Mullah Nooruddin Turkabi spoke to The Associated Press and dismissed outrage at the Taliban's executions. These executions were sometimes performed in front of large crowds at a stadium. He also warned the world not to interfere with Afghanistan's new rulers.
Turabi, speaking in Kabul, said that while everyone criticized us for our punishments in the stadium we had never spoken about their laws or punishments. "No one can tell us what our laws should look like. We will follow Islam, and we will base our laws on the Quran."
The Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15th and Afghans, as well as the rest of the world, have been closely watching to see if they can re-create the brutal rule of late 1990s. Turabi's remarks pointed out that the Taliban's leaders are still firmly rooted in a conservative, hardline worldview, despite their willingness to embrace technological advances like video and mobile phone technology.
Turabi, who is now in his 60s, was the justice minister and the head of the so-called Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, effectively the religious police, during the Taliban's previous regime.
The Taliban's punishments were condemned by the entire world at that time. They took place in Kabul's stadium or on the grounds and sprawling Eid Gah Mosque, attended often by hundreds of Afghan men.
Executions of convicted killers were typically by one shot to the head. They were carried out by the victim’s family who had the option to accept "blood money" or allow the murderer to live. The punishment for convicted thieves was the amputation of one hand. Highway robbery convictions result in the amputation of a hand or a foot.
The public was rarely allowed to see trials and convictions. Furthermore, the judiciary favors Islamic clerics whose knowledge of law was restricted to religious injunctions.
Turabi stated that judges, including women, would be able to adjudicate cases this time around, but that the Quran will form the basis of Afghanistan's laws. He stated that the same punishments will be reintroduced.
He said that "cutting off hands is very important for security" and added that it had a deterrent impact. He stated that the Cabinet was currently studying whether punishments should be made public and would "develop a policy."
Taliban fighters in Kabul have reintroduced a punishing method they used in the past, namely public shame of men accused of small-time theft.
At least twice in the past week, Kabul men were forced into pickup trucks with their hands tied and paraded around humiliating them. One case saw their faces painted to indicate that they were thieves. The other case saw stale bread being hung around their necks and stuffed inside their mouths. It was not immediately clear what their crimes were.
The stocky Turabi, wearing a white turban, and with a bushy, untucked white beard, limped a little on his artificial leg. During the battle with Soviet troops in 1980s, he lost one eye and a leg.
He is now in charge of the prisons under the Taliban government. He is one of many Taliban leaders, which includes members of the all-male interim cabinet, who are on a United Nations sanction list.
He was a fierce and uncompromising enforcer during the Taliban's previous rule. One of his first actions upon assuming power in 1996 was to shout at a female journalist and demand she leave a room full of men. He then proceeded to give a strong slap to any man who disagreed.
Turabi was known for ripping music cassettes from cars and stringing hundreds of meters of damaged cassettes in trees or signposts. His minions would routinely beat beards and demanded that men wear turbans to all government offices. Turabi's army of enforcers banned sports and forced men to pray at the mosque five times daily.
Turabi spoke with a woman journalist in this week's interview for the AP.
He said, "We are different from the past."
He stated that now the Taliban would allow TV, video, and mobile phones "because this is a necessity of the people and we are serious about doing it." He suggested the Taliban considered the media a means to spread their message. He said, "Now we know that instead of reaching only hundreds, we can reach many millions." He said that punishments may be made public so people can take video and photos to spread the deterrent effect.
The U.S. and its allies have tried to use the threat and economic damage of isolation to press the Taliban into reducing their rule and giving other factions and women power.
Turabi, however, dismissed any criticism of the Taliban's previous rule and argued that it had brought stability. He spoke of the late 1990s, saying that "we had total safety in all parts of the country."
While Kabul residents are still afraid of their Taliban rulers, many acknowledge that Kabul has become safer in the last month. Bands of thieves used to roam the streets before the Taliban tookover. The relentless crime drove most people from the streets after dark.
"It's not good to see these people shamed in public. But it stops criminals because people see it and think, 'I don’t want that to happen to me.'" Amaan, a Kabul storeowner, said. He only asked for one name to identify him.
Another shopkeeper stated that it was a violation human rights, but that he was happy to open his store after hours.