Hand Covers Bruise: The Destruction of Afghanistan’s Boys
“Bacha bazi” means “boy play,” and it’s a centures old practice that’s seen a resurgence under our watch.
By: Christian Stephen | RYOT News
Gunfire, Scream, Gunfire, Scream, Gunfire, Scream.
His name was “Pretty Boy.” The nickname, given to him by British troops, referred to his “effeminate” nature. His moustache also brought the name “Errol Flynn.”
A graduate of the police academy, the young man known as Pretty Boy had served honourably for two years in the Afghan National Police. Stationed with British troops deep among the poppy fields of Nad Ali in Helmand province, he had earned a reputation for discipline as well as ferocity during combat. “He was a veteran of many battles against the Taliban,” said a Nad Ali resident. “He deserved medals.”
Counteracting a seemingly glowing reputation, he also kept “himself to himself,” “was slightly distant” and often, “He would be walking around the compound on his own.” The military inquest at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner’s Court listened intently to the witness, Guardsman Paul Steane. Referring to an earlier patrol, Guardsman Steane observed, “He was quite sleepy on that Sangin duty. He could hardly walk straight.”
The next witness, Lance Corporal Liam Culverhouse, couldn’t stand whilst addressing the Wiltshire Inquest. “I felt the pain and then it went black. I knew I’d been blinded straight away,” Culverhouse continued softly, “I saw a flash of red out of my uninjured eye and realised I’d been shot. At first, I thought it was through a gap in the barbed wire. All I heard was a rifle going off in automatic bursts.”
“I decided it was time to get out of there so I crawled around the corner and I decided to play dead, close my eyes and hold my breath…Gulbuddin was screaming.” Culverhouse concluded, “‘All I could hear was gunfire, scream, gunfire, scream, gunfire, scream. Then it all stopped and I fell unconscious.”
On the afternoon of November 3rd in 2010, the young Afghan man known only as Gulbuddin or “Pretty Boy” murdered five British soldiers at checkpoint Blue 25 in Nad Ali, Afghanistan. Using his battered belt fed PK machine gun, the “loyal” and “fierce” soldier replaced his keen eye for Taliban targets with five British soldiers. Reclining in chairs during a shared tea break from patrols the British forces were without body armour or weapons. Gulbuddin opened fire, killing them and wounding six others including two Afghan personnel.
Fleeing the checkpoint in the wake of the killings, Gulbuddin was assumed to be a Taliban implant by Western and Afghan media.
‘Comrade turned traitor, unleashing death on innocent soldiers who trusted him.’ The headline sounded good enough for sensational media, publicly tearing at an already strained rupture between Coalition and Afghan forces. National ego stroking outrage taking precedent over the deeply complex potential motivations causing the hair trigger massacre.
Some outlets choosing to devote entire stories to the fact that Gulbuddin was, scandalously, a heavy “cannabis abuser,” and that he “killed the soldiers after being told to remove a silly hat.” Alongside this tidal wave of utter bile, more reputable outlets reported suspicions concerning the potential turncoat angle.
The Taliban claimed Gulbuddin as their own after the killings, but local intelligence shows the claim was false. He was no man’s agent, save his own. As the story continued, it soon became desperately clear just how utterly alone he was.
With the dust clearing, as well as the national lynch mob hysteria fuelled by Murdoch’s minions, witness testimonies from within the Afghan checkpoint revealed a far more sinister aspect to the killings. Findings that point to a tragic symptom of a cultural epidemic plaguing Afghanistan.
Contacting journalist Christina Lamb, two Afghans who knew Gulbuddin reported he had been repeatedly “brutally beaten, sodomised and sexually abused by a senior Afghan officer.”
Ajmal, a fellow police officer and friend of the gunman, said he “was being used for sexual purposes” and reiterated that Gulbuddin,“had been constantly tortured” by the senior Afghan officer.
Another policeman, Kharullah, explained, “Gulbuddin was beaten many times and that’s why he got angry. One day when he was patrolling with British soldiers, he swore he was going to kill [the Afghan officer].” Khairullah concludes, “Gulbuddin was a soldier like me, He did not have psychological problems, and he was not a drug addict. He was a disciplined policeman.”
Financial Times journalist Matthew Green reported, “Mr Gulbuddin climbed a set of stairs to a rooftop where he shot his commander in the leg. [The Commander] managed to jump from the roof but was lacerated by barbed wire below.”
Lamb asserts,“When Gulbuddin opened fire with a machine gun, his target was his alleged abuser.”
According to local sources, the five British soldiers were considered by Gulbuddin to be protecting the Afghan officer that he intended to finally kill. The British soldiers were killed due to their proximity to the Afghan officer, as well as Gulbuddin’s assumption that the only way to resolve his abuse was through additional blind violence.
In the lengthy abuse of one man’s life, five were suddenly lost. Tragedy remains in the knowledge that the five lives lost, Guardsman James Major, Sergeant Matthew Telford, Warrant Officer Darren Chant, Corporal Steven Boote, and Corporal Nicholas Webster-Smith, were innocent and far from home.
There is no justification for the Nad Ali massacre, however the underlying psychological and sexual abuse behind the attack is disturbing due to national prevalence. Although a killer, Gulbuddin was also the victim of a widespread abuse culture. Rape, slavery and torture by superiors, responsible for the protection of those under their care, is one of Afghanistan’s darkest signatures.
Brigadier James Cowan, senior British commander in Helmand at the time, declared that the ANP suffered from “endemic and deep-rooted problems,” alluding to the primary occupation many Helmand stationed British forces were busied with. Namely, mediating the large volume of “Blood Feuds” between the ANP and villagers. The inquest also heard that the ANP were, a “raggedy bunch” with a penchant for violence, pedophilia, corruption and drug abuse. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Walker described the ANP as “rotten to the core.” This particular feud concerned a heated disagreement between an “Afghan police commander and the Taliban.” The Taliban have, repeatedly, taken a dim view of the ANP’s constant use of local boys for sexual purposes.
As a culture that has repeatedly allowed the victimisation of young men by their elders, and turned survivors into abusers, Afghanistan has unleashed multiple generations of predators and traumatised young men. Generations that are now trained by coalition forces to kill, tasked by world leaders to protect, and trusted by citizens to oversee law and order in a country that gave them the only memories that will never leave.
Generations of Afghan men are taught to rape and be raped.
Islam and Shari’a law are adamant in their condemnation of homosexuality; however, same-sex relationships between men and boys remain prevalent among the Pashtun tribe in Afghanistan.
The Pashtun are the largest and most influential tribe in Afghanistan, boasting many of the nation’s highest ranking officials and leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai. Although lacking a reliable census, the Pashtun population numbers close to 50 million worldwide, with an estimated 13 million Pashtun throughout Afghanistan. In the 2014 presidential election, all but one of the eleven candidates were Pashtun.
Religious dogma and gender segregation throughout the Pashtun tribe has wrought a pattern of rape, sexual slavery and pederasty.
In attempting to build relations with their in-country allies as well as promote the image of successful training, Western officials have deliberately ignored numerous accounts from American, British and Canadian ground troops concerning child sexual abuse perpetrated throughout Afghan-Coalition camps as well as the surrounding civilian areas. The abuse itself is often inflicted by many Afghan high ranking commanders, interpreters, ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police) personnel.
Leadership in the region has attempted to mute reports of abuse, as well as suffocating legal measures, for fear of public shame and western media disapproval. There is also hesitation in raising the ire of local warlords, many of whom are actively involved in child prostitution, trafficking and the nations juggernaut opium trade. “Some men enjoy playing with dogs, some with women. I enjoy playing with boys,” Allah Daad, a notorious warlord, told local reporter Sayed Ibrahimi.
The few reports that have surfaced regarding sexual abuse in Afghanistan reveal only a glimpse into the staggering volume of trauma, injury and dysfunction stemming from a male dominated culture steeped in religious constrictions and manufactured moral impunity.
“Boy Play” or Exploitation as Performance, Rape as Tradition
“Bacha bazi,” directly translated from Persian into the Afghan dialect, means “boy play” and is a centuries-old cultural practice that contributes directly to the abuse of children and mistreatment of women in Pashtun culture.
Primarily practiced by the Pashtun tribe, bacha bazi is the act of coercing boys to dance for an all male audience, generally in a seductive style and dressed as women. Bacha bazi is also the culturally sanctioned practice of raping little Pashtun boys.
Although illegal in Afghanistan, bacha bazi continues unchecked and unchallenged due to its widespread nature and influential participants. Using a selective translation of Islamic law and a liberal interpretation of what constitutes homosexuality, a damaging compromise has seen the systematic deconstruction of Pashtun perceptions concerning relationships with prepubescent boys and the value of women in society.
For centuries bacha bazi has operated quietly as the solution to the majority of Pashtun males’ partitioned mindset, specifically segregating the need for reproduction and the pursuit of sexual fulfillment. Seen as objects of affection and pride throughout bacha bazi circles, young boys perform weekly for Pashtun men. The boys are admired and coveted as signs of wealth, status and prestige for whomever owns them, not unlike as in cockfighting or horse racing. The element of competition found in both sports is also present in bacha bazi.
The victims of “boy play” are Afghan boys from the age of nine to sixteen years old. Boys at this age are sought due to the ‘feminine’ qualities that they possess. Hairless legs, a beardless face and soft features coupled with a submissive nature makes an “Ashna” — term used for the boys, meaning “Beloveds” — adored by participants of bacha bazi. “Having a boy has become a custom for us. Whoever wants to show off, should have a boy,” an owner told Reuters.
The “play” with the boys is in reference to the public dancing as well as the activities, or “duties” undertaken by an owned Ashna. These include subservience to an older male, often of rank or privilege. Subservience consists of accompanying the older man or “Lord” on errands, giving private dance performances and, in the majority of cases, enduring repeated violent oral and anal rape.
These assaults are not only a form of sexual slavery, most cases result in some form of grievous physical injury due to rape trauma including internal/anal haemorrhaging, rectal prolapse, protrusion of intestines, displaced pelvis bones, throat injuries, heavy internal bleeding, rectal wall tearing, as well as injuries that stem from the pure force of coercion. These include broken limbs, broken fingers, fractures, broken teeth, savage beatings, strangulation, asphyxiation, and in some cases death.
Fright-Lined Dining Room
The Pashtun boys’ spiral into sexual slavery begins at bacha bazi gatherings. The evenings begin as boys are shuffled into the back of tea rooms, restaurants and wedding halls to be beautified and instructed by an “intermediary” concerning their looming performance.The word “intermediary” is used with full knowledge of its absurd attempt to sidestep the more common moniker. “Pimp” would suffice. “Child trafficker” may be more apt.
The boys paint their toe and fingernails in bright and seductive colours; their heads are covered with either wigs or elaborate headdresses, and their faces are painted with make up and their bodies dressed in the style of a woman. Bells and trinkets are attached to their wrists, ankles and dresses to accompany each movement with a soft ringing.
Each young boy in the back of the restaurant is now fulfilling the role of a desirable woman, weaponised with cheap jewellery, perfume as well as a command to perform heavily sexualised gyrations for the gathered audience beyond the curtain.
They walk into a dimly lit room, flecked with light catching the eyes of an audience in rapture, an audience wreathed in narghile smoke and humming with whispers, cooing and grunts. The boys walk to the edge of a small stage or carpet in the centre of the venue, tea house or home.The music starts and each takes their turn to dance. Sipping illegal vodka and digesting their recent meal, the men are transfixed. Each boy is watched intently. To the men, the boys represent sex as it is defined by the misogynistic and narrow mindset rife within the Pashtun tribe. This isn’t a perverse carnival show to the average Pashtun male, this is a deeply profound art.
In the Pashtun, it seems, the ancient Greeks and Romans have competition for the appreciation of the male form, although the ancient cultures didn’t have such religious guilt as to whitewash their obsessions with the masquerade of feminine disguises, or violent sexual abuse.The men in a bacha bazi gathering mark the boys’ every move with the knowledge that, for as low as two dollars after the show, any one of them can extend the performance to their own home and command the boys to endure a myriad of white-knuckled, teeth-clenching sexual acts.
But first the dancing. Most boys perform a routine extolling the beauty of a long lost love, a woman, and as the song begins to gain momentum, each will move his hips, arms and legs. Each limb writhes in the dim fluorescent lighting. The goal of each routine is to earn the infatuation of the elderly Pashtun men among the crowd. Sashaying towards them, the boys let the men touch their ankles and feet, tracing over the men’s faces with the edges of their dresses.
Many of the boys with the gift of singing are catapulted to a surreal version of celebrity among the bacha bazi circles. An attractive boy with a beautiful voice can become the object of lavish pursuit and passion among the men. The accommodation of Ashna and their masters has created a micro-economy predicated on the boys being hired for weddings, parties and celebrations. All of which are attended by, almost exclusively, males. Women in Afghan culture are habitually hidden due to religious restrictions.
Bacha bazi performances invariably end with an informal auction. Prices range from as low as two dollars to upwards of 10,000, dependent on the wealth of the man, the desired length of time, and the appeal of the boy. The result of which leads to the Pashtun man, highest bidder, “owning” the boy. A large amount of the men actively using the boys are married with children. They take the boys on as concubines, often preferring their company to that of their own wives.
Speaking with Reuters, Enayatullah, a 42-year-old landowner, said: ”I was married to a woman 20 years ago, she left me because of my boy.” He added, “I was playing with my boy every night and was away from home, eventually my wife decided to leave me. I am happy with my decision, because I am used to sleeping and entertaining with my young boy.”
The rewards of this arrangement for the boy can consist of small monetary payments, food and/or status as the Beloved of his Lord. Many boys learn to pride themselves on the status or wealth of their Lord. The emotions inherent in these relationships fluctuate from a fear of the Lord and his potential retribution for disobedience or misbehaviour, to a Stockholm-type syndrome consisting of passionate devotion instilled in the Beloved for his owner.
This devotion has seen most boys suffer grave sexually related injuries in silence, so as to honour the elder man.The boy will accompany the man for as little time as one evening, to years of companionship, dependant on the economic status of the Lord as well as his appetite for other boys and sexual variety.
This relational spectrum, permissible through a widely accepted interpretation of Islamic law, is the main source of companionship, affection and sexual gratification for Pashtun men.
The Sins Of The Father
Released from service at the age of nineteen, dancing boys are expected to “reclaim” their identity as a man through marriage to a woman. A common, if strange, occurrence consists of a dancing boy coming of age and marrying his former master’s daughter in order to remain close to his former companion, the Father. This situation solves the expectation to procreate with the daughter, as well as continued sexual relations with the former Lord, now the father-in-law.
According to experts in the field of Sociology and Anthropology, bacha bazi creates a cyclical mental posture in the boys. Similarly the report conducted by the Defence Department HTT team observed, “There is frequently the risk that Pashtun boys will face a set of experiences that mold their beliefs regarding sexuality as adults in ways that are ultimately damaging, both to themselves and to Afghan society.”
This dynamic, unsurprisingly, often conjures confusion in the boys, a confusion that shapes a sexual appetite at the genesis of self discovery. If Kandahar’s boys have only vindictive gods and sexual monsters to measure as father figures and role models, the future will return a similar pattern. Behaviour similar to this has been observed countless times throughout the rest of the globe, in the case of victims of child abuse becoming the abusers.
Many of the boys, when asked what they will do once they are men, declared they would “have their own dancing boys” and “be like my lord.” This response marks the beginning of a dark path that results in a young boy being so punch drunk on trauma that the only relief comes when he’s revisiting his pain on another victim. The axe forgets what the tree remembers.
These rites of passage, as well as continued bacha bazi practice, threaten the end of a functioning Afghan society. The HTT report concludes, “It appears that this set of experiences becomes cyclical, affecting generations, and that this cycle that has existed long enough to affect the underpinnings of Afghan culture itself.”
The Pashtun Straitjacket
A comprehensive study and eventual report, requested by the Second Military Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) as well as British forces stationed in Lashkar Gah, was conducted by a Department of Defence Human Terrain Team (HTT) stationed in country.
Titled “Pashtun Sexuality” and authored by HTT team member Anna Maria Cardinalli, the report was requested due to the overwhelming amount of confusion and discomfort experienced by Coalition forces grappling with the overt homoerotic atmosphere surrounding their ANA allies and the young boys accompanying them.
Cardinalli states, “A culturally-contrived homosexuality (significantly not termed as such by its practitioners) appears to affect a far greater population base then some researchers would argue is attributable to natural inclination.”
The report goes on to observe the cause of such widespread effeminate and homoerotic tendencies: “Due to both cultural restrictions and generational cycles of certain experiences, Pashtun men are freer with companionship, affection, emotional expression, and the trust bred of familiarity with other men. They often lack the experience of these aspects of life with women. This usurping of the female role may contribute to the alienation of women over generations, and their eventual relegation to extreme segregation and abuse.”
As a Pashtun male, sexual interest towards the opposite gender is combatted by the iron-clad sanctions placed upon approaching or even looking at a woman. This cattle-prod courtship exacerbated by the absurd parameters outlining that, in order to interact with an unrelated woman, one must first offer a proposal of marriage as well as a generous pacification of her family with gifts and a monetary gesture.
Given the economic depression many young Afghan men find themselves in, procuring a marriage during the natural age of sexual curiosity is a difficult task. The urge for sexual exploration merged with an inability to pursue the object of one’s curiosity has resulted in a frustrated sexual identity throughout the male population.
A rigid doctrinal framework ensures that until an Afghan male reaches a maturity in age, wealth, economic status, as well as social and religious standing, the only interaction he will experience with a woman other than his relatives, be it visually, physically, or imaginatively, can only be realised through stolen glances, television, movies and the occasional bare foot that escapes a burqa.
Historically, denying young men sexual freedom has rarely resulted in anything less than emotional damage, mental havoc and thinly spread rage. Add to that cocktail a decade long invasion, personal abuse history and the threat of a callous, cruel deity that, should you have a carnal heterosexual experience/thought, will take morbid pleasure in eviscerating you with damnation and hell-fire.
Cardinalli’s report continues, “The fallout from this cycle affects both genders, and could possibly be a part of what leads to violence against women and women’s suppression in Pashtun culture. If women are no longer the source of companionship or sexual desire, they become increasingly and threateningly foreign.”
This distance between genders twinned with the perceived “uncleanliness” of the female body, as dictated by many fundamentalist Imams due to the menstrual cycle, has plagued Afghanistan’s women for centuries. Shamefully degraded and dishonoured, the women of Afghanistan’s major tribe is still, to this day, under a doctrinal oppression that assumes the role of chain, muzzle and whip. The position of women in Pashtun culture is now hurtling towards a utilitarian vocation with the ability to give birth remaining the only value recognised.
The fear of interaction and lack of understanding where women are concerned has bred resentment not only towards the unattainable candidates for marriage, but also those at home. Referring to Pashtun mothers, Cardinalli’s report states, “… regular round-table discussions with local women found that boys, even when raised in the home, are separated from their mothers‘ care around the age of 7 and are considered the charge of their fathers.”
As young boys are removed, women are increasingly stripped of value and worth within the familial structure, depriving the children of a healthy female image, respect for a future partner, and a strong sense of identity. Instead, Afghan boys are raised to observe women as weak, submissive and disposable tools rather than meaningful, lifelong relationships consisting of mutual respect and trust. This divide has also negated women as potential candidates for consistent Afghan companionship, a role now filled both by and for males.
This repeated castration of critical thought has bred the common phrase, “Women are for children; boys are for pleasure,” referring to the nerve-deep perception of women as superfluous save the ability to bear children, as well as alluding to a sexual preference now synonymous with the adolescent male population of the region.
Alongside nurturing an unhealthy desire for the company of young boys, the male-focused mentality undermines a basic understanding of human anatomy, biology and sexuality. Many newly-married Pashtun men are either unaware of the process required to conceive a child or they are reviled by the thought of desiring a woman sexually.
A Senior Medical Officer overseeing a clinic at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Tillman, situated on the Afghan-Pakistan border, recounted an odd, yet not uncommon conversation that arose during examinations. Observing a local man and wife enter the base, he noted a concerned look on the husband’s face.
They entered the examination tent to be seen by a US Army Reserve female physician assistant (PA); PAs are regularly flown into remote areas for brief assignments requiring sensitive medical observations and procedures. Post-examination, the SMO observed the look on the husbands face had turned from concern to a mixture of confusion and revelation.
Speaking with the PA later in the day, she revealed that the husband had been puzzled as to why his wife could not become pregnant. He explained that they had tried multiple times, however it seemed she was infertile. After a brief examination of the woman, the PA revealed to the husband that his wife was in fact a virgin.
A few questions directed towards the husband revealed that he had only ever engaged in anal sex with his wife, oblivious not only to the steps required for procreation, but also the concept of vaginal penetration. The PA began a conversation with the husband concerning sex education and explained the biological steps needed to rectify his wife’s apparent inability to have a child.
Again, according to many fundamentalist Imams, women are unclean, therefore the desire to be with a woman for any other reason than to procreate is foreign. Sexual desire, guided by religious disapproval, has been redirected away from Pashtun women and towards the thousands of young boys who have even less understanding of Islamic law than the men raping them.
The Loneliness, and Misinterpretation, of the Long Distance Holy Text
Practitioners of bacha bazi and those who observe it as an innocent pursuit operate using a heavily diluted translation of Islamic law. Islamic law is drawn from the Quran, the holy book of Islam. The Quran is an Arabic text outlining the rule of law for those who follow the Prophet Muhammed. Sodomy and homosexuality are forbidden under Islamic law.
Being an Arabic text, the translation and interpretation into indigenous languages and dialects has been the responsibility of religious officials the world over, however for the Pashtun and many other non-Arabic literate followers of Islam, the interpretation of homosexuality resides in murky moral waters due to a disregard for specificity by those tasked with its accuracy and detail.
According to the Pashtun, sex with a young boy is considered a “foible” or misstep, whereas sex with an unwed woman sets the stage for almost certain revenge attacks and honour killings. Although publicly condemning the assaults, many local religious leaders are accused of keeping their own “chai boys” hidden within holy buildings. Following a tragic pattern commonly associated with the Vatican, it is apparent that even in the house of God no one can hear you scream.
Those appointed as the spiritual pillars of the population are reinforcing an interpretation that has allowed the sodomy of young boys for centuries. Their interpretation of the Quran’s text, however intolerant and archaic the original may be towards homosexuality, is “Love between two men is forbidden, however sexual gratification is not against Islam.”
On the other hand, those who follow the direct translation are assured that “the wrath of Allah” will befall those who “approach males and cut off the highway.” The “highway” referring to the procreation of children. There is a genius to the application of deity dictated sexuality. A man will never listen to the church so clearly as when he’s on the receiving end of a brutal theocratic genital cuff.
The Hadiths, a scholar-curated collection of teachings from the prophet Muhammed, is quoted on the subject of homosexuality in practice as saying “This sin, the impact of which makes one’s skin crawl, which words cannot describe, is evidence of perverted instincts, total collapse of shame and honour, and extreme filthiness of character and soul. The Heavens, The Earth and The Mountains tremble at this sin. The angels shudder as they anticipate the punishment of Allah to descend upon the people who commit this indescribable sin.”
Hence the rigid homophobia in other Islamic as well as Christian, adhering to biblical denouncement, countries including Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Nigeria, India, Qatar, Sudan, UAE, Uganda and Somalia.
According to many Afghan religious scholars and leaders, it’s abhorrent and forbidden to profess love for another man. However, a sexual relationship with a male, approached from purely carnal desire, is not only permissible but considered a preferable alternative to the perceived horror of pre-marital sex with a woman, a crime known as “Zina.”
A large part of this judicial fiction also consists of the belief that it’s not homosexual unless you not only have feelings towards the male, but are also a “bottom.” When applied to the copious underage rapes, the results end by vilifying whomever is being attacked and granting clemency to the attacker.
Primed and calibrated for optimum fearmongering, this semi-literate prose posing as doctrine has pulsed throughout cultural theology and into the Pashtun faithful for centuries.
The Dogs Are Parading
During Taliban rule of the region from 1996 to late 2001, under Mullah Omar, bacha bazi was driven from the social norm and outlawed as a transgression against humanity and Allah.
In 2002, Tim Reid reported, “Kandahar’s Pashtuns have been notorious for their homosexuality for centuries, particularly their fondness for naive young boys.” Reid also states that prior to the arrival of the Taliban “the streets were filled with teenagers and their sugar daddies, flaunting their relationship… 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 one of the key factors in Mullah Omar mobilising the Taliban.”
A zero-tolerance ban on sodomy and all forms of homosexuality, bacha bazi chief among these, was enforced throughout the region with martial, capital and lethal strength. The Taliban’s parameters drew from a pre Islamic Pashtun code as well as a rigid strain of Wahabi doctrines. This new governance brought with it an emphasis on eliminating “immoral vices.”
Any trace of sexual tendencies or relations between males was met with a swift death sentence varying from stoning to being hung from makeshift gallows constructed on the rear of cargo trucks. Although extreme and desperately intolerant towards homosexuality, these executions appeared to curb the seemingly unstoppable epidemic of child abuse and rape ravaging the country. However harsh, the iron rule of the Taliban did little to extinguish the desire for male and boy companionship. The practice continued under cover of darkness and in secret until the Taliban’s grip on the region was lifted due to the Coalition invasion.
Mere days following the initial fall of the Taliban, and the resurgence of local governance, bacha bazi openly found new vigour in the imaginations and activities of Pashtun men. CDs and DVDs of performances began to feed the growing demand for Afghanistan’s dancing boys, especially for those who couldn’t afford the actual experience.
The Times Of London, reporting from Kandahar following the overthrow, stated “Now that Taliban rule is over in Mullah Omar’s former southern stronghold, it is not only televisions, kites and razors which have begun to emerge. Visible again, too, are men with their ‘ashna’, or beloveds: young boys they have groomed for sex.”
The dancing boys’ popularity surged once again.
With the coalition invasion in full swing by 2002, the volume of newly orphaned and displaced boys rose, as did the prevalence and frequency of juvenile prostitution. Many actively looked for older male companions in order to escape squalor and the danger of homelessness. Those who weren’t “fortunate” enough to attract a patriarchal benefactor looked to the Kandahar tea rooms, banquet halls and military bases for the opportunity of gaining an elder companion.
The Taliban, despite their brutal policies, actions and outlook, had more integrity and surreal credibility in protecting children than the current government.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
A method of induction, for boys who aren’t already orphans, consists of men raping the child to shame them into the new lifestyle as a dancer/prostitute. The boys, primarily street beggars and orphans, are vulnerable to this predatory mindset at an early age.
According to the UN, Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The World Bank’s data marks the population of Afghans living below the poverty line at 38 percent. Many survive on 48 cents a day.
With the economic state of the nation resembling a Charles Dickens set piece, extreme poverty has paved the way for a greater number of boys being sold by their families to men with the wealth to compensate. In many cases, young boys experience their first sexual encounter at the hands of a family member or family friend. Following an assault they will be thrown out from the household, most likely sold, for bringing shame upon the family.
One village boy was raped repeatedly by a local mechanic, so much so that his pelvis was violently displaced. Upon hearing the ordeal the boy had been enduring, his family turned him away in shame. The boy now lives with the mechanic, a gesture deemed proper by his family in response to the disgrace brought upon the household by the boy’s apparent transgression. It is likely the family sold the boy to the man due to their desperate living situation, a common story marking the genesis of a boy becoming a dancer or live-in concubine.
The fact that the boy brought the mechanic’s abuse forward as not only a negative act, but also an unwelcome experience, triggered an unbalance in the culturally accepted perception of bacha bazi as morally permissible. In opposing the man’s continuous rape attempts and successes, the boy was not only accusing the man of sodomy, but also forced homosexuality.
Accusations of homosexuality threaten a public shame as well as directly challenging a compromise in Islam that has seen the rape of underage boys not only continue unchecked, but also roundly accepted as a masculine graduation for the Pashtun male. This strange psychological promotion also stems from the utter void where law enforcement, ideally, was envisioned.
In journalist Ben Anderson’s stellar documentary, This Is What Winning Looks Like, a frank explanation concerning the situation is given by a prominent character, an officer named Khan. Addressing the reasons for the Afghans’s use of young boys, he morosely explains, “If they don’t fuck the asses of those boys, what should they fuck? The pussies of their own grandmothers?” He pauses, then adds, “Their asses were used before, now they want to get what they’re owed. The boys are civilians, I have ordered [Afghan police officers] not to keep them… Those little boys stay willingly in the bases and offer their asses in the night.”
Major Bill Steuber, the long suffering protagonist of the piece, outlines that it is illegal for these practices to continue. To which Khan replies, “We have told them about this, but when we go to the [Patrol Base], they will hide the kids.” Stueber offers a direct plan to combat the rapes by staging an early morning raid into each PB with an intent to arrest any violators and take the children home to their families. Khan agrees quickly and Stueber leaves the meeting prepared to rescue these boys and arrest the rapists.
Later in the day, Khan cancels the raids with a paper-thin explanation disguising apathy, the PBs remain untouched, and the boys’ on-base prostitution continues. Without the cooperation of Afghan officials, coalition forces are helpless to intervene.
Jurisdiction marries corruption, leaving the prevention and apprehension of abusers nowhere to be seen. In the viewing of this documentary, a special mention must be made for Major Bill Steuber. In the face of relentless horror and corruption, he remains passionate, aware and noble.
The polarising contrast between Steuber’s resilience and the surrounding cruelty is nothing if not awe inspiring. He is one of many servicemen to observe, recoil and plan intervention only to suffer from bonded hands. As Steuber says, “Try doing that day in, day out. Working with child molesters, working with people who are robbing people, murdering them… It wears on you after a while.”
In the aftermath of the documentary, Anderson describes a conversation between himself and another Afghan police official, he quotes the officer, “Try finding a police officer who doesn’t fuck young boys.”
Retribution for the rape and degradation of males is rarely acknowledged let alone pursued. Speaking on Bacha bazi, security chief of Kunduz province General Asadollah Amarkhil declared, “We are monitoring to find out where these men and boys gather, then go there and arrest them.”
There are over 13 million Pashtun in Afghanistan with men making up just over 50 percent of the population. It is conservatively estimated that just over 40 percent of Pashtun males practice bacha bazi in some form, leading to the number of potential prosecution cases in the high thousands throughout each province.
“We have 25 cases of such immoral acts,” chief prosecutor Hafizullah Khaliqyar deadpanned. “They are being processed and we are trying our utmost to tackle the problem.”
This was met with shrugs and has generally been ignored, despite being one of the most idiotic, absurd statements ever to crawl its way out of a government prosecutor’s vocal chords.
In 2009, Afghanistan implemented the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, which introduced the term “rape” as a criminal offence under Afghan law. The 2009 law, however, refers only to the rape of women or girls, as important as this milestone is, there is no mention concerning the rape of men and boys.
However, there is a historical absurdity outlining the many cases where not only has the victim of the rape been charged, but the abuser has been admonished and released.
If the current farce of arresting boys who have been raped, as the guilty party, continues then it may be that the Afghan government is only chronologically challenged in it’s apprehension of abusers.
The more an innocent is punished for a crime, the closer the red-rimmed psyche drifts towards actually committing the crime and fulfilling their already fabricated role as criminal in the eyes of a capricious and unjust law. If they’re going to get arrested for being raped raw, why not enforce the power that was taken from them on another victim?
In taking the innocence from another, warped logic tells our humanity that we regain a small portion from the devil himself. The slack reins of the mind hold little sway over the sheer brute strength of trauma experienced at a young age. Hence the baffling nature of the legal proceedings following a rape. In refusing to prosecute rapists, and making a point of prosecuting young victims, the government is well on its way to the pinnacle of a dizzying and sociopathic neglect.
Sex, Lies and Coalition
Numerous reports have been filed, especially among Canadian and American forces tasked with training ANA forces, expressing concern and anger at the underage relations many of their local military counterparts were busying themselves with.
Repeated attempts by these forces to report the abuse in their own camps has been met with orders to exercise cultural sensitivity and “ignore” any assaults they may see.
Wikileaks cables reveal a concerted effort by high ranking Afghan and Coalition officials to minimise the media exposure surrounding the underage prostitution facilitated and utilised by Afghan military personnel.
A particular instance involved a looming Washington Post article outlining an infraction consisting of foreign security contractor DynCorp, Afghan military personnel and “dancing boys.” Although released, the article shed tragically little light concerning the incident, and degenerated into the stenography of officials by labelling it a “questionable management oversight.”
Despite the Washington Post article’s restraint, leaked cables outlining the Afghan-Coalition approach to damage control, prior to its publication, prove slightly more revealing.
Current National Security Advisor, then Interior Minister, Hanif Atmar met with the Assistant United States Ambassador, Joseph Mussomeli, concerning the potential media threat.
The leaked cables read: “A widely-anticipated newspaper article on the scandal has not yet appeared, but, if there is too much noise that may prompt the journalist to publish.”
“Atmar said he insisted the journalist be told that publication would endanger lives. His request was that the U.S. quash the article and release of the video.”
“Amb(assador) Mussomeli responded that going to the journalist would give her the sense that there is a more terrible story to report.”
“Mussomeli counseled that an overreaction by the Afghan government (GIRoA) would only increase chances for the greater publicity the MoI is trying to forestall.”
Atmar disclosed that he had “arrested two Afghan police and nine other Afghans as part of an MoI (Ministry of Interior) investigation into Afghans who facilitated this crime of ‘purchasing a service from a child.’”
The cables continued to stress that the exposure of the child prostitution would be, “an outcome that would not be good for either the U.S. or Afghanistan.”
Later cables go on to outline Atmar’s uncharacteristically keen interest in building stronger relationship with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB).
“Atmar enthusiastically proposed an MOI meeting with the leadership of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and CSTC-A to work out arrangements for good partnering, training, and joint operations with Afghan security forces in RC-South…”
This MEB unit is the very same group that requested Anna Maria Cardinalli, and the DoD HTT team, conduct a full scale report concerning disconcerting experiences many MEB personnel had endured whilst among Afghan forces. With jackhammer subtlety, Atmar is now a prominent member of the “Truth and Justice” political party following a Cassius-like dissent against the Karzai government.
The Moral High Ground Is Wreathed In Fog
Invading Nato forces are recorded as being “confused” and “shocked” by the displays of affection between older men and boys in country, as well as an almost daily habit of sexual propositions from the men themselves. A young Marine quoted in Cardinalli’s report outlines the consistent discomfort. “It was hell… Every village we went into we got a group of men wearing make-up, coming up, stroking our hair and cheeks and making kissing noises.”
Other Marines, under anonymity, have admitted being “terrified” of being left alone “with those fucks” due to their penchant for giving each other oral sex as “favours,” or “making advances” on the coalition troops at any given point.
Tasked with training the ANP, Coalition troops, British particularly, endure a daily dichotomy of admiration and warmth on behalf of the government, parallel with vilification and animosity from the men they are training. Interpreters often describe how most Coalition instructors and advisors are cursed by their ANP trainees as “fucking infidels” and told to “fuck off” in Pashto. The military inquest investigating the Nad Ali massacre heard Coalition soldiers were taken aback by the amount of “holding hands” and “nail varnish” worn by the men.
Numerous reports of STD contraction by Afghan interpreters, “terps” in military slang, and Afghan servicemen were ignored by Coalition superiors. One case observed 12 of 20 Pashtun interpreters working with a US unit had contracted gonorrhoea from homosexual encounters. Those affected explained weakly that the cause was “too much mixing of green and black tea.” There were less tea excuses when tissue tearing and uncontrollable bleeding entered conversation.
The Washington Examiner reported on the invading troops struggle with the constant displays of affection towards young boys as well as glaring evidence of underage homosexual activity.“I know Marines and soldiers who have refused to work with Afghan military or police,” said one U.S. military official, who spoke to The Examiner anonymously. “It’s not about homosexuality as much as it is about the young boys. Some of them like to show pictures on their cell phone — that should be illegal. Some of the Afghans have their own young boys they use for sexual purposes and we can’t do anything about it.”
In an interview conducted by the Combat Studies Institute, Major Charles Wagenblast recounted some of his observations. “We go to a social function … This guy, he was a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, had stories… One of the colonels that we both knew had been accused of raping a chai boy, badly. They all have chai boys, it’s not some perverted thing, it’s just what they do. Women are for juma. The only time you interact with your wife is on Friday, the rest of the time it’s chai boys. He had been raping this chai boy, which is normal, but he had hurt him really bad. That caused the medical people to get involved and other forces. So he’s there in front of the judge, who is an imam. It’s religion mixed with law, the whole code of law would fit in a pamphlet and then there’s the Koran there on top of it. Anyway, his defence was, ‘Honestly, who hasn’t raped a chai boy? Ha ha ha.’ And the judge goes, ‘You’re right. Case dismissed’. ”
This account is common in varying forms, especially throughout debriefs with western military personnel and contractors stationed in predominantly Pashtun areas.
Interviewed concerning operational security of Highway 1, formally called the Ring Road, a US military contractor recounted the story of finding a 14-year-old boy in the hands of Afghan guards under his command. He “physically fought the guards to free the boy and drove him back to Kabul, hours away, returning him home to his family, from whom he had apparently been forcibly taken in order to travel with the guards.”
Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent, noted “One reason Afghan villagers prefer to deal with the Taliban rather than the government security forces is that the latter have a habit of seizing their sons at checkpoints and sodomising them.” Cockburn continues, “Western military officials eager to show success in training the Afghan army and police have reportedly suppressed for years accounts from Canadian troops that the newly trained security forces are raping young boys.”
Your Humanity Came Back Negative
Canadian forces stationed in Kandahar endured first-hand evidence of the assaults as well as an inability to intervene due to ordered restraint from superiors. The Toronto Star reported one account of a Canadian soldier hearing an Afghan soldier abusing a young boy. The Canadian soldier later saw the boy with physical signs of rape trauma, specifically “protrusions of his bowels and lower intestine.”
Another incident, appearing in The Ottawa Citizen, involved two Afghan security personnel at FOB Wilson, also located in the Kandahar region. Former Cpl. Travis Schouten told military officials he had witnessed “an Afghan boy being sodomised” by the ANA at the allied base. “I walked in and they were raping a kid,” he continues, “The kid was bleeding. The guy with the camo fatigues had a knife in his hand.”
Schouten was conflicted, “I wasn’t going to start doing something at the scene,” he recalled. “I’m in the middle of the ANP headquarters. What do I do; start shooting Afghan police? I’d get myself shot.” After the incident, an Afghan interpreter approached Schouten, “He brought up the fact he likes to rape little boys,” Schouten said. “He’s telling me how he likes to use a knife on them.”
After the incident, Schouten fell into alcohol abuse and still from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Whilst trying to report the assault, Schouten was threatened with a dishonourable discharge, however he was eventually discharged honourably due to medical issues. When asked why others don’t come forward with the abuse he explained, “Guys have mortgages, they have kids, If they go and get involved in this their careers will be stopped. Look what the army did to me.”
However disturbing these accounts, a military chaplain, Jean Johns, reported that soldiers, many now under treatment for post traumatic stress syndrome, had been ordered to, again, “ignore” any assaults or rapes on Afghan civilians they had observed. Two more chaplains have stated that soldiers came to them upset about such abuses.
Coalition leadership stressed that a misunderstanding of local practices were not grounds for disciplinary action. The importance of cultural sensitivity was repeatedly communicated to all ground forces and the rapes continued unchallenged. The Coalition has now discovered and fulfilled “The Conradian Truth,” as noted by writer Glen Duncan: “The first horror is that there is horror. The second is that you accommodate it.”
In an email to Coalition commanders, Canadian Maj. V.R. Ethier, the commander of 2 MP (Military Police) Unit, outlined not only his concern, but also the reaction of his men concerning the briefings. “At this late date I cannot specifically remember who delivered the said briefings however I can say that it was delivered in Gagetown and that it sparked considerable debate amongst the MP pers(onnel).”
Maj. Ethier continues, “Of greatest concern to the MP members was the belief that if they were (to) intervene in any instances of this nature that they would not be supported by the CoC (Chain of Command).”
Western denial has presided over a rise in hostile cases, causing tension between Coalition-Afghan relations, yet the practice is still perceived by many as untouchable due to its convoluted prosecutorial process, popularity among the very men who are tasked with maintaining law and order, as well as the potential national shame, should the full extent of abuse come to light.
Despite a small number of groups combatting the rape epidemic, the issue is by and large perceived as a cultural sensitivity minefield. Rare challengers of bacha bazi and its many forms in practice find themselves labeled as ignorant to local customs, disrespectful of indigenous leadership and intolerant of long held beliefs. This coupled with the threat of a potentially apocalyptic backlash not only from practitioners, but also government officials, high ranking military personnel, religious leaders and western powers intent on avoiding a diplomatic and public relations catastrophe.
Historically, the majority of these challengers have been Western service men and woman tasked with keeping law and order throughout the region. The blatant hypocrisy of tasking these men and women with initial orders concerning morality and rules of engagement with locals, only to silence their observations and personal concerns, is a betrayal of their sacrifice and service.
There is a disturbing rupture between the moral intentions that Coalition leadership professed, and the betrayal of ground forces through repeated orders to disregard overwhelming evidence of pedophilia and ignore the constant rape of children.
Coalition leadership is complicit in forcibly crippling an instinctive moral concern expressed by countless service men and women, moral concern that may have set the stage for preventing thousands of victims, had permission to intervene been granted. This double standard sets a precedent for future foreign policy, a precedent rooted in the failure to exercise right action in the face of human frailty and the abuse of countless innocents.
Western leadership’s cowardice and Afghan leadership’s neglect, if allowed to continue unchallenged, will preside over a staggering oversight subjecting future millions to endure a daily theft of innocence, a brutalised perception of self worth, as well as welcoming trauma and unrelenting abuse as a grotesque norm.
On September 30th of 2014, the US ambassador to Kabul, Jim Cunningham, and National Security Advisor, Hanif Atmar, signed the long delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Opposed by Former President Hamid Karzai and resurrected by newly elected President Ashraf Ghani, the BSA grants foreign forces the right to operate within Afghanistan’s borders.
By 2015 it is estimated that close to 13,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces will have an active presence in country, tasked with the continued training of Afghan military personnel, as well as a smaller number carrying out separate “counter-terrorism” missions.
As Coalition forces reinforce their position in country, as well as closer proximity in training Afghan personnel, the stage is set for repeated orders to ignore the abuse of Pashtun boys. We risk perpetuating the, now characteristic, sin of accommodation. And all sins, as W.H Auden put it, “tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.”
Closing Points and the Downwards Trajectory of a Gauntlet
The role of women in the region and culture has been relegated to the subhuman confines of utilitarian procreation. Sexual desire and passion are absent from the traditional union of marriage and predominantly found in the shadows of pederasty. Pashtun women have suffered a robbery of matriarchal rights alongside the severe loss of self worth, marital integrity, and the aptitude for personal desires.
Reinforcing a male focused society, boys are separated from their mothers at age seven and inducted into a misogynistic and dogmatic lifestyle under the guidance of the father and fundamentalist religious leaders. Further relegation of the males inherent “Anima” function, the ability to think as a woman, has effectively crippled natural respect and empathy between the genders, and will continue to do so under the current religious parameters.
Political inertia, judicial cowardice, eradication of vital female influence and suffocating doctrinal restrictions on male Pashtun sexual identity have systematically mangled cultural views towards sexual abuse, specifically of prepubescent boys and young men. This early psychological recalibration, as well as common sexual abuse, set the stage for abusive patterns in males that historically target women and future pre-pubescent boys.
Religious leaders, government officials and Afghan military personnel are directly responsible for the continued failure to protect the children of the Pashtun tribe, and all those who suffer at the hands of the unbridled rape culture. Through denial of widespread corruption, and paranoia of tainting an image already riddled with warranted distrust, Afghan lawmakers, religious leaders and bacha bazi practitioners stand in flagrant defiance of every child’s non-negotiable right to a safe upbringing.
Coalition leaderships’ failure to hold their Afghan allies to task concerning corruption, as well as a refusal to seek legal action against serial rapists, has directly resulted in a humanitarian and judicial abortion that withholds retribution from abusers, as well as justice from the abused, and denies Afghanistan a grasp at the last dwindling threads of an increasingly wraithlike future.
You can contact the author of this piece at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RYOT NOTE from Christian
Share this story to raise awareness about the reality of bacha bazi, a practice that contributes directly to child abuse and the mistreatment of women in Pashtun culture. Then, support V-Day, a group working to end violence against women and children all around the world.
Originally published at www.ryot.org on January 14, 2015.