Now the Karzai government, in a further bid to bolster the fledgling peace process, has asked the U.N. Security Council to remove Qalamuddin and 19 other former Taliban members from a sanctions list that has prevented them from traveling or sending money abroad since 1999. The United Nations is expected to announce a decision within weeks.
“All human beings need peace, even if they were once enemies,” the former minister said during an interview this week, pouring tea for visitors at his modest home in the capital. He criticized the revived Taliban forces for “un-Islamic” actions such as suicide bombings yet said he fully supported Karzai’s plan to welcome all but their most violent leaders into a future government.
Qalamuddin’s rehabilitation has been neither swift nor smooth. He is more controversial than the handful of other ex-Taliban officials to whom the Afghan administration has reached out, including former U.N. envoy Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, former ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef and former foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil.
His presence on the peace panel appears mainly to illustrate the government’s eagerness to reach a deal; he still enjoys a following among Taliban hard-liners that the more moderate former officials do not.
Several months after the Taliban was ousted in late 2001, Qalamuddin was arrested in his native Logar province. He spent two years in prison. Prosecutors attempted to put him on trial, but they reportedly were not able to gather enough evidence, and he was eventually released.
Even today, Qalamuddin is defiantly unrepentant about the punishments he and his squads of religious police meted out to thousands of Afghans between 1996 and 2001. The punishments were often for infractions such as women forgetting to wear socks or men failing grow long beards.
“We carried out our duties under the laws of the government and according to sharia,” he said. “What I did, I do not regret at all. If some people say it was cruel, I object. It was like night and day compared to the new generation of Taliban. They are blowing up their fellow Muslims and cutting off their heads.”
Whatever the justification, the actions of Qalamuddin’s ministry sowed terror in a populace already traumatized by over a decade of armed conflict. Many adults in Kabul can recount at least one harrowing brush with the Virtue and Vice Police during the five years of Taliban rule.