08/08/2006, 00.00
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Kabul clamps down on "imported vices" of alcohol, prostitution

In the capital, where there is a strong foreign presence, the authorities are tightening the screws: raids in restaurants and bars, 100 Chinese women arrested. Meanwhile, a proposal to bring back the religious police has ignited a lively debate in political circles.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – The Afghan government of Hamid Karzai appears to be intent on repressing so-called "vices imported from the West" like alcoholism and prostitution. After the proposal, reminiscent of the Taliban, to re-establish the religious police, the authorities stepped up raids in restaurants and shops suspected of selling alcohol to residents of Kabul. Dozens of places were searched and thousands of bottles destroyed. After the police raids, which were criticized by UN officials and foreign diplomats, several businesses decided to shut down out of fear or saw their clientele – from all nationalities – rapidly diminish.

Prostitution has also been targeted: local media said 100 Chinese women accused of prostitution were arrested: seven of them were expelled in early August. "We are all scared now, and it is not fair," said Hashmat, a supervisor at one Italian restaurant. "This is not Taliban time, it is a democracy."

Analysts say the central government initiative is largely motivated by internal pressure coming from Islamic clerics and propaganda by the Taliban that accuses the new government of wanting a non-Islamic, pro-western country.

Meanwhile, a bill to bring back the religious police, the notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice, is about to be debated in parliament. The idea has drawn international disdain and concern and has ignited a lively debate in political circles and Afghan civil society.

Opinions differ. "It is very difficult for people here to say they are against the virtue and vice committee, but I am against a department that could be a way of bringing the extremists back," said Shukria Barakzai, a female legislator. "If they want to do something about corruption and domestic violence, fine, but I don't need a department to decide if I am a bad or a good Muslim. I will definitely vote against it." Mir Ahmad Joyenda, an MP from Kabul, said: "Afghanistan is an Islamic country, our constitution is Islamic, no law can be framed against Islam. Therefore, there is no need of such a body," said Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a Kabul MP.

But Qari Rahmatullah, a conservative, said it was the duty of every Islamic state to have such a body "to persuade people towards good and dissuade them from evil". At the same time, the MP said he hoped the department would not resort to the "brutal means" used by the Taliban regime. Zabihullah, a 25-year-old mobile phone dealer, said he agreed with this department. "I am an alcohol drinker. If shops are prevented from selling alcohol, then I will not find it."

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