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Kabuli women chafe under Mujahideen's iron rule

MINA AZIZ bitterly recalls an incident a year-and-a-half ago that brought home to her the harsh reality of Islamic rule in her native Kabul.

She had been out walking with her five-year-old daughter when they were stopped by a mujahideen patrol. The guerrillas told her that the little girl, who was wearing Bermuda shorts, was violating the Islamic dress code. ``I remember that guerrilla with the Kalashnikov,'' says Ms. Aziz, a mother of five. ``He said to me, `We never want to see those clothes on your daughter again.' ''

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`` `The first time, we tell you,' '' she recalls the young guerrilla telling her calmly. `` `The second time, we will shoot.' ''

Such stories have become commonplace since the mujahideen, or holy warriors, seized Kabul and began to impose their fundamentalist version of Islamic law. Their goal: To undo the effects of decades of relatively secular rule in Kabul, first under the monarchy of King Zahir Shah and then under the Soviet-backed Communists. During those secular years, primary schooling became compulsory. University education and male-dominated professions such as engineering were opened up to women. Women could initiate divorce, go into politics, and wear Western clothes. Even if traditions such as arranged marriages and purdah - secluding women from sight of strangers - still survived in rural areas, many Afghan women enjoyed their relative freedom and aspired to equal rights with men.

Kabuli women were traditionally the most educated, cosmopolitan, and emancipated in the country. They had the most to lose when the mujahideen took over in May 1992.

Since then the city's women have been getting a harsh lesson in Islamic law at the hands of the mostly illiterate, village-born guerrillas. Women wearing makeup have had acid thrown in their faces; those caught wearing pants, or failing to cover their heads with veils or scarves are routinely threatened with violence. Some women have lost their jobs, or are told they may not continue their education or that certain occupations are now off-limits. ``After 30 years of freedom, we are going back to the middle ages,'' says Shaesta Gaznavi, a former student in veterinary science at Kabul University.

``I hate the mujahideen. They are selfish people, they want women to belong to the house, cooking, and washing,'' Aziz says. ``I don't like the veil. We want to live like Western people: Free.''

Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani denies there is widespread discrimination against women, though he admits that some fanatical guerrillas may be responsible for excesses.

``No doubt there are some elements in the mujahideen who create headaches for women,'' Mr. Rabbani says in an interview. ``But Afghanistan, from the beginning, hasn't created any problems for women. They can go into any field they choose.''

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The country's state-sanctioned women's movement takes a similarly benign view. ``We have to renew our traditions, follow the laws of God,'' says Farida Rasif, a leader of the Afghan Women's Association. ``Under the mujahideen, life is better. We don't have any problems.''

But Rabbani, who is engaged in a civil war with his own premier, has little authority on the streets. As interpreted by the guerrillas, Islamic law varies from district to district, depending on which mujahideen group is in control of that part of the city.

Amid the turmoil of war, when institutions from universities to government ministries are shut down, it is impossible to know what form of Islamic rule will eventually emerge in Afghanistan once peace comes.

``I think it's inevitable that after 14 years of war, you will have a more aggressive type of Islam initially,'' says Fiona Gall, a British relief worker who runs a work-for-food program for war widows. ``The ones who are not happy with it have left, or will leave.''

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