Sending to Kabul: a shotgun under his bed, this non-conformist Afghan does not want peace with the Taliban


KABUL, Afghanistan – The driver of a car stopped in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, was electrocuted when a passing motorist lowered the window and shouted at him: "A dirty donkey."

He was even more surprised when he looked up to see that the insult was coming from a woman. A woman driving a car. A woman driving a car without wearing the obligatory hijab.

It was Laila Haidari, who runs a popular cafe in Kabul that allows men and women to dine together, married or not, with or without a headscarf, and uses the proceeds to fund a drug rehabilitation center.

Almost everyone addresses Ms. Haidari39, like "Nana" or "Mom", and her supporters describe her as the "mother of a thousand kids" after the number of Afghan addicts she would have saved.

Haidari is now planning to launch a popular uprising against the maintenance of peace talks with the Taliban.

"The guys, the Taliban are coming back," she recently told a mixed restaurant, her restaurant, Taj Begum, which has been the subject of vicious attacks in local media that l & rsquo; compared to a brothel.

"We have to organize," she told her clients. "I hope to find 50 other women who will stand up and say:We do not want peace. & # 39; If the Taliban come back, you will not have friend like me and there will be no restaurant like the Taj Begum. "

Its almost always crowded restaurant on the banks of the Kabul River, washed by sewage, owes its name to a 15th century warrior princess from Herat who helped lead a vast kingdom, a rare example of the feminine power of that era.

Mrs. Haidari is also unusual at her age.

While most women activists in Afghanistan have been funded and supported by the West, she has insisted on organizing her own political activities and conditions.

"We must first change our own men and our own families," Ms. Haidari said in an interview. "Do not consider me a victim, as many of our women seem to be in public life. I will not sit in front of the Taliban with the hijab imploring my rights. "

Here, there are few women activists who challenge patriarchal social norms as Ms. Haidari does, and those who do so tend to do so calmly and politely. They also tend to come from liberal families educated in the West who support their rebellion.

Ms. Haidari does it loudly and often crudely, and comes from a religiously conservative family who married her at the age of 12 with a mullah more than two decades old.

"Since the age of 12, I have felt like I'm in a boxing ring," she said. "At the time, I did not know that child marriage was an injustice, even though I felt like I was raped every night by an adult man, and it was wrong."

Her family had fled to Iran as a refugee and Mrs. Haidari had brought the mullah three children there. Her husband allowed her to attend religious classes, but she secretly started studying general subjects and eventually went to an Iranian university, where she graduated with a degree in filmmaking.

Ms. Haidari divorced her husband – according to Islamic law, he kept the children – and returned to Afghanistan where she discovered that her brother Hakim was living under a bridge in Kabul, a heroin addict. She promised God to open a drug treatment center if she could save him, and that's what she did using Narcotics Anonymous 12-step method and a dose of tough love.

After talking with the restaurant's guests, Ms. Haidari rushed to her car, followed by a small entourage, to visit her rehab center.

She drove herself and inevitably shouted at the other drivers – who in Afghanistan are almost always men – to get away from the road.

She also criticized the driver of the car journalists for following too slowly.

At the Mother's Trust Treatment Center, the 20 male addicts have their heads shaved and wearing purple uniforms to discourage them from leaving.

"If they relapse and come here a second time, I also cut their eyebrows," said Ms. Haidari.

It is forbidden to smoke and to exercise daily. Men participate in cooking and cleaning.

"If they break the rules, I fuck them," she said, while the men gathered around her in an affable group laughed.

Among the men, there was a severely disabled teenager, not an addict. Ms. Haidari said he found her in a garbage dump, hurt and unable to speak. Despite calls made on social media, no family members came forward.

"We do not even know her name, so we call her Omid," she said. The name means hope.

Drug addicts all take care of Omid, feed him, bathe him, take care of his toilet needs. "It's good for them to have someone to look after," Ms. Haidari said.

Many addicts say they have been in government treatment programs like Camp Phoenix, funded by international donors, not to find them plagued by readily available drugs.

Haidari said 1,000 graduates from her center stayed healthy for at least a year. About 5,000, she would have treated since the establishment of the clinic eight years ago. She has just opened a second treatment center for drug-addicted women.

Ms. Haidari employs drug addicts who stay clean in her restaurant and in two small shoe factories that she has funded.

Back at the restaurant, there is a perpetual cloud of smoke from many hookahs, or big sparkling water pipes, flavored tobacco.

Young unmarried Afghan men and women socialize together, which is a cultural taboo in most institutions in Kabul, but drinks are tea and coffee because alcohol is banned in Afghanistan. The curtains and interior doors have all been removed, to prevent accusations of inappropriate behavior inside.

"It's not just a restaurant," said one of Taj Begum's guests, Ilyas Yourish, 24, a filmmaker. "It's a social center, a place of organization, and we all know that she takes the money and pays it into the treatment center. Laila is the most powerful woman here.

The uncompromising complained about the restaurant and the police also visited.

Often arrested, she is always released. "I have a lot of friends on social media," she said.

Neighborhood drug traffickers were also pursuing her, angry at the loss of customers.

She lives alone in an apartment where, according to her, two men entered late at night without waiting for her to have a shotgun under her bed.

"I dug a hole in the ceiling and they both ran," she said.

The recent announcement of a preliminary agreement between Taliban and US negotiators, calling for a US withdrawal from the country, encouraged Ms. Haidari to defend her new cause.

"We are facing an ideology, not a group of people," she said. "They believe that women are defined as the second sex and that you can not change that ideology, so I have no hope for talks with the Taliban."

Ms. Haidari's three children, now aged 16 to 21, fled Iran to Germany. Even though she could not visit them, she is in contact with WhatsApp.

Her job is for them, she says.

"I should have something to say to my own children and grandchildren when they ask," What did you do when the Taliban arrived? "