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Taliban Bans Music, Mobile Phones In Restive Afghan Province

FILE: Taliban fighters in Ghazni during a brief ceasefire in May 2019.
FILE: Taliban fighters in Ghazni during a brief ceasefire in May 2019.

GHAZNI, Afghanistan -- In a reminder that Afghanistan’s hard-line Islamist Taliban movement is hoping to revive its harsh rule from a quarter-century ago, residents and officials in a southeast Afghan province say the group has imposed restrictions ranging from bans on music and mobile phones to shaving beards.

While a purported Taliban spokesman has denied such restrictions, residents of the rural Andar, Dehyak, and Giro districts in Ghazni Province say clerics loyal to the militant movement have recently announced the new bans over loudspeakers at mosques across the region.

“The basic aim of the Taliban’s restrictions is to limit freedoms of the youth,” Wahidullah, a resident of Andar, told Radio Free Afghanistan.

“In announcements made at mosques and bazaars, the Taliban has asked the youth not to carry smart phones, refrain from wearing brightly colored clothes, and stop shaving their beards, while encouraging them to shave or cut their hair short,” he said.

Zainullah, a resident of Giro, says similar bans were announced in his district. “The Taliban has ordered the youth not to wear tight-fitting clothes and refrain from listening to music,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “It has also banned them from shaving or cropping their beards while forbidding them from growing longer hair.”

Many Afghans view such measures as part of the Taliban’s effort to recreate its Islamic Emirate -- the formal name of their regime, which faced domestic resistance and international condemnation for its harsh rules and governance practices often invoked in the name of Islamic Shari’a law.

After the hard-line group's emergence in southern Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, the Taliban imposed heavy restrictions in the regions it overran. These included but were not limited to banning girls’ education, photography, music, cinema, television, photography, and the shaving of beards. The Taliban regime even commissioned a special morality police to enforce its edicts.

But Zabihullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, denied imposing any bans in Ghazni. He told Radio Free Afghanistan that the group has announced no such restrictions. In recent years, senior Taliban leaders have repeatedly claimed to have moderated their views and be more amenable to certain freedoms, education and work for women, and the use of modern technology.

Officials in Ghazni, however, maintain the bans are part of a Taliban strategy to assert control over the people living in regions controlled by the insurgents.

“They imposed restrictions over mobile phones and the Internet years ago because they didn’t want the youth to connect to the world,” Wahidullah Jumazada, the spokesman for Ghazni’s governor, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “They are afraid that an aware and connected youth is not likely to submit to their harsh rules.”

The restrictions imposed in Ghazni are similar to other parts of Afghanistan where the Taliban controls large parts of the countryside.

The issue is expected to figure prominently in upcoming peace negotiations between the Taliban and supporters of the Afghan government. Civil society activists and most major political factions in the country have opposed such restrictions because the current Afghan Constitution guarantees individual freedoms.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Free Afghanistan reporter Habibur Rahman Taseer’s reporting from Ghazni, Afghanistan.