Taliban turn child sex slaves into Afghan police killers
TARIN KOT, AFGHANISTAN // “Women are for child-rearing, boys are for pleasure” is a common saying across many parts of Afghanistan, and for centuries the ancient custom of bacha bazi — keeping boys for sexual pleasure — has been regarded as a perk of the job for those in authority. Now the Taliban is perverting the practice even further by using boy sex slaves to carry out attacks that have killed hundreds of officials, particularly policemen.
For the past two years, the Taliban has exploited the boys’ access to authority figures, using them to infiltrate and kill by drugging, poisoning and shooting. At least six such attacks happened between January and April alone.
“They [the Taliban] have figured out the biggest weakness of police forces — bacha bazi,” said Ghulam Sakhi Rogh-Lewanai, until recently the police chief in Uruzgan province, where the custom is especially prevalent. Another official added: “It is easier tackling suicide bombers than bacha attackers.”
Almost all of the 370 local and national police checkpoints in remote Uruzgan province have “bacha bereesh” -- meaning “boys without beards” — and some have as many as four. Some police officers demand bachas as a perk, refusing to serve in outposts where they are unavailable. There are even reports of gunfights between police commanders over a bacha.
For the boys, who are kidnapped or and sometimes sold into sexual servitude by their own families, there is no escape. Those who try find themselves dragged back to face trumped-up charges of Taliban affiliation. It all makes them ripe for recruitment by the Taliban for real.
Bacha bazi was banned when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and they deny using boys in combat. “We have a special mujaheddin brigade for such operations, all grown men with beards,” said a Taliban spokesman.
But survivors of insider attacks tell a different story.
Matiullah, 21, was the only survivor of an attack in Dehrawud district in spring 2015 in which seven policemen, including the checkpoint commander, were shot dead in their sleep. The perpetrator was the checkpoint commander’s own sex slave, a teenager named Zabihullah.
“He brought the Taliban inside and poked all the bodies with rifle butts to see if anyone was alive. I pretended to be dead,” said Matiullah, who now works as a tailor. “As his Taliban accomplices gathered our weapons and ammunition, Zabihullah declared: ‘Everyone is dead’.
The killings by bacha bazi have destabilised Uruzgan, a remote province which officials warn is teetering on the brink of collapse, unravelling hard-won gains by US, Australian and Dutch troops who fought there for years.
“These bacha attacks have fuelled deep mistrust within police ranks,” Seddiqullah, a police commander at a checkpoint near the provincial capital Tarin Kot. There have also been insider attacks in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
In a society where access to women is severely limited, and high bride prices make marriage unaffordable, boys are a substitute. They are usually aged between ten and 18 and sometimes wear make-up and adopt a feminine gait. Bacha bazi is regarded neither as paedophilia nor homosexuality. Officials regard it as a symbol of power and affluence and openly flaunt images of their “handsome bachas” on their mobile phones.
“Come see my beautiful bacha,” said Naqibullah, a police commander in Dehjawze village near Tarin Kot, indicating a boy with bleached blond hair and kohl-rimmed eyes sitting in a corner of the checkpoint. The boy had been held captive there for two years, boasted the police commander.
Nader Khan, a tribal elder in Dehrawud said parents were fearful of dressing their children too well because of commanders trawling the neighbourhood for young boys. His own 13-year-old nephew was taken captive earlier this year by a local commander when he went to deliver bread to policemen. The boy was released only after angry tribal elders besieged the governors in Tarin Kot. But the police commander in question was released from custody less than a month later because he was needed for combat duty.
“It is difficult to implement the law 100 per cent when we are faced with a war situation,” said Governor Mohammad Nazir Kharoti, without elaborating on the case.
Corruption, poverty and general lawlessness have contributed to a resurgence and even expansion of the custom, according to a 2014 report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). “There is a gap and ambiguity in the laws of Afghanistan regarding bacha bazi and the existing laws do not address the problem sufficiently,” the report said. “Many of the perpetrators have connections with the security organs and by using power and giving bribes they get exempted from punishment.”
Afghanistan’s interior ministry refused to confirm or deny that bachas were being used in insurgent attacks, but said it was committed to police reforms and acknowledged that “bacha bazi within the ranks of police is a serious crime”.
But investigations ordered by Kabul are difficult to carry out. The head of one government-affiliated agency in Uruzgan said, “We haven’t been able to visit even one checkpoint to investigate. Do you think police commanders will leave us alive if we investigate their crimes?”
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: June 19, 2016 04:00 AM