Afghanistan: A Comeback for the Ministry of Vice and Virtues?

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 7:34 PM EDT

The Afghan government is moving to bring back some version of the notorious Vice and Virtues Ministry, which terrorized Afghanistan under the Taliban. In those years busybodies from the ultra-puritan agency went around making sure women were barred from the workplace and schools and remained encased in head-to-toe burkas, and attacking men whose beards were too short. Those failing to meet the ministry's exacting standards--women, say, wearing socks not sufficiently opaque--were publicly beaten, and many "offenders" were imprisoned.

The Karzai government says the new ministry won't be like that at all but will focus on alcohol, drugs, crime and corruption. Human rights activists are skeptical, not least because the existing criminal justice system already has a handle on that stuff. Human Rights Watch just put out a statement saying the plan, to be submitted for parliament later this summer, "raises serious concerns about potential abuse of the rights of women and vulnerable groups." HRW also recently released a report identifying a lack of access to education, especially for girls, as jeopardizing Afghanistan's future.