Mawlawi Mohammad Shebani is officially in charge of morality policing throughout Kandahar, the heart of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
He has just been appointed head of the provincial office for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice, a title that scares many Afghans old enough to remember his previous incarnation under the Taliban in the 1990s. .
Its officers served as brutal performers of the group’s extreme interpretation of Islam, sending men to mosques to pray, controlling beard length, destroying radios and televisions, and attacking or shooting. detaining women who attempted to work, went out without a male guardian or showed their faces. in public.
Now he’s back, and in Western media’s first interview with an organization official, Shebani detailed its structure and how it will control Afghan behavior, and revealed the pocket manual intended to guide the work of the organization. his men.
He described a network fully integrated with the Taliban police force, with links to mosques and madrasas, and formal operating rules, which have been made public.
“The difference is, we didn’t have a specific principle book. There were only mujahedin without a written code, ”he said of the 1990s.
He promised his men would focus on persuasion, not violence. But the guidelines he shared with the Observer, written in a dense booklet the size of a smartphone, endorsed the use of force against the most recalcitrant offenders.
It describes a multi-step process of dealing with offenders, first educating them and then urging them to change their behavior. If they are still recalcitrant, force could be an option, according to the booklet released last year when the Taliban were building the network within their insurgency and in the pockets of rural Afghanistan they controlled at the time. .
“Step four, if the person continues (the offensive behavior), and it can cause a lot of trouble, then you can stop it with your hands,” the guidelines say.
It also included rules reminiscent of the harsher aspects of the Taliban regime in the 1990s, including a requirement that women leave the home only if accompanied by a male guardian, compulsory prayer, and stipulations on length. beards for men.
Shebani sat down for the interview before his new boss, clergyman and now minister Mohamad Khalid, took over the Kabul building that housed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. It operates out of the Haj Ministry and Religious Affairs Complex near Kandahar Airport.
“Some people think we are extremists, but we are not like that. Islam is a religion of moderation, neither too much nor too little, everything is fine, ”he said. “The media is publishing negative things about us, please broadcast the reality to the world.”
Management is apparently aware of how the organization is viewed internationally; when they distributed an English list of new cabinet appointments earlier this month, the Ministry of Vices and Virtues was the only one not translated.
There have been few details on how it works. But Shebani explained a system developed while the Taliban operated as insurgents, which will see its agents integrated into police stations across the province.
Rural Kandahar has 18 districts, each of which has five commission members. “There are five main checkpoints in each area, and an officer (from the ministry) is stationed in each, working with the mujahedin and the mullahs,” he said. In the city, there is an officer assigned to each of the 15 constituencies.
“They watch what people are doing, and if they see people doing illegal things, we find out that way.” Residents will be encouraged to call, he said. “We have distributed their numbers on social media and on the radio, so if people see something wrong, they can let the person responsible. “
He wants to start with a persuasion campaign, with enforcement efforts coming later. For now, the group neglects small deviations, but it opened the prospect of more severe controls.
“We want to educate everyone about the principles first,” Shebani said. “There are little things that we don’t react to because we don’t want people to panic or feel negative.”
In Kandahar City, where the Taliban only recently took control, he plans a tougher campaign to educate residents on how the new government wants them to live and worship.
“We are focusing more on the city because the Taliban did not have control. The people in the neighborhoods have learned the principles and obey them, but we came to town very recently.
He has ruled out, at least for now, the dreaded patrols of the last Taliban regime. “There will be no patrols… we would like to stress that we will not enter people’s homes or places where they congregate and we will not use violence.
The guidelines specifically prohibit ministry men from entering homes, even when they know the rules are being broken. “If there are sounds of music, of television, of a stereo system, coming out of a house, they must be prevented. But don’t go into the house to do it, ”he said.
The rules include a ban on gossiping and exhortations to cleanliness and charity. They even include a call for respect for women’s rights, a ban on forced marriage and an option for divorce. But it also stipulates that women must not have contact with men outside of their immediate close family and must not be able to leave the house on their own.
“You must patiently prevent women from going out without a hijab and without a male guardian accompanying them,” the rules read.