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Taliban bars women aid drivers



KABUL, Afghanistan -- The ruling Taliban's religious police have ordered foreign women providing humanitarian aid in Afghanistan to stop driving on grounds they are damaging the society, aid workers say.

They said the foreign ministry had proclaimed the ban on women driving after it received the orders from the Taliban's Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

"It has been seen that some foreign women drive cars in the cities, which is against Afghan tradition and has a negative impact on the society," said the letter issued on May 24.

"Therefore, you (foreign ministry) are requested to inform the relevant foreign aid agencies that in future foreign women must not drive cars and must observe the tradition of our country and abide by the regulations of the Islamic Emirate," it added.

The ban on all women driving, similar to laws in Saudi Arabia which often reflect a similar interpretation of Islam, contrasts with the common pre-Taliban practice of women driving in Afghanistan, Reuters reported.

The order came a day after the United Nations said aid workers no longer could walk on streets in Afghanistan because of increasing threats from foreign "guests" of the Taliban from Arab and other countries.

Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, to whom the United Nations complained, said on Wednesday both foreign aid workers and the foreign Muslims associated with the Taliban were guests.

"They suspect each other. They fear each other. Muslims say the westerners are spying on them and the latter in return say they are terrorists. We do not allow anybody to harass each other," Muttawakil told reporters. Some foreign aid workers said they had asked the Taliban, which is trying to impose its hardline Islamic views on most of Afghanistan, the reason behind the decision to bar women from driving but had not received a reply.

'I like driving'

"I like driving. It is needed for my job and myself," a woman aid worker, who asked not to be named, told reporters.

Erick de Mul, U.N. co-ordinator for Afghanistan, said on Wednesday the Taliban "guests" had raised fears for the lives of aid workers.

"Those people, there is no doubt, don't seem to like the fact that the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and the U.N. agencies operate in Afghanistan. There is a clear impression that these people would like to see us go and make it very clear," he added.

But he also said the Taliban religious police had stepped up their harassment of aid workers, often saying they were enforcing moral rules dictated by their interpretation of Islam.

The religious police force is the most powerful organ in the Taliban movement. Two weeks ago, members raided an Italian-funded hospital and arrested three local staff on charges they had eaten in the same room as women employees. The hospital has closed.

Last week the religious police were behind an edict ordering the Hindu minority community to wear yellow badges, a move that outraged Western countries where it evoked memories of the Nazi order for Jews to wear yellow stars of David.

The edict, which has yet to be signed by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, was defended as a protection for Hindus who might be harassed by religious police who herd Muslim Afghans into mosques.

Reuters contributed to this report.







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