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Originally published December 7, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified December 8, 2010 at 9:43 AM

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Afghan man held in mutilation of girl on Time cover

When Bibi Aisha's nose and ears were cut off by her husband and her in-laws, no one expected much to be done about it, especially because...

The New York Times

KABUL — When Bibi Aisha's nose and ears were cut off by her husband and her in-laws, no one expected much to be done about it, especially because it happened in a remote area under Taliban control.

Thanks to support from aid groups and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and the charity of a hospital in Southern California, Aisha was whisked off to the United States for reconstructive surgery, and everyone assumed the case against the perpetrators was closed.

Now it appears that, while Afghan law enforcement did not have a long enough arm to reach into the village that Aisha had fled, the police nonetheless did have long memories and this week arrested one of the suspects.

"It would have taken 100 armored vehicles to go in there to that village," said the district police chief, Mohammed Gul.

Sooner or later, though, everyone in the area comes to the bazaar in the Chora District, in south-central Oruzgan province. When Aisha's father-in-law, Sulaiman, showed up, the police were waiting.

According to Gul's account, the suspect spotted the police at the same time as they spotted him and made a run for it. Officers chased him on foot and ran him down a mile and a quarter later, he said.

Aisha's case came to prominence in August when Time magazine used a picture of her on its cover, with the suggestion that this was what would happen if the West left Afghanistan. A child bride, Aisha had fled her arranged marriage to a Taliban fighter but was captured and returned to the village, where her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law carried out the mutilation, after approval by the local Taliban mullah. Left for dead, she said, she then fled to the safety of a women's shelter in Kabul run by Women for Afghan Women, which publicized her plight a year later.

Gul said Sulaiman, who like many Afghans has only one name, confessed to participating in the disfigurement.

It is rare for the police in Afghanistan to intervene when local villagers impose punishments for social crimes, even severe ones such as flogging and stoning, which are allowed under Shariah law, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran. There is no Shariah law provision, however, for cutting off the nose and ears of a runaway child bride.

Brig. Gen. Juma Gul Himat, the provincial police chief in Oruzgan said that the police knew Sulaiman well as an associate of what he called terrorists, but that the police had not hunted him down for that.

"He made a big mistake," Himat said. "He disfigured a creature of God, and he was proud of what he had done."

Aisha's father, Hajji Muhammed Zai, confirmed he had agreed to the betrothal of Aisha and her younger sister to Sulaiman's family members, in payment of what is called "baad," a customary obligation owed by his own family. It is a common practice in rural areas. Both were infants when they were engaged.

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He said, however, that he had not as yet turned over the younger daughter, who is now 12, to consummate the marriage contract.

"I will never forgive them for what they have committed against my daughter," Zai said. Aisha, who is now 20, is living in New York while she gets treatment for emotional problems from her ordeal. Doctors at the Grossman Burn Foundation in California said they felt that was necessary before she could have reconstructive surgery there, according to Manizha Naderi, the head of Women for Afghan Women, which has offices in New York and Kabul. So far, Aisha has been given a prosthetic nose as a temporary measure.

Naderi said Aisha's father was responsible for returning her to her in-laws after she ran away.

"He should have known that she would either be killed or injured when she was given back," Naderi said.

"I regret what I did now, sending her back," Zai, Aisha's father, said. "I only wanted to try to have good relations with their family despite their bad behavior, so I sent her back to them."

Like his daughter, Zai, too, is a refugee now, in Tirin Kot, the capital of Oruzgan province. After the Sulaiman arrest, which took place two weeks ago, "I left our village because I was afraid of retaliation," he said. "We are very tired, we have left everything behind — land, orchards and home."

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