By G9ija

Clothing shops in Afghanistan’s western Herat province have begun removing the heads of display mannequins, in line with new directives given by the local office of the Taliban’s ministry for Islamic guidance.

Obeidullah Yari, a local business community leader, told VOA on Monday that about 20% of the shops in the provincial capital, also named Herat, have already implemented the order to escape punishment.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention Vice, which is responsible for administering the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam, decreed last week that shop mannequins should have their heads removed for being offensive to Islam, warning that violators would be punished.

City mall owners and garment sellers initially criticized the Taliban directive, telling Afghan media that mannequins were also used to display clothes in other Islamic counties. But Yari said shopkeepers were now removing the heads of the dummies.

Aziz Rahman, the provincial head of the ministry, told local media he ordered shopkeepers to hack the heads off their mannequins because “they are idols.” He went on to explain that Islam prohibits idolatry, or the worshipping of idols.

Taliban authorities reportedly have also increased monitoring of public taxis in the capital, Kabul, to see if drivers are abiding by the ministry’s instructions related to women’s right to travel.

The decree requires drivers to carry only those female passengers who wear a headscarf or Islamic hijab and are accompanied by a male relative if they travel more than 72 kilometers. It also instructs cabdrivers to grow beards, stop their vehicles at prayer times and stop playing music while driving.

The ministry reportedly has also banned Afghan women from driving. It has also ordered local channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring actresses, and female news anchors to wear hijabs while on the air.

Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a recent interview to Afghan state television, defended the steps taken by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention Vice, saying they should not be a matter of concern for anyone because “Afghanistan is Muslim nation and no one is opposed to Islamic laws in the country.”

Mujahid said, however, that all government “religious departments” are instructed not to “mistreat people and be polite to them” while giving them guidance about Islam.

The ultraconservative Taliban regained power in August and named an all-male interim Cabinet to govern the conflict-torn country in line with the group’s strict interpretation of Islam, despite pledging not to revert to the harsh polices of their previous regime from 1996 to 2001.

The government has allowed schoolboys to return to classes but girls across many Afghan provinces are still waiting for permission to do so and most women have been prevented from returning to work.

When the Taliban were last in power, girls were not allowed to attend school and women were barred from work as well as education. The then-Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or the morals police, had been accused of serious human rights abuses, leading to Afghanistan’s isolation from the world.

Mujahid said that arrangements were being made to allow all Afghan girls to resume their educational activities, noting that schoolgirls across several provinces have already rejoined classes.

Critics, however, are skeptical of the Taliban assurances and say the group is gradually bringing back its repressive policies of the past.

“It was expected; but I would have welcomed every single employee of this ministry to be focused on poverty reduction, aid delivery and lifting the beggars from the street, feeding them & giving them a job as their 1st priority,” tweeted Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official.

The United States and the global community at large have not recognized the new Taliban government and suspended most non-humanitarian financial assistance to the aid-dependent country.

Foreign countries continue to refuse to open direct political engagement with the Islamist group until it ensures respect for human rights, especially those of women, runs the country inclusively and cuts ties with transnational terrorists.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is in the grip of a severe humanitarian crisis stemming from years of war, drought and poverty. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that more than half the population in the country are facing starvation, with nearly a million children at risk of dying because of a “severe acute malnutrition.”