"Give me security, then I will remove my burqa"

The News International, January 31, 2002

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan: The fall of the Taliban has brought an unexpected windfall to stall-holders in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, sales of burqas are sky-rocketing.

The burqa, an all-encompassing garment women were forced to wear by the Taliban, was seen as a symbol of the oppression exerted by the fundamentalist regime. But now the Taliban have been driven from power, sales could not be better,said a delighted Udut Qarizada at his stall in the Mandavi market in central Mazar-i-Sharif, the main city on the northern plains.

"Under the Taliban, I sold approximately 50 per day, now it's up to 120-140," he said, as the generator providing electricity to the market stopped and started in a sign that not everything was perfect. Mondays and Thursdays are best for sales when villagers descend from the surrounding mountains to do their shopping in this city of about 200,000 people.

"I sell much more burqas than before because the women are now free to go out alone and choose their clothing for themselves," another stall-holder Karim Wahid, 28, said. He carries a stock of 1,000 burqas, in blue and in white, and said he was selling "100-120 a week compared to 10 in the time of the Taliban," who were driven out of the city by Northern Alliance ground forces on November 7.

With the lifting of the strictly enforced Taliban laws, which banned women from working and from going outside unless accompanied by a male relative, Wahid finds he has "more sales and thus more money."

In his office several blocks away, city mayor and former fighter Ishaq Raeguzar said one of the first directives after the Taliban fled was "to give women permission to work everywhere, including in official organisations."

This order, plus the arrival of international aid, the presence of many humanitarian organisations and the return of refugees from Iran and Pakistan gave a small boost to the economy. Schools for girls, music and kites, all prohibited under the Taliban's puritanical interpretation of Islam, have reappeared in the rejuvenated city but the burqa remains essential for most women at present.

"Give me security, then I will remove my burqa," said 40-year-old Nasrim. Hidden beneath her white garment, with a small mesh area in front of the eyes to look through, she told of crimes by the soldiers now in control of the city after the Taliban left and before the arrival of foreign troops.

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