Back By Popular Demand

From Holden:

Hamid Karzai’s government plans to bring back the infamous Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

An Afghan government proposal to re-establish the notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has raised concerns among U.S. human rights advocates.

Under the Taliban, the virtue and vice department enforced restrictions on women and men through public beatings and imprisonment.


When the U.S. government overthrew the Taliban in 2001, the virtue department was scrapped. Now the cabinet of President Hamid Karzai is asking the country’s elected parliament to re-instate the religion-based police force.

It remains unclear what the department’s powers would be. Nematullah Shahrani, the minister of Haj and religious offices, has said it would focus on alcohol, drugs, crime, and corruption.

“The job of the department will be to tell people what is allowable and what is forbidden in Islam,” Shahrani told Belfast’s Telegraph newspaper.


But human rights activists say offenses like drugs and corruption are already addressed by Afghanistan’s criminal laws. They see no reason for creating a virtue and vice department except to implement fundamentalist edicts.

While outraged, women’s rights activists are hardly surprised by the development.


During the 1980s, the Reagan Administration backed Islamic fundamentalists to dislodge the Soviets. After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the George W. Bush Administration dubbed many of these same warlords the “Northern Alliance” and used their military organizations to help oust the Taliban.

“If the fundamentalists who started this office are now back in power, it is not surprising that they should return to Afghanistan all the repressive measures they had once enforced,” Kolhatkar added. “The Taliban did not invent any of these measures, they merely enforced them with more rigor.”

One of the key backers of the plan to bring back the virtue and vice department, according to Human Rights Watch, is Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, who was implicated in widespread abductions and summary executions as well as pillage and the shelling of civilian areas when he controlled Kabul in the early 1990s.