- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2001

QUETTA, Pakistan For the first time in three years, the women of Mazar-e-Sharif are emerging from their burqas, the town's men are shaving their beards, and there is music on the streets.
After years of suffering, including civilian massacres and depopulation as control of the city seesawed between the Taliban and the opposition, residents allowed themselves to hope that this time things could be different.
Promising no revenge or ethnic atrocities, the victorious Northern Alliance tried to promote a return to a semblance of normalcy, scrapping most of the Draconian laws imposed by the Taliban in their pursuit of Islamic purity.
After the Taliban took control in 1998, they banned music and closed girls schools, ensuring the alienation of the Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara population, who had been used to more liberal social policies under a decade of the rule of the former communist general, Abdul Rashid Dostum.
Gen. Dostum has a brutal reputation, gained in part by civilian massacres carried out by his troops under the communist regime. He is also notorious for having crushed dissenters under tanks. But he ran a more open regime, particularly for women.
Signaling an end to Taliban intolerance, Mohammed Sardar Saeedi, an adviser to the leadership of Hezb-e-Wahdat, a Shi'ite Muslim alliance party, said, "We have already reactivated the radio in Mazar-e-Sharif and are broadcasting music.
"Men are now free to trim their beard or shave it off, as they wish. Women are also getting the taste of freedom and liberation. They no longer have to be accompanied by a male companion when they are in the streets, and they can wear a burqa or a scarf."
In between the blasts of music, the alliance broadcast a message on the newly restored local radio station.
"We ask you, dear compatriots," it said, "to continue your daily work without any hesitation to serve your citizens."
In an interview monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp., Gen. Dostum, the ethnic Uzbek warlord who was forced out by the Taliban in 1998, said he would demilitarize the city to encourage a return to normalcy.
Ordering troops to leave, he set up a special 300-strong force to police the streets in their place.
"The security of the city the security in all wards of Mazar-e-Sharif should be maintained by these 300 men," he said. "No chaos should take place in the town."
However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday there were still pockets of Taliban resistance in the city. He said that, despite pressure from the alliance, they had still not fully secured the airport to the east of the city.
Thousands of Mazaris have fled into exile in Pakistan to escape the Taliban, and they held joyous parties to celebrate what they see as the liberation of their home town.
In the ethnic ghetto of Hazara Town in Quetta, 18-year-old Salim could not stop smiling.
"I saw the news about the Taliban defeat in Mazar on the television," he said. "I was overwhelmed. I shouted out aloud and ran out into the street.
"Everyone came out and was dancing around. They couldn't believe it. The Taliban killed my father and my brother. They forced me to leave my city, and now they are gone."


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