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three pairs of lovers with space

, 2001


The city of Kandahar, the last stronghold of the Taliban government of Afghanistan was captured by invading American and British forces in December 2001. Almost immediately, reports emerged in the media of the conquering countries that this had led to an immediate revival in the popularity there of Greek love.

The following article, “Homosexual Customs Return to Kandahar”, is taken from the defunct website PlanetOut, but it is so similar to one by “Tim Reid in Kandahar”, published in The Times (London) of 12 January 2002 under the heading “Kandahar Comes Out of the Closet”, that either it is an adaptation of it or they must both have been adapted from the same source.

The Times’s article can be read here, but the only additional information in it is that the incident of the two commanders fighting over a boy occurred in the summer of 1994, leading to the Taliban taking over Kandahar the following November, and that the interview with Torjan was only three days after they fled it.

The two photographs are taken from a reprint of the original article.

Homosexual Customs Return to Kandahar

Kandahar is sometimes called the homosexual capital of south Asia. Such is the Pashtun obsession with sodomy – locals tell you that birds fly over the city using only one wing, the other covering their posterior – that the rape of young boys by warlords was supposedly one of the key factors in the rise of the Taliban.     

Kandahar’s Pashtuns have been renowned for their homosexuality for centuries, particularly their fondness for young lads. Before the Taliban arrived in 1994, the streets were filled with men and teenagers flaunting their relationships.     

The teens are called ashna, or beloved ones. “In the days of the Mujahidin, there were men with their ashna everywhere, at every corner, in shops, on the streets, in hotels: it was completely open, a part of life,” said Torjan, 38, one of the soldiers loyal to Kandahar’s new governor, Gul Agha Sherzai.    

“But in the later Mujahidin years, more and more soldiers would take boys by force, and keep them for as long as they wished. But when the Taliban came, they were very strict about the ban. Of course, it still happened – the Taliban could not enter every house – but one could not see it.”

“I was beautiful. I never left home for a year and a half – I was that afraid,” says Farid, a trader’s son, of his ordeal nine years ago at age 11, when an Afghan commander took a liking to him from afar. Farid went into hiding, then into exile with an uncle in Pakistan. “That’s why I grew a beard, and that’s why I was happy the Taliban came, at first.” (Some Kandahari claim that was the origin of the Taliban edict ordering men to grow beards. The Taliban wanted to separate boys from the men, to keep youngsters out of the army.) 

The story goes that in the summer of 1994 two commanders fought each other over a boy whom they both wanted. In the ensuing fracas civilians were killed. Mullah Omar’s group freed the boy and area residents, tired of the fighting and the corruption of the warlords, threw their support behind the Taliban.  

One of the first things the Taliban did was to institute their interpretation of Sharia – the Moslem code of law. In it, homosexuality was utterly forbidden and the penalty was death. Men accused of sodomy faced the punishment of having a wall toppled onto them. In February 1998 three men sentenced to death for sodomy in Kandahar were taken to the base of a huge mud and brick wall, which was pushed over by tank. Two of them died but one managed to survive.

But now that the Taliban have fled, one can see the pairs returning: usually a heavily bearded man, seated next to, or walking with a fresh faced, beardless youth. “They are just emerging again,” Torjan said. “The fighters too now have the boys in their barracks. This was brought to the attention of Gul Agha, who ordered the boys to be expelled, but it continues. The boys live with the fighters very openly. In a short time, and certainly within a year, it will be like pre-Taliban: they will be everywhere.”    

This Pashtun tradition is even reflected in poetry: odes written to the beauty and complexion of an ashna.    

It is practiced at all levels of Pashtun society, but for the poorer men, having an ashna can raise his status.

“When a man sees a boy he likes - the age they like is 15 or 16 - they will approach him in the street and start talking to him, offering him tea,” said Muhammad Shah, a shop owner. “Sometime they go looking in the football stadium, or in the cinema,” 

“He then starts go give him presents, hashish, or a watch, a ring, or even a motorbike. One of the most valued presents is a fighting pigeon, which can be worth up to $400. These boys are nearly always innocent, but such is the poverty here, they cannot refuse.” 

When driven around, ashna sit in the front passenger seat. The back seat is simply for his friends. Even the parents of the boys understand the nature of the relationship. If asked, they tell people that their son is working for the man. They, like everyone else, know this is a polite fiction.



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P. Hill, 22 January 2022

“I was beautiful. I never left home for a year and a half – I was that afraid," says Farid...when an Afghan commander took a liking to him.

Hey, I'm gunna steal that one: no, I wasn't a sad, sickly little 'fraidy cat -- I was too damn beautiful to live!

Look on the bright side, Farid - at least you were safe from covid.

In the space of three sentences we're told that Kandahar's Greek love culture is one of rampant boy rape, and that the boys openly flaunt their relationships with men. Funny boys. Hope they never teased Farid.

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Louis, 4 April 2022

Now that the Taliban are back, I suppose these relations are banned again ?

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Anonymous 98, 18 June 2022

Perhaps the boys could protect themselves with American weapons. They should be reasonably priced.