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Here are your adoption papers," the letter said, and my heart wrenched. It appeared that I had adopted an illegal school system devoted to the education of girls in Afghanistan. A battered envelope covered with ornate stamps arrived from Quetta, Pakistan. The envelope appeared to have already been opened. Inside were documents outlining the finances of a school system educating thousands of children illegally in Afghanistan, either via girls-only or coeducational schools, both of which are illegal under Taliban rule. Now I was inextricably drawn in. The director of the organization cautioned me that "to expose pictures, especially of females, is forbidden according to the shariat laws of the Taliban, [who] are the authorities of the area for the moment, so no photos are possible to document conditions involving women." She also requested that we not use her name or the name of her organization since the Taliban "could create problems here in Quetta, as well as Afghanistan." She thanked me for my kindness, and I shivered for her predicament. In my hands I had enough information to guarantee her death in Afghanistan. Many women have been maimed or killed for much less by Taliban authorities. A 1999 United Nations report observed that "religious police" punish women "on the spot" with large flat bats for allowing ankles to show from under the burqa, a sheet-like, head-to-floor covering with a small, thick mesh covering over the eyes. Also punished are women who laugh loudly, do not have a male relative in their presence or who wear the "wrong type" of burqa. The UN reports that educated women are targeted and that the "religious police" beat women in "private areas such as the breasts," which disinclines them from showing bruises to family members. Public lashings or stonings, which are held every Friday in stadium events attended even by children as young as five, await women who are accused of fornication. Yet women are freely subjected to rape, since the Taliban Justice Ministry requires all survivors of rape to produce four witnesses. Should the woman attempt legal recourse and fail, she becomes liable for public flogging for engaging in intercourse. What is the Taliban? Why does it so viciously persecute women and children? Is it an expression of fundamental Islam, or a front to cover drug activity, terrorism and other illegal activities that exploit a society broken with strife? Afghanistan is one of two of the world's largest opium producers, and Taliban forces occupy virtually all areas of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan also processes the opium into heroin, much of which finds its way to the United States. Harboring some of the world's worst terrorists, the Taliban has refused to cooperate in the extradition of Osama bin Laden. International Islamic conferences refuse to recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. What does the Taliban have to gain from forcing illiteracy and house arrest on women? It seems that strict and arbitrary persecution of half of its population reduces popular dissent right from the start. The Taliban need not fear full-strength internal challenges involving women who are sick of the drug cartels and terrorists running the country. It now benefits from soft coverage in the U.S. media as well. Recently, CBS News showed a segment that treated the Taliban as a cultural phenomenon absent any political context of repression. That the Taliban has ulterior motives beyond religious significance escaped Dan Rather. As oil prices climb, we can expect more gullible U.S. coverage of the Taliban. Fierce competition exists between corporations to construct a pipeline from the oil-rich Caspian Sea across Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. Corporate-owned media grow faint at the idea of markets weakened by higher oil prices. Yet, someone is paying a terrible price for the West's appetite for oil and illegal drugs. Muffled under heavy cloth and illiteracy, confined behind the blackened windows of her home, she suffers and waits.

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