The women-hating Taleban has long gone from Kabul, but how the country's women are treated still remains the touchstone for determining the future of Afghanistan. Malalai Joya, a 26-year-old delegate from far-western Farah province bordering Iran, almost got lynched at last week's traditional Loya Jirga assembly - which was debating a new constitution - for attacking the country's Islamic warlords. 'They were the ones who destroyed our country,' she told the stunned constitutional assembly. 'They should be tried in an international court. Even if our poor people forgive these criminals, history will not. Their criminal activities have all been recorded.' What the brave young woman said publicly, and on real-time television, is what many ordinary Afghans say privately, still uncertain about the consequences of speaking out. The world only heard about the atrocities committed by the Taleban. But people in Kabul still recall the terror unleashed during the 1992-96 period when the government was in the hands of the American-backed mujahedeen, or holy Islamic warriors, who had defeated the Soviet army and their local communist allies. Islamic warlords are once again calling the shots in Afghanistan - though, thanks to the presence of foreign forces, not with the same impunity. Nevertheless, a recent UN report warned that widespread abuses against women continue - intimidation, forced marriages, 'protective' incarceration and honour killings. In rural areas, women are also constantly threatened by militia commanders 'who violate women's rights and commit sexual abuse with impunity'. Ms Joya's outburst was akin to denouncing the mafia at a Sicilian wedding. Sitting in the front row was the ultra-conservative Islamic strongman, Abdul Rasul Sayaf, the very mention of whose name can strike terror in the Afghan capital. Mr Sayaf, a tall, imposing figure with a flowing silver beard, made his name - and fortune - in the jihad, or holy war, against the Soviet occupation. He is a leader of the mujahedeen who constitute nearly a third of the 502 delegates at the Loya Jirga. Unlike another front-ranking warlord at the constitutional assembly, the ever-scowling Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mr Sayaf has a personable manner and is a persuasive speaker. When I accosted him inside the tent for an interview, he gripped my hand firmly, and said: 'Speak to me in English. I don't know Urdu. We can meet tomorrow if there's time.' But that was the day Ms Joya almost blew the tent away. For a moment, as dozens of men advanced threateningly towards her, it seemed as if there would be a replay of a Taleban horror show. But several women delegates jumped to Ms Joya's defence. 'At last year's assembly, a male delegate who verbally attacked a warlord, was forced to seek political asylum,' said a European. 'Let's see what happens to Ms Joya.'