Islamic code enforced in camps: Taliban influence to spread in Paksitan

Dawn, Nov.17,1998

WASHINGTON, Nov 16: Taliban troops have started enforcing their strict Islamic code in refugee camps inside Pakistan and soon they will extend their influence to other parts of Pakistan, Washington Times reported on Monday.

In a special report filed by its correspondent Marion Lloyd in Peshawar, the paper said Pakistan was allowing the Taliban to extend its harsh rule across the border and giving it a free hand to root out opposition in the refugee camps.

Pakistan human rights groups charge that the closure of four universities where Afghan women were able to continue their education after being expelled from schools in their homeland is part of a larger plan to force the refugees back to Afghanistan.

"They want (the refugees) to accept Taliban rule, to submit to Taliban rules in every possible manner," said Afrasiyab Khattak, regional coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. "The government of Pakistan is yielding to this pressure."

More than 5,000 Afghan refugees, including more than 1,000 women, had to give up their studies when Pakistan shut down the four refugee universities, saying they were operating illegally.

The government also said the schools were offering substandard education. The schools' administrators and human rights activists say the charges are absurd. Instead, they say the closure on Aug 28 was part of a gradual campaign on the part of the Pakistan government and its Taliban allies to force the refugees back to Afghanistan.

Critics also cite the eviction of 200 refugee families from cheap public housing in Peshawar and the seizure of more than 4,000 vehicles owned by Afghan refugees. Some 800 other families have been ordered to leave one refugee camp to make room for the construction of a road, according to refugees and human rights officials.

The rights groups point to repeated pleas by the Taliban, who are in desperate need of recruits, for the refugees to return home. Pakistan, for its part, is eager to please the Taliban because it seeks access to the lucrative trade route through Afghanistan to Central Asia.

The Pakistan government, saddled with its worst-ever economic crisis, has reduced the refugee commission's staff from 7,000 employees to 1,200. While 71,000 refugees returned to Afghanistan between January and October this year, most say they are waiting for an end to the fighting that has ravaged their country in the past two decades.

"Of course we want to go home. Wouldn't a bird want to be in his nest? But there is no safety and no work," said Isa Khan, a refugee from the eastern Nangarhar region of Afghanistan. Another refugee said Pakistan police were demanding bribes from refugees and harassing residents of the Kacha Ghari camp, a squalid expanse of crumbling mud huts on the outskirts of Peshawar.

The Taliban troops have strong support in Pakistan from Islamic fundamentalists, who have increased their influence under the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The decision to close the universities is seen as one way of pleasing the Islamic militia, who oppose Western education.

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