtures were actually quite common from men on the streets of Kabul
. I never felt at risk in those situations, just simply shocked at the openness of it. This even happened on my second trip with a policeman who held my hand and told the crowd at a swimming pool he wanted to find a room so he could have sex with me. There are also visibly gay men, but very few among native Afghans. I noticed this more on my second trip, and also in dealing with gay Americans living in Kabul who know such people. In general, such men have been Westernized, or work in the hotel industry. But it is very very few.
I have been receiving calls from a Swiss refugee organization about gay Afghans claiming asylum. As a Westerner, you tend to be considered above the law in a place like Afghanistan. While I do not consider the country homophobic, far from it, to be a gay Afghan in the Western sense is an entirely new construct for the country even if they understand the meaning of the word. So it is hard to say.
One bright note I will mention though is that the gay-marriage debate in the USA, broadcast into Afghan living rooms via CNN and BBC, is bringing about intelligent and interesting questions in Kabul and other cities. It also allowed one young man to come out indirectly to a gay American couple I know there. So, only the future will tell what happens in a place like Afghanistan. And I will make sure to continue to visit to find out.

8 – American arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of soliciting gay sex

Associated Press, September 2004

Kabul, Afghanistan – An American adviser to the Afghan government has been arrested in the capital for allegedly having sex with an Afghan man, officials said last week. The man was arrested late last month after an Afghan detained by police told investigators the American had paid him for sexual relations at a Kabul hotel, the officials said. Afghan officials say homosexuality remains a crime, even though it no longer brings the brutal punishment handed out under the Taliban before its ouster in 2001. Under its harsh interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic law, gays were crushed to death by having walls toppled on them, although Afghans say closet gay relationships remained widespread. Abdul Halim Samadi, a prosecutor dealing with the current case in Kabul, said the American could get a jail term of 5-15 years if convicted.

9 – The boy singers of Kabul
–They were beaten and jailed under the Taliban. But now child singers such as 13-year-old Mirwais Najrabi are fêted as stars, despite the taint of corruption that clings to them.

by Nick Meo, Moby Capital Updates, April 12, 2005

In the cramped upstairs office of a theatre in central Kabul, thirteen year-old Mirwais Najrabi is standing up to sing. As he begins the first sorrowful verse of a traditional Afghan lament, it soon becomes clear why this is the most sought-after voice in the city.

Dressed in an embroidered shalwar khamiz and green velvet jacket, with a great mop of hair falling over an innocent face, Mirwais sings like an angel. In post-Taliban Kabul, a voice like that can earn its owner – and his agent – up to $1,000 (£500) a night.

Of all the extraordinary changes of fortune to affect Afghans in the past three years, few have seen their luck change for the better as much as Kabul’s boy singers. During the rule of the Taliban, they were a despised breed. Boys were often beaten and jailed if caught plying their trade; now they are showered with dollar bills and fêted as the showbiz stars of Asia’s most broken-down city. The two singers’ bazaars in the backstreets of Kabul’s old town are crowded with hundreds of boys – talented aspirants, established singers from famous musical families, and for the really big names, canny agents.

The biggest stars make their main money from the lucrative wedding party appearances that pay up to $1,000 a time, plus tips. And Mirwais is the biggest star of them all. His father, Mazari Najrabi, was a famous singer; Mirwais discovered his gift singing along to tunes his elder brother played on an instrument similar to an accordion. About a year ago, with the Taliban gone, he started attracting attention. Then a Svengali-like figure, Sidiq Darayee, an impresario and theatre owner, began to organise Mirwais’s business affairs. Soon he was singing until 3am at wild wedding parties before going to school the next day.

I met Mirwais and his entourage in Darayee’s theatre in the week he was putting on a comedy. After what they’ve been through in the past 25 years, Afghans like a good laugh. Two cousins accompany the boy everywhere; in lawless Kabul, a 13-year-old with a marketable voice is a valuable commodity, and it is not unheard of for commanders to arrange the kidnapping of boys they take a fancy to. Darayee did most of the talking. Mirwais sat patiently on a worn couch as the agent explained rather bitterly that foreigners were not spending enough in Kabul. Later, eyes shining, the theatre-owner demanded $600 for a private singing appearance by Mirwais. Meanwhile the child star said little. He enjoyed singing. He would like to be famous. Coming to England is one of his ambitions.

He seemed a cheerful lad, if taciturn. And the rewards of his trade were obvious. Round his neck was a gold pennant on a gold chain and, on his finger, a gold ring. Farhad, my translator and one of Afghanistan’s few true peaceful souls, was rather shocked. "What is such a young boy doing wearing gold? If my son did that I would strike him for not showing respect."

But Mirwais and others like him can scarcely be blamed for exploiting their temporary good fortune. The boy singers may be practising an art form with an ancient role in Afghan tradition, but their time at the top is brief, starting, if they are lucky, at the age of 12 or 13. Most of them are finished forever by the time their voice breaks a couple of years later. That doesn’t leave long to rake in the cash, and the wooden huts of Chor bazaar where the boys and their families base themselves, resound with the harsh sound of haggling for fees as much as the sound of young voices showing off their talent.

Nor do the singers occupy a comfortable place in Afghan culture. Pre-pubescent boys with sweet voices are highly prized and highly praised, but they will never manage to shake off the taint of corruption that clings to even the most innocent of them.
In a land where women are unavailable outside marriage, except as prostitutes, sex with young boys has always been socially acceptable in most layers of society and not just in the southern city of Kandahar where it is a famous vice.

Everybody knows that beautiful young beardless boy singers are a source of lust for wealthy commanders, who would be embarrassed to take a female mistress. The pre-pubescent boy draped in gold, wearing the finest clothes and well known as a concubine, is a Kabul cliché, although such liaisons will never be acknowledged by either the boy or the commander. Many are chauffeured around in expensive vehicles and treated with deference by the commander’s men. "You must be careful with some of these boys and their families even though you may despise them and what they represent," said one Kabuli. "If you laid a finger on them or said a bad word against them, the commanders would have you killed."

As the commanders enrich themselves on drugs and corruption, the number of kept boy singers proliferates and the parties become wilder. Whether the boys have personally been corrupted or not, and even if they are stars, they will never be truly free of the low-life reputation which surrounds their calling. But for all the dubious morality of the profession, Afghans love music and are happy to celebrate the return of the boys with beautiful voices. Music-making here nearly perished for good in the war and during the Taliban persecution that followed. Even now, in more relaxed times, it remains at risk of being eclipsed by youthful Kabul’s new obsession with all things foreign and especially anything emanating from Bollywood.

But slowly, the old ways and habits of Kabul are regaining a foothold, and Afghans are rediscovering a part of their heritage.
The district where musician families lived for centuries, Kocha Kharab, used to be famous for its racy nightlife. Afghans would go in search of the sad songs of longing sung in the classical Mahali tradition, with their hypnotic beats on tabla drums and a range of stringed instruments such as the 19-stringed habab, a kind of mandolin, and a traditional accordion. According to mood, men would sit in clouds of hashish smoke chatting with friends and letting the music wash over them, or clapping along with the beat and getting up to dance, hands waving above their heads in wild abandon.

Afterwards, many would discreetly slip into Kocha Kharab’s brothels in search of boys or girls according to taste, or would even put a bid in for the dancing boys or the young singers. Like so much else in the city, Kabul’s unlikely bohemian world came to an abrupt end when the rockets of the fundamentalist leader, Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, flattened it during the war – Kabulis claim the puritan, psychopathic warlord singled out Kocha Kharab for his special brand of violent attention.

The musicians’ families were then scattered across the city. The Taliban destroyed the instruments and threw anyone caught dancing or singing into prison. To an Afghan puritan, Kocha Kharab was Afghanistan’s Sodom and Gomorrah. Notwithstanding the return of the singers, it will probably never return to its heyday. But in a city of overnight millionaires and with the freedom to once again perform in public, the success of boys like Mirwais underlines a mini-revival. During the three month wedding season before Ramadan, he was booked every night, singing songs of impossible love, bloody betrayal, and heroism. As with many Afghans, these are themes that have touched his own family.

Mirwais’s father was killed when he was five, and the family lived on the front line during the fighting between factions that tore the city apart. When the Taliban came, they had to bury their instruments in the garden. After such traumas, he is at the top of the singing hierarchy, for now. According to Darayee, he has rivals but the agent refused to name them. " They laughed at Mirwais when he started singing because he is small," he said. "But they are not laughing now." One rival, reportedly, is Wali Fateh Ali Khan, 14. There are others. But Mirwais proved his worth by winning a singing competition at the Park Cinema last year, blowing the competition away with his stage presence.

His cassettes sell out routinely. Shaky DVDs of his performances at wedding parties outsell Bollywood hits. Posters of him adorn the teashops of Kabul. Protected from press questioning by his entourage, it is difficult to say what effect all this is having on his 13-year-old mind. He insists school is fun and he is treated the same as any other boy. As for the unwanted attentions of older men, Mirwais is lucky; his family are respectable musicians and the protection of his cousins can be relied upon. He is probably safe from the predations of corrupt old men. But other boys do not have such protection, as post-war Kabul becomes ever wilder.

One horrified Afghan even reported that he had seen women dancing at a wedding party thrown by one of the capital’s richest families. They were beautiful girls, he admitted, and demurely dressed, but they were clearly prostitutes, and therefore to see them in public was even more shocking than seeing a kept boy. Boys who had been corrupted by commanders were also there, and the illicit alcohol had been flowing freely.

" I have never seen anything like it," the man said. "Ninety per cent of the men there were criminals. There were dozens of police outside protecting the party. I left when it started turning violent." Many Afghans are pleased their musical tradition has survived, but are embarrassed it is turning out to have such a sleazy side. In Kabul, perhaps inevitably, beauty comes at a price. " These songs are beautiful. They make me close my eyes and dream," said one. "It is when I open my eyes and look that I have such a rude awakening."

10 – Mazar-i-Sharif’s young women meet their lovers in secret

Agence France Press, April 2005

Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan
Beneath a blue burqa which glides through the shadow of the Hazrat Ali shrine, a pair of feet with delicately painted nails makes its way towards the gardens where some of Mazar-i-Sharif’s young women meet their lovers in secret. The northern city’s young men openly discuss this educated minority of urban women, who discreetly challenge Afghan traditions that fathers must choose the men their daughters marry and that brides cannot see their husbands in advance.

"Today, girls can meet boys in government offices, in aid agencies, non-governmental organisations, at university," explains Aimal, a 24-year-old dressed in jeans and a western shirt who works for the United Nations in Mazar. Virtually impossible under the ultra-Islamic Taliban, these meetings are a prelude to "love marriages", still an extremely rare phenomenon in Afghanistan but becoming increasingly popular in towns.

"People who make love marriages are educated people, people who have a job, which is still rare in Afghanistan today," adds Aimal.
"Only educated people can meet other young people and have a boyfriend or a girlfriend before getting married," says Hamidullah, a 25-year-old journalist sitting at a table full of men at a restaurant in central Mazar. At Koti Barq, a small residential area built by the Soviets near the city, three young men talk about girls in a pharmacy owned by Sabur, a jovial, goateed 23-year-old who is also dressed in jeans.

"The vast majority of Afghan marriages comply with traditions; so they’re more or less forced marriages," Sabur says. More than three years after the fall of the Taliban, social customs in much of Afghanistan continue to be repressive. Many young people, particularly women, continue to be forced or pressured into marrying spouses who are not of their choice. Those who shun arranged marriages often meet in towns like Mazar, particularly at work or at university.

"Hospitals too," says Ershad, 30, a doctor from the western city of Herat, the only one of the three wearing traditional Afghan dress. "Lots of people come to hospitals only to see girls. And all the doctors I know have a girlfriend." After the initial meeting, young lovers have to make an effort to keep in touch. "But today, it’s easy to contact boys or girls with mobiles," says 26-year-old Jamshit, the third of the young men at Sabur’s pharmacy. "Before that, if you wanted to meet a girl and to send her a message, you had to give it to her little brother, with a candy for him. With one risk, the message being caught by the father. "Now, 80 percent of young people in Mazar have a mobile. It’s like a fashion, and with it you can set up meetings without any problem." All that’s left is to find a spot for a rendezvous.

"In Mazar, there are several places where you can meet girls: hotels, some restaurants, shops, hospitals," says Ershad. "And pharmacies," he adds with a glance at Sabur. The young pharmacist smiles. Quietly, he shows a red curtain behind the counter. "This is a very good place for secret meetings. And there’s no risk: it’s normal for a girl to come here to buy drugs," he says. Those who have no secret place can always go to the gardens at the Hazrat Ali shrine, Afghanistan’s holiest, where Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed is buried. There, in the shadow of the mosaics and turquoise domes, "girls come to the shrine in burqa, call their boyfriend with their mobile and tell him: meet me there, under this tree, at this table’s corner", says Sabur.

During the recent Afghan New Year in Mazar, dozens of young people could be seen dancing, singing and greeting each other at the shrine. But there were virtually no young girls out at a time which their parents no doubt judged to be unacceptable. Instead they came to the pine-fringed pathways of Hazrat Ali two days later, for the traditional new year "Women’s Day" picnic, strictly reserved for women. But the men are never far away. A few days before, Aimal, Sabur, Ershad and Jamshit — but not Hamidullah, who already has a girlfriend — said they were going to have a walk round the area "just to have a look".

11 – Afghan tribesman faces death for wedding to teenage boy

by Peter Foster, New Delhi, Sydney Morning Herald, October 7, 2007

A Pashtun tribesman who fell in love with and "married" a 16-year-old boy faces summary execution in Pakistan after his "unholy union" provoked outrage among Islamic leaders. The "marriage" between Liaquat Ali, 42, and the teenager, Markeen Afridi, was conducted with all the ceremony of a conventional tribal wedding, including a troupe of singers and a feast. But guests who arrived at the village of Nangrosa in the Khyber Agency, 80 kilometres north of Peshawar, said they were scandalised to discover the "bride" was a boy.

Fazal Amin, 30, a shopkeeper, said 200 people attended the wedding last Monday, watching the "bride" arrive in costume on a white horse, as tradition demands. "I didn’t know that Liaquat was going to marry a boy. When we discovered, everyone was taken by surprise and many guests went back without eating the traditional walima [feast]," he said.

Local reports said the boy’s family, who are extremely poor, agreed to the union after Liaquat, an Afghan refugee, paid a dowry of 40,000 Pakistani rupees ($885) – a huge sum. However, as news of the scandal leaked out, Afridi tribal elders convened an emergency jirga (tribal council) on Wednesday to decide how to respond to the "immoral and shameful act". A tribal elder, Haji Namdar, recently returned from a year-long pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia to impose a Taliban-style law on the area, some of the wildest and least accessible territory in Pakistan. Millat Khan Afridi, 56, another tribal elder, said he would advocate the death penalty for the pair because they had held up the reputation of Islam and the tribe to ridicule and contempt. It is also common practice in such disputes for tribal delegations to march on the homes of the offending people and set them ablaze as a warning to others.

12 – Personal correspondence with GlobalGayz – the ‘secret sex life of wardlords and their trophy boys’

November 2006

First, the ‘secret sex life of wardlords and their trophy boys’ can’t really be called the "Kandahar phenomenon" anymore — because it exists throughout Afghanistan. Our only Afghan friend who identifies as gay — in contrast to the great many male friends and acquaintances who are attracted to, and active with, other men — informs us that the "center of activity" has migrated to NE Afghanistan, particularly in Badakhshan and TakharKandahar and Logar

To us, it was amazing not only how widespread the BB phenomenon was, but also how widely it was tolerated. It wasn’t really accepted, or talked about that much, but it was just dealt with as a fact of life and nobody paid much attention to who was a BB or not. Students joked about their teachers, and some teachers developed reputations for coming on to their male students, but they weren’t routinely condemned or drummed out of the community, as often happens in the west. It really did seem that as long as an adult male fulfilled his social responsibilities — getting married, having children, and adequately providing for them — he could go off and do whatever he wanted: have boyfriends, have girlfriends, or sometimes both at the same time. I knew a great many young guys who cheerfully admitted to being BBs, and many of them had no intention of giving it up once they got married. Indeed, some were already married and still interested in other guys.

It has often been said that the widespread same-sex activity in Afghanistan was due to the unavailability of women. To me, that cannot be a full explanation. First of all, as I said, a great many BBs were married, and, presumably had access to women. Next, if this causal link were true, every adult man would be a BB, because every one faced the same problem of unavailability of women. I knew several young guys who acknowledged that most Afghan adult men were BBs, but they themselves were 100% attracted to women. Thus we have the curious outcome that the presence of some men who were genuinely, exclusively heterosexual proves that those who have sex with men or boys must be genuinely attracted to them.

Still, it was clear that it is not possible to apply the labels gay, straight, bisexual, etc., to Afghan men. The many discussions I had demonstrated what social scientists are coming to accept: that sexual orientation consists of several dimensions, and one could be physically attracted to men yet emotionally attracted to women, and that their are often divergences between attraction and actual behavior. Remember that almost nobody "identifies" as gay in our sense, although many young Afghan men develop deep emotional attachments to other men (although, again, they would never allow themselves to be "passive" with those men).

One writer whose name I forgot, who contributed a good study to a book called "Islamic Homosexualities," even went so far as to say that in the Arab/Islamic world, the wider Middle East in general, there is no "sexual orientation" in men the way we think of it. He argued that for a man, the only orientation is whether one is top or bottom. And if he is top, then it almost does not seem to matter whether the bottom is a man, woman, younger, or older — all are attractive objects. I think this argument has some validity. provinces. It is safe to say that close to 100 percent of adult males up there are "bacha-baaz" ( i.e., "boy players" in Dari). The typical pattern, which is replicated throughout the country (and provinces are still famous for it), is the age-stratified, role-stratified relationship: older top/younger bottom. The older tops are sometimes not all that much older than the bottoms: we have known 19-yo "BBs" as we call them. The "bachas" tend to be 13 to 19 yo, tending toward the upper end of that scale, but can sometimes be a little older. When they get older and more confident, many of the Bs "flip" and become BBs. Although occasionally I ran across Afghans in their 20s who were "curious" about what it was like to be a bottom, there is almost universal agreement that it is shameful for someone to be bottom once they reach that age.

We even found in Kabul that some of the younger BBs were very interested in being top with older Western guys who wouldn’t normally be viewed as sex objects in the West. A number of Western guys over the last three years going in and out of Kabul played bottom to enthusiastic young Afghans. Sometimes the Westerner would "accommodate" as many as 3 or 4 Afghan tops in a single night. Sometimes the tops would watch each other perform, and sometimes that was not allowed.

We also found that same-sex activity was very prevalent among the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. A great many of them, when on leave in Kabul, would stay at hostels in the older parts of town where one room would be reserved for the guys to take turns with their "bachas." To have a "bacha" seemed to earn one even greater respect, and guys would compare their bachas (but never fight over the best looking ones, since that would disrupt the camaraderie). Indeed, the most famous BBs would organize parties for their bachas to dance at, and the best dancing by a bacha would confer prestige on his BB.

Many outsiders, such as the one who wrote to you, asked how they could meet Afghan guys in Kabul who were open to having sex with other men. As you’ve probably gathered, these guys are very numerous, but there are no obvious places where they gather, and there is no "scene" per se, because there doesn’t have to be. It is all around. It takes patience, but the best way is for anyone, particularly a Westerner (Afghans seem to have no sexual interest in other "brown" people — that is, Turks, Arabs, Iranians, South Asians) to simply get to know young Afghan guys well as friends first. The Afghans will take it from there. They will ask thousands of questions about how dating and sexuality work in the West, questions that can be answered by introducing topics into the conversation such as same-sex marriage and the gay identity. In dozens of such conversations with Afghans, I only heard one negative view expressed about these lifestyles and practices in the West. They seem to envy us our sexual freedom, rather than resenting us for it, and in many cases these lines of conversation will lead to confessions of same-sex desire on their part. But it takes time, and really, the friendship has to come first before these guys will open up.

I think this field is ripe for qualified social scientists to explore further. Please let me know if you have any more questions, and best of luck with your travels. If you ever plan on venturing to Kabul, let me know in advance and I can ask those who are remaining there if they would be willing to meet and share ideas with you.

13 – The Return of the Taliban

by Jamie Glazov,, November 28, 2006

They’re back.
Five years since their overthrow at the hands of U.S. forces in the fall of 2001, the Taliban are reappearing with potent strength. Terror attacks in Afghanistan doubled this year, as the former tyrants of the beleagured country are striking with increasing frequency, engaging in suicide bombings, kidnappings, rocket launchings, mine plantings, ambushes, murder of moderate clerics, torching of schools and various other terrorist activities.

NATO’s attempt to safeguard the Afghan government and to bolster its efforts at democratization faces a perilous test. The situation is further endangered by the possibility of the Afghan government opening up talks with the Taliban – a development that could result in allowing terrorists into the government.

The notion of “peace talks” with the Taliban follows in the steps of a current nightmare phenomenon in which fragile states are making, or seeking, deals with the devil. The Musharraf government, for instance, recently reached a "peace" agreement with the Taliban insurgency that runs unchecked in Waziristan, the lawless mountainous western tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The “deal” basically involves Pakistan’s complete and unconditional surrender of Waziristan to the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists — who now launch their terror attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan from their safe haven completely unfestered. This agreement represents a disaster for the West in the terror war. As one intelligence source has noted, the gains of the past five years have been reversed in a few weeks with the surrender of Waziristan.

In Iraq, meanwhile, government leaders are entering "talks" with Iran and Syria in the hope that these terror-sponsoring nations will somehow help mitigate terror in Iraq and assist in stabilizing the country. This development, as in the case of Waziristan, represents nothing more than a surrender to Islamofascists and paves the road to a disaster for Western security. Afghanistan simply cannot follow this pattern.

Israel’s painful lesson in the Oslo process reminds us how a people under siege can delude themselves into making “peace” with those whose life-goal is their extermination. An Afghan government that strives for democracy, therefore, cannot engage in delusions about making peace with forces whose primary objective is to destroy democracy itself.

It was the Taliban regime that hosted al Qaeda and gave the terror group a safe haven in which to plan and orchestrate the 9/11 crime against humanity. The overthrow of the Taliban by U.S. forces represents our first strike against the core of our pernicious enemy. To make deals with this entity that continues to house and abet Osama and his demons is utterly self-destructive.

It would do well to remember who exactly the Taliban are: A Pashtun-dominated Islamic fanatic movement comprised of students who developed their hate in Pakistani refugee camps during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996. The new rulers followed the traditions of Mao and Pol Pot by making almost every facet of human life illegal. They banned television, film, books, photography, music (even at weddings) and sports. Public executions of homosexuals and of women accused of adultery and premarital sex became common place.[1] The Taliban destroyed ancient cultural artefacts and forced Hindus to wear yellow patches on their clothing. All men were forced to grow beards or face brutal punishment.

Kabul University, which the Taliban closed down upon their victory in 1996 and re-opened in 1997, began its educational program without women teachers or female students. Girls were banned from going to school. Women were restricted from working anywhere — except in the medical sector. They were not allowed to receive medical help from male doctors, and most of the female doctors left the country. As everyone now knows, women were forced to wear the infamous body-bag for the living: the burqa – that dehumanizing garment that completely covers the body and face, with only mesh to see and breathe through. If a woman failed to wear the burqa, she would be beaten, imprisoned and tortured at best.

If seen in public, women had to be accompanied by a male relative. They were not allowed to mix with men and could not travel abroad unless they received permission from male relatives. They were barred from the streets for certain periods during the fasting month of Ramadan. They also had to be silent in public; their men did the talking for them. Women’s shoes that made noise, such as high heels, were also illegal. The religious police feared such shoes might tempt a pious man. The Taliban’s morality squad enforced these monstrous and sadistic rules by beating women in detention centres and, most often, in public places. Many times, the Taliban found it easier just to shoot women upon sight. One woman was gunned down on the street for walking without a male relative — she was taking her sick child to the hospital. Another was shot dead because her ankles were showing while she and her husband were bicycle riding.

Since the liberation, much progress has been made. Women are now allowed to leave their home without a male relative. Girls can once again go to school and a quarter of Afghan parliamentarians are women – a reality enforced by law. Women also no longer have to wear the burqa, although many still do out of fear and submission to social pressures and dangers that are the legacy of the Taliban. To be sure, many of the horrors of Islamic gender apartheid remain. Afghan women and girls are still victimized by domestic violence and imprisonment, denial of educational opportunity and forced marriage. Men can have female members of their family arrested if they do not obey their commands. And as in other Muslim countries, no law exists against rape, and those women who dare to report it are most often charged with adultery.

The problem here, of course, is that notwithstanding the fall of the Taliban and a new constitution that guarantees women’s rights, traditions die hard, and fanatic vigilantism remains. Much of the society and its legal guardians submit to Islamic law. Much hope remains, however, in a society that has implemented new democratic institutions and, unlike the Taliban, has had elections for a parliament and a president. Councils have been set up in all thirty-four provinces for self-administration. There has also been progress in the economy and health care. Five million children have gone back to school.

It is on this foundation that a more equitable and humane society for women can be built. And many efforts are in progress: individuals such as Hussn Banu Ghazanfar, Minister for Women’s Affairs, are leading the effort to guarantee all women access to education, to illegalize violence against women, to end forced marriages and to create safe shelters for homeless or abused women. At this moment, Ghazanfar is working with international aid donors to provide vocational training for women. The hope for Afghan women lies in the process of democratization and in the suffocation of Taliban ideology. The fragile democracy must be given time to grow and be given sufficient control of the country’s legal system in order to make real progress. Allowing the wizards of gender apartheid an official re-entry into Afghan society and leadership would simply cancel out any possibility of liberalization.

NATO has no choice but to militarily defeat the Taliban, no matter how difficult or long the battle will prove to be. For Afghanistan to fall back under Taliban rule would be an unmitigated disaster. Not only would a fascist tyranny re-enslave the Afghan people, but, as NATO’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has noted, the country would become a "black hole for terrorism training." Just like with a Western military defeat, any sort of “deal” with the Taliban will by necessity mean a re-entry of al Qaeda into Afghanistan. Thus, not only would a “deal” facilitate the re-Talibanization of Afghanistan, it would pose the threat of a Taliban takeover of the country — a nightmare scenario that would mean the return of Osama’s terrorist training camps.

Despite the many difficult obstacles and dangers, there remains much room for optimism. Notwithstanding the apparent Taliban resurgence, NATO operations are dealing significant blows to the terrorist entity. General David Richards, the British officer commanding the 31,500-strong NATO force in Afghanistan, has recently emphasized that NATO is gaining ground and that, since the summer, there has been a significant reduction in the number of Taliban attacks. In his view, it is a winnable war. This is a war, of course, that not only demands a military element, but a social and economic one as well. One of the key objectives must be to improve the lives of the Afghani people. Bringing economic development and ending government corruption are critical in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans and minimizing the chances of their turning to the Taliban in desperation.

The war against the Taliban is the core of the terror war. If the horror of 9/11 means anything, if the barbaric reality of the burqa matters, and if free peoples want a world where Osama has fewer killing fields on which to sow his trade, then this is a war that the West, and the fragile Afghan democracy, have no choice but to fight and win.

Notes:[1] For an account of the monstrosities perpetrated by the Taliban, see Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).