Graphic Video of Fatal Stoning Shows Taliban's Strength

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The Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law is largely unpopular, but local residents do not have a choice when threatened with a well-armed force. The families did not want this punishment, nor did their respective tribes. But local officials say cousins of the victims were forced to attend the stoning, and nobody in the local police or government attempted to prosecute the stone throwers.

"If the government was stronger and the government took responsibility to protect its inhabitants, I don't think any other parallel individuals or parallel procedures or bodies would dare to come to finish the life of a human being that easily," said Fauzia Kofi, a female member of parliament from northern Afghanistan. "It's a lack of education, lack of awareness, lack of transparency and accountability -- and that's why it's very easy to kill a woman."

The Taliban were able to impose their version of justice in part because northern Afghanistan has been neglected in the post-Taliban administration. Kunduz province, where the stoning took place, is one of the primary economic hubs in northern Afghanistan and was one of the safest areas in the country. Until 2008, there was little violence and little evidence of Taliban presence.

But today, across large areas of northern Afghanistan, inadequate and corrupt governance has combined with determined efforts by militants, and areas that were once safe are now under strong Taliban influence, and in some cases, under Taliban control.

That was especially true last fall, when the stoning took place. Since then, the police have improved slightly and U.S. special operations forces have dramatically increased their targeting of mid-level and senior Taliban commanders. Conventional forces have also launched operations in some districts where the Taliban were especially strong.

But still, residents in Kunduz and Baghlan, the province just to the south, fear that when the winter ends, insurgents and criminals will quickly move back into districts where the U.S. has little presence and where the government is weak and skeptical of the West's ability to bring security.

For Afghan human rights advocates, the video is another sign the government has not done a good enough job at establishing a rule of law that would reduce the Taliban's influence. It is also a sign, they say, that poor education promotes violence.

"That understanding of Islam that Taliban has is a … lack of the proper understanding of Islam and Islamic values," Kofi said. "The Islam that I represent actually saved women from being buried alive 1,400 years back. I don't know what kind of Islam they represent, that they can kill so easily."

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