Here’s one good thing you can say about the Taliban: when they took over, they outlawed the culture of boy rape, or bacha bazi, common among the Pashtuns. But now it’s back. From The Independent:

Occurring frequently across southern and eastern Afghanistan’s rural Pashtun belt and with ethnic Tajiks in the northern Afghan countryside, bacha bazi has become a shockingly common practice. Afghanistan’s mujahideen warlords, who fought off the Soviet invasion and instigated a civil war in the 1980s, regularly engaged in acts of paedophilia. Keeping one or more “chai boys,” as these male conscripts are called, for personal servitude and sexual pleasure became a symbol of power and social status.

The Taliban had a deep aversion towards bacha bazi, outlawing the practice when they instituted strict nationwide sharia law. According to some accounts, including the hallmark Times article “Kandahar Comes out of the Closet” in 2002, one of the original provocations for the Taliban’s rise to power in the early 1990s was their outrage over paedophilia. Once they came to power, bacha bazi became taboo, and the men who still engaged in the practice did so in secret.

When the former mujahideen commanders ascended to power in 2001 after the Taliban’s ouster, they brought with them a rekindled culture of bacha bazi. Today, many of these empowered warlords serve in important positions, as governors, line ministers, police chiefs and military commanders.

Since its post-2001 revival, bacha bazi has evolved, and its practice varies across Afghanistan. According to military experts I talked to in Afghanistan, the lawlessness that followed the deposing of the Taliban’s in rural Pashtunistan and northern Afghanistan gave rise to violent expressions of paedophilia. Boys were raped, kidnapped and trafficked as sexual predators regained their positions of regional power. As rule of law mechanisms and general order returned to the Afghan countryside, bacha bazi became a normalized, structured practice in many areas.

Many “chai boys” are now semi-formal apprentices to their powerful male companions. Military officials have observed that Afghan families with an abundance of children are often keen to provide a son to a warlord or government official — with full knowledge of the sexual ramifications — in order to gain familial prestige and monetary compensation. Whereas bacha bazi is now largely consensual and non-violent, its evolution into an institutionalized practice within rural Pashtun and Tajik society is deeply disturbing.

What a curse to be born Afghani!

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