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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Taleban ease foreigner restrictions
Mary Mackmakin, 71, an American aid worker, is expelled from Afghanistan in July 2000
Many foreign aid workers have been expelled
By Kate Clark in Islamabad

Aid agencies and the United Nations have been presented with new rules for the conduct of foreigners working in Afghanistan.

Decree number 14 includes bans on trying to convert Afghans, wearing immoral clothing and playing music loudly but its tone is much softer than expected.

Alleged evidence of missionary activity among aid workers, displayed by the Taleban authorities
The Taleban accuse the aid workers of being missionaries
The edict was passed by the Taleban's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, before the recent arrests of eight foreign and 16 Afghan aid workers on suspicion of propagating Christianity and has only just become public.

A foreigner inviting an Afghan to any religion other than Islam now faces a short prison sentence or deportation while an edict passed in January had said the penalty would be death.

Any Afghan who renounces Islam will equally face the death penalty.

Softer than Saudi

Aid workers have been left feeling much more relaxed by the new edict.

It is considerably more lenient than an earlier version which was leaked in June and which many people said would force them to leave Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's Taleban rulers follow a purist form of Islam
Rather than there being total bans on playing music, eating pork or drinking alcohol, foreigners are now obliged only to avoid doing these things in public.

That makes the rules on alcohol use softer than in Saudi Arabia.

And it suggests the Taleban will not be checking what people do in their own homes.

Afghans still face charges

Islamic punishments - lashes or death by stoning - are reserved only for sexually assaulting an Afghan or foreign woman, rather than just for adultery.

Afghan women in traditional dress
Afghan women have to comply with a strict dress code
Jurisdiction over foreigners breaking the new rules has passed to the Taleban Foreign Ministry, rather than the feared religious police.

The previous leaked version made foreigners suspect that certain hard-line elements of the Taleban were trying to engineer their withdrawal from the country.

Some had wondered whether the arrest of 24 staff members of Shelter Now International would also be used to brand all international aid agencies as covert Christian missionaries.

A spokesman for SNI, whose members are in detention for promoting Christianity, was visibly relieved after seeing the new list of rules.

But he admitted it would not help 16 of the detainees who are Afghans and could still be charged with the capital crime of renouncing their faith.

Religious police reined in

Those making the arrests are the religious police - the most extreme and powerful organ of the Taleban state.

For now, foreign aid workers are waiting for the fall-out from the Shelter Now crisis.

However, they say they can live under the new rules.

Aid workers are fighting a desperate level of need
Most outline the sort of code of conduct which foreigners already live under.

Kabul is already one of the most restricted places to live in the world.

Foreign women are not allowed to drive and have to obey strict dress codes.

There are no cinemas, theatres or bars - all illegal under Taleban rules.

It is forbidden to visit Afghans in their homes.

And even walking in the nearby hills is difficult as many places are still mined.

While the countryside is often just as conservative, the lack of Taleban officials makes it much more relaxed. In particular, Afghan hospitality culture flourishes - and there it is virtually impossible to avoid visiting Afghans in their homes.

See also:

08 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban hang four in public
06 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban crackdown on Christian relief
29 May 01 | South Asia
Afghan UN bread talks fail
10 Mar 01 | South Asia
Icon smashing - the precedents
11 Jan 00 | South Asia
Afghanistan: Women under Taleban rule
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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