NY Times: Crime and Punishment Afghan-Style, Crime and Forgiveness, Iraqi-Style


By Alissa J. Rubin and Sharifullah Sahak
KABUL, Afghanistan — Even if there is a deal with the Taliban and peace breaks out, the rule of law, especially when it comes to domestic life, is not likely to be high on anybody’s agenda — as was evident a few days ago in Ghazni Province.

Ghazni in central Afghanistan lies strategically between government dominated Kabul and the more tribal, and until recently Taliban-dominated, city of Kandahar. One of the most heavily traveled roads in the country crosses the province and the Taliban routinely tax convoys or hold them up. The province has had only a limited American troop presence and much of the province is Taliban controlled so that the government has limited ability to affect matters—not that it sounds like it would have made much difference in the following case of domestic crime.

Late last week two women in Ab Band districtly, who were married to two brothers, became so furious at their mother-in-law, that they beat her and then threw her in the family’s tandoor oven, used to make bread.

She died what must have been a horrific death. “They apparently did not have good relations with their mother-in-law,” said Noor Khan, the district police chief, with some degree of understatement.

What happened next is less about Taliban control per se than it is about the deep conservatism of rural parts of the country and the enormous power of tribal elders to enforce their version of “justice.” The Taliban are influential in the area, but it could have happened in other places as well.

There are two versions; the womens’ husbands came home to find their mother charred to death, and in a fury hauled their wives to the local shura council, which was Taliban controlled. In the second version, told by Noor Khan, the local police chief, the Taliban came to get the women after hearing about the murder, and took both of them to a Taliban court. “The first women was shot to death and the second one is still with the Taliban and waiting for her trial,” he said.

Another senior police official said the council had responsibility for deciding “their fate.” He agreed that the local council was probably Taliban, given that the incident occurred in a Taliban district. “This thing happened,” said the official, who declined to give his name. “I would have shot my wife if she burned my mother to death.”

The only government official even to express concern was the provincial head of women’s affairs, Shukria Wali. However she seemed resigned to the notion that not much could be done. “We do not have access to those areas where violence takes place,” she said. “And people can not get access to submit their case with the government.”



By Omar al-Jawoshy

BAQUBA, Iraq — Mohamed Ibrahim Subhi is known as the Ali Baba of Baquba. A 28-year-old car thief, he lives on the western side of Baquba in a very modest house with mud brick walls. Mohamed has lived with his grandmother for more than 10 years and she was the closest person to his heart, at least until he got married last week.

He was born poor, he says, and left school in the first year of primary school. His father died soon afterward so he went to work selling plastic bags. His mother remarried, and he was squeezed out of the new family. So, aged 12, he began thieving.

“It started when I stole seven chickens from a farm in Muradiya village, It was easy and I sold each for 1000 dinars (80 cents),” he said. “Day by day I graduated to stealing car wheels, gas cans and water pumps. I was caught by the police, and put in prison for a couple of months. When I was released I went back to stealing. I went to prison four times and spent three and a half years behind bars, but I didn’t stop. I lived alone and lost for a long time.

“One day I had stolen a government vehicle and the American forces arrested me. There was an American officer standing beside me who said, ‘You are Ali Baba.’ Everyone laughed.”

Then there was a traffic accident. He was nearby, so he went to help an injured girl as her mother lay dying. As he gradually came to care for the girl he decided to change his life and look for a respectable job. But it is not easy to convince a town that you are no longer a thief. Nevertheless he asked her father if he could marry her. “I couldn’t believe my ears when her father agreed, but she had one demand, which was to announce permanent repentance,” he said.

Hence the wedding celebrations, attended by many who had good cause to hope that Mohamed’s repentance is genuine.

“All the quests who attended were his victims,” sighed Umran Subhi, Mohamed’s 59-year-old uncle. “We forgive him, despite this.” Of all his thefts, Mohamed singles out one, for particular regret. “I stole a very expensive watch from an old man. I wish I could find him to give the money back.”


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