- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

QUETTA, Pakistan "Anyone can do beatings and starve people. I want your unit to find new ways of torture so terrible that the screams will frighten even crows from their nests and if the person survives he will never again have a night's sleep."
These were the instructions of the commandant of the Afghan secret police to his new recruits. For more than three years, one of those recruits, Hafiz Sadiqulla Hassani, ruthlessly carried out his orders.
But sickened by the atrocities that he was forced to commit, last week he defected to Pakistan, joining a growing number of Taliban officials who are escaping across the Afghan border.
In an exclusive interview with the Telegraph, he reveals for the first time the full horror of what has been happening in the name of religion in Afghanistan.
Mr. Hassani has the pinched face and restless hands of a man whose night hours are as haunted as any of his victims.
Now aged 30, he does not, however, fit the militant Islamic stereotype usually associated with the Taliban.
Married with a wife and 1-year-old daughter, he holds a degree in business studies, having been educated in Pakistan, where he grew up as a refugee while his father and elder brothers fought in the jihad against the Russians. His family was well off, owning land and property in Kandahar, to which they returned after the war.
"Like many people, I did not become a Talib by choice," he explained. "In early 1998 I was working as an accountant here in Quetta when I heard that my grandfather who was 85 had been arrested by the Taliban in Kandahar and was being badly beaten. They would only release him if he provided a member of his family as a conscript, so I had to go."
Mr. Hassani at first was impressed by the Taliban. "It had been a crazy situation after the Russians left. The country was divided by warring groups all fighting each other. In Kandahar, warlords were selling everything, kidnapping young girls and boys, robbing people, and the Taliban seemed like good people who brought law and order."
So he became a Taliban "volunteer," assigned to the secret police. Many of his friends who also joined up as landowners in Kandahar were threatened that they must either ally themselves with the Taliban or lose their property. Others were bribed to join with money given to the Taliban by drug smugglers, as Afghanistan became the world's largest producer of heroin.
At first, Mr. Hassani's job was to patrol the streets at night looking for thieves and signs of subversion. However, as the Taliban leadership began issuing more and more extreme edicts, his duties changed.
Instead of just searching for criminals, the night patrols were instructed to seek out people watching videos, playing cards or, bizarrely, keeping caged birds. Men without long enough beards were to be arrested, as was any woman who dared venture outside her house. Even owning a kite became a criminal offense.
The state of terror spread by the Taliban was so pervasive that it began to seem as if the whole country was spying on each other.
"As we drove around at night with our guns, local people would come to us and say there's someone watching a video in this house or some men playing cards in that house," he said.
"Basically any form of pleasure was outlawed," Mr. Hassani said, "and if we found people doing any of these things, we would beat them with staves soaked in water like a knife cutting through meat until the room ran with their blood or their spines snapped. Then we would leave them with no food or water in rooms filled with insects until they died.
"We always tried to do different things: We would put some of them standing on their heads to sleep, hang others upside down with their legs tied together. We would stretch the arms out of others and nail them to posts, like crucifixions.
"Sometimes we would throw bread to them to make them crawl. Then I would write the report to our commanding officer so he could see how innovative we had been."
Here, sitting in the stillness of an orchard in Quetta sipping tea as the sun goes down, he finds it hard to explain how he could have done such things. "We Afghans have grown too used to violence," is all he can offer. "We have lost 1.5 million people. All of us have brothers and fathers up there."
Before he could escape, however, he spent time as a bodyguard for Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive spiritual leader of the Taliban who comes from the same tribe as Mr. Hassani.
He became convinced that the Taliban was not really in control. "We laughed when we heard the Americans asking Mullah Omar to hand over Osama bin Laden," he said.
"The Americans are crazy. It is Osama bin Laden who can hand over Mullah Omar not the other way round."

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