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Taliban Harassment Of Couples A Blow To Afghan Restaurants

A woman waits for her food at a restaurant in Kabul in 2016. Now she would probably be harassed by Taliban militants, even if not alone.

Maryam Hotak loves eating out and Kabul, the Afghan capital where she lives, has an ample number of eateries offering succulent kebabs, greasy beef pilaf, and delicious "manto" dumplings.

The city of 5 million's fast-food joints and upscale restaurants offer foreign and Afghan cuisine.

Unfortunately, many of these eateries are now too expensive for most Afghans struggling to survive amid a mounting humanitarian and economic crisis a year after the Taliban swept to power.

But Hotak has stopped eating out with her husband for another reason. She says that incessant harassment by Taliban zealots now keeps them away from restaurants.

"Taliban militants randomly interrogate you while eating out," she said, recalling a recent incident. "They asked my husband, 'Who is she and why have you brought her here?' When we told them we were married, they asked us to prove it."

Hotak says that the awkward incident forced her to stop eating out. "We are not alone," she told RFE/RL. "This is why many customers have stopped going to restaurants, which makes them look deserted."

'Ruining Our Business'

Idrees, a pseudonym for the manager of an upscale Kabul restaurant, says his business has rapidly lost patrons because of Taliban harassment. "We have repeatedly witnessed that when they see a couple or couples sitting together, they are questioned about how they are related," he told RFE/RL.

Idrees says that his customers are now clearly avoiding eating out because of Taliban fears. "People used to come with their families, and men loved to bring their fiances," he said. "But now the Taliban asks them why they are sitting together. This is why people are avoiding restaurants, which has ruined our business."

A woman walks past a food vendor in Kabul. (file photo)
A woman walks past a food vendor in Kabul. (file photo)

Since seizing power in August 2021, gender segregation has been a critical hallmark of Taliban policies. The hard-line Islamist group has banned teenage girls from secondary schools and enforced separate classrooms for the sexes at universities. It has discouraged women from working and playing any prominent role in public life.

Taliban authorities have detained and harassed women activists and journalists. Women-led businesses have either closed or face economic ruin.

In May, the Taliban banned men and women from eating together in the western Afghan city of Herat.

Riazullah Seerat, a Taliban official at the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Herat, told AFP that restaurants were verbally warned that couples were not allowed to dine in "even if they are husband and wife."

In Kabul, Mohammad Sadiq Akif Mohajir, a spokesman for the ministry, rejected the idea that Taliban members are questioning couples inside restaurants.

"There is nothing in our principles that requires people to be questioned inside the restaurants," he told RFE/RL. "Such claims are nothing more than mere propaganda."

Taliban fighters wait for their lunch to be served at a restaurant in Kabul.
Taliban fighters wait for their lunch to be served at a restaurant in Kabul.

Although obsessed with control and discipline within its ranks, the Taliban has yet to arrest any of its own followers or anyone else for harassing diners.

While most Afghans prefer to eat at home, the restaurant business skyrocketed in the past two decades. In particular, Kabul and other Afghan cities witnessed a mushrooming food business, with trendy eateries becoming popular hangouts for couples and families.

In Kabul, Mohammad Khan, a restaurant owner, says he is watching his business slowly die. He says it has lost its clientele to Taliban restrictions and rising food prices. Most days they have very few customers.

"We just sit around here from morning till evenings," he said. "The business here is nearly zero."

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi
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