Laili Helms
A brutal regime's American voice

The Taliban employ many weapons in pursuit to of a new Islamic order. One of the more effective may be an American who volunteers as their PR representative. Laili Helms, 35, from New Jersey, arranges media appointments and translates and disseminates Taliban materials. She is a long-time Afghanistan activist, but her support to for this regime has shocked friends, who wonder: Is she Naïve, or has she been away from Afghanistan too long?

Though from a privileged family, Laili spent only 5 years there as a child. She lived in the US for 18 years, moved to Pakistan for 5, then come back to the States. She has not returned to Afghanistan since the Taliban took over. Yet she says, "Call me crazy, but I've been elated watching the Taliban progress."

Laili is far from crazy. She's articulate, college-educated and fluent in three languages. Her lifestyle is decidedly American. She coaches her son's soccer team and is a pro-choice activist. She sees no irony in working simultaneously for one organisation which empowers women and another that denies them basic freedoms. Laili's dark hair is fashionably short, and even when working with the Taliban she wears pants. She never covers her head or face: "I told the Taliban I won't wear a burqa. They laughed." She denies the burqa is a human rights issue: "I don't know why the media target the sort of thing. Why focus on the small issues, when the Taliban are struggling for with so much? The country is in the throes of war. You can't have half of the population playing while the other half is dying. Until the war is finished, there must be national austerity."

Laili blames the international community for Afghan women having to beg. It wouldn't happen, she says, if the UN or foreign agencies assisted them. (Some humanitarian programs have been frozen in protest against the Taliban's policies.) "Aid should not be conditional on opening women's schools, or permitting women to work. As a woman and a mother, I think this is immoral.

One of the Taliban's most effective apologist, Laili is unwavering in her support for them. She insists reports of brutality, particularly against women, are anti-Taliban propaganda - despite the regime's openness about its activities. "This doesn't compare to the brutality under the previous government," Laili claims. While life may seem austere now, Laili is convinced that the regime represents hope for peace in Afghanistan.

Afghan women who know of Laili's work believe she is dangerously misinformed. "How can someone who has lived in the US for over two decades understand what it is like in Afghanistan today?" asks 27-year-old Fatima, a former high school teacher in Kabul. Addressing Laili, Fatima says, "From the luxury of your American home, where your children are well fed, and where you can dress as you please, it is easy to support the Taliban. I beg you come to Kabul. I will show you the reality."

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