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Hold up, boy!

Massood Qiam, noted Afghan investigative journalist now living in exile, comments on the Taliban’s growing power
Massoud Qiam
Friday 29 May 2009

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All the versions of this article: [English] [فارسى]


On a warm summer day back in 2000, I was strolling down a Kabul street with my brother when I heard a voice from behind say, ‘Hold up boy.’ I turned around and saw a Taliban religious policeman holding a whip; his violent eyes fixed on us. My heart hammered inside my chest.
He stepped closer and without moving his lips started lashing me and my brother with his leather whip. Pedestrians stared but walked briskly by. The Talib told us with contempt, ”you have grown your hair to attract women.” We were taken to a car with Arabic scripts painted on its doors. There they clipped our hair quickly and sloppily, then drove us away.

In just a few hours, the Taliban had swept up a large number of boys and men for the crime of trimming their beards, growing long hair, and not wearing a head covering. They gathered us together in a local prison across from what was once known as the Kabul Zoo. Criminals like me and my brother were held there for several days.

In downtown Kabul there is a pedestrian underground passage. I was very young when I came across an interesting but unusual scene. Two religious police stood at the entrance, picking men out and taking them to a corner. I wondered why the religious police would just pick a few and body search them hidden from the public eye. I walked over to a man who had just been let go.

“What’s going on here?” I asked. The man grimaced, his eyes full of hatred and humiliation, answered: “They put a string inside my trousers to see if I had shaved my pubic hair.” The Ministry of Fighting Vice and Promoting Virtue says that the sunna commands the removal of pubic hair. This apparently is their idea of good hygiene, which is promoted by Islam.

In Kabul I occasionally came across such scenes. I once witnessed the beating of a woman by the Taliban. She had passed out, lying unconscious and in shock on the street. Such was daily life under the Taliban regime but we, but as Kabul citizens, were spared by the Taliban compared to those in rural areas. We listened on forbidden radios to news from the BBC of the slaughter of innocent people in the central regions.

Then along came 9/11. Although a tragedy resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent people, it was a sad blessing for Afghans, who had lost millions of loved ones through senseless violence and were living under the thumbs of one of the worst regimes in human history.

A month after the strikes against the U.S., the Taliban were removed from power. I and millions of my compatriots discussed the mysterious concept of democracy, the governance system promised by America. We didn’t have the faintest idea of what it could be; some were saying it is equality of women and men, others said it was election of a government based on peoples’ votes. Others said democracy is reconstruction, work, and welfare. Another said it was freedom of speech and thought.
I was starting to learn that democracy could bring freedom of thought when I began working for a local private radio station which had just begun broadcasting. From 2003 to 2006 were the best years for free speech, and gradually I became a famous face in Afghan media.

Photo by Fardin Waezi

The 06:30 Report

In 2004, I started a program on Tolo-TV, the most popular television station in Afghanistan. It later played a big role in Afghanistan’s socio-political environment. I was only 22 years old, but was selected to conduct serious interviews with high ranking government officials. In an interview with President Karzai that lasted for over an hour I remember him in tears at the end. I interviewed many key regional and international leaders too. The 06:30 Report analyzed important matters like administrative corruption, the economic mafia, regional squabbles, and drug trafficking. It was the first television program in Afghanistan with investigative journalism at its heart.

After 2006 the program began facing censorship from regressive political figures, and finally in 2008 it was shut down. With it went down the drain all the hopes and ideas that the newly established democracy had created in my head. I have come to realize that all the efforts I undertook under the label of free expression were not the fruit of Bush’s present of democracy. They were, in fact, the outcome of the bravery and dynamism created by the hope and rumors of change in the young people in Afghanistan; nothing more than that. Greater powers than us were at work, determined that real change would not come to Afghanistan.
George Bush, in his last speech as US president said ‘Afghanistan has undergone a change from being a country where Taliban and al-Qaeda would stone women to death in public to a democratic country which fights against terrorism.’ This picture of Afghanistan is true to some extent, but on-the-ground realities have been superficially analyzed. Perhaps I am not being whipped for having a short beard or long hair, but my country is far from achieving real security; which is the supposed aim of U.S. and other foreign forces in Afghanistan.

The U.S. in its fight against terrorism eradicated the Taliban, but it seems to me that this war has made the Taliban more determined and stronger. It has also strengthened its ties with similar hard-line factions. The Taliban, instead of stoning women or accosting men in public, are beheading a large number of men, women, and children on the roadsides in their areas of control, accusing them of espionage or working for foreigners.

I realized just two years after their collapse in 2001, that the Taliban had entered a new phase; that of reinforcing itself. Since 2003, the war has raged wilder. Now that the Taliban have reached Kabul’s gates, I can hear their voices from behind me, just like when they shouted at me on that hot summer day with my brother in 2000. ‘Hold up, boy!’


Massood Qiam began as a journalist and worked his way to Director of News and Current Affairs for Afghanistan’s Moby Media, owners of the private broadcasting stations Arman-FM, Tolo-TV, and Lemar-TV, which are among the most popular in Afghanistan. After receiving repeated threats because of his hard-hitting and popular investigative news reports, he fled Afghanistan. He writes for Kabul from his current residence in the EU.

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Forum posts

  • Though the writer is trying to hide the main causes of emerged terrorism and extremism in the region as well as entire world, still it is good article.

  • I read the whole article of Mr. Qeyam, in one place he wrote "it was a sad blessing for Afghans, who had lost millions of loved ones through senseless violence and were living under the thumbs of one of the worst regimes in human history." yeah it is a reality that it was a depressed regime in Afghanistan but i think the worst and gloomy regime in human history was Rabbani’s and Massod’s regime. because more than 60000 kabul citizens were killed and more than that amount were injured, that is right that some of our people were more hopeful for American made democracy after their aggression on our country but they forgot that US once before left their old friends( Mujahideen) in halfway, and now i think to do so, but US made democracy in Afghanistan give chance to some people Like Mr. Masood Qeyam to be more famous through some fanatic TV Channel for specific intentions, these people intentionally try to fuel the fire of lingual discrimination, bigotry, discord and hypocrisy.

    • I am totally agree with Emal Jan, he is right, Taliban freed the afghans from the brutal regime of Rabani in which 60,000 people just killed in Kabul.

    • Now writers learned what to write to make themselves," Khaled Hussenies"..... I have an advise for these one sided young So called Afghan writers to learn the meaning of "Media" when it comes to protecting our people and culture. It would be better for this kid to write about he athrociteis cometted by US troops in Afghanistan. And by Communists in Afghanistan.

    • Dear Durrani and Emal

      It is unfair to say barbaric Taliban are better than Rabbani. Let’s reminds ourselves of a few fact which may help the arguement you raised:

      1. The 60000 death you mentioned were not killed directly by Rabbani’s govt.

      2. As a matter of fact majority of civilians in that era were killed by blind rockets fired by prime minister Hekmatyar which were targetting Kabuli civilian areas for no reason.

      3. Any new govts capital if bombarded by 100s of rockets on daily basis with 1000 casualties will lose soundness of governance. We are talking about a war zone capital. To be fair even if we had the best leader in such crisis could not possibly bring an effective government.

      4. Rabbani and Massoud’s leadership were caught between two oppossing forces: from south the ethnicist Pashtons who traditionally regarded the govt leadership as monopoly of their own and from north & centre the nationalist Hazara and Uzbek movements who were fed up with decades of political maltreatment as second class citizens and wanted a fresh start and better status.

      5. There is not doubt that Rabbani/Massoud leadership failed to address this delicate imbalance skillfully. On the other hand to be fair it was a very tricky situation for any one to lead effectively without required resources and Pakistani political embargo.

      The most bitter failure of the state was to get involved in street fight with Hezbe Wahdat and allowing Sayyaf to commit massacres in west Kabul and Afshar. They are obviously still to be accountable for these war crimes.

      In my view west Kabul war is the main dark chapter in Rabbani’s leadership. As far as the rest of country was conerned his govt was far better than barbaric Taliban rule.

      Taliban virtually turned the country into a prison where nearly the whole nation was emprisoned with the exception of areas remained free under Jabha e motahid rule in the north. I remember well that I like many others were so unhappy with insecurity under Muhaqiq rule in Mazar to the extent that were hoping Taliban arrival may bring a better security at least. However we found living under Taliban rule was far painful and more difficult than living under Hezbe Wahdat rule. There is not way people in the north can allow themselves to live under Taliban again; they may put up with insecurity and corrupt governence of Rabbani or whoever but not to Taliban Barbarism. No wonder people rose so bravely against Taliban and gave them the lesson they deserved.

      You in the south may regard Taliban as liberators but I am afraid we continue to strongly view them as forces of darkness and barbarism and there is no way that we will allow them to strive in the northern half of the country. We will crack their heads if they try to burn our schools or disrupt our peace.

    • "Hold up boy" took me to the past!

      Massood has illustrated the situation with a kind of PROFICIENCY which takes us right to the situation! While reading this article ,I am feeling the fear of facing a wild animal and a non rational monster who does not understand anything but biting!!!

      Well done Massood jan!

      For more information about our friend who said Massood is trying to be a Khalid Husainy, I wanna say that Khalid Husainy is also a human being like Massood and had a start some day!!!

      Dear Friend! Please let’s try not to insult some one

      Please let’s learn how to respect some one’s Idea!

      When someone writes about Taliban and expresses what he / she has experienced during their dark period of governship, it does not mean that he/she loves US or Russia! we can not insult him just because why he wrote about Taliban first, and not US!!!

      We can just express our feelings and write our Ideas about something not insulting anyone!!

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