Kabul pays to keep enemy at bay



Afghan history has proven that Kabul, shielded by a forbidding range of mountains, can only be conquered by treachery. It has happened in the past, and the President, Burhannudin Rabbani, is anxious it should not happen to him.

After 14 years of fighting against the Soviets and then among the victorious Islamic rebel factions, money has become the only guarantee of a warrior's loyalty. So, with the Taliban Islamic militia gathering forces south of Kabul and preparing for an assault, President Rabbani placed an order with his former enemies, the Russians, to print up bales of new Afghan currency notes.

Flown in by Russian cargo planes to the former Soviet military base at Bagram, 30 miles outside Kabul, the crisp new bills were passed out by the jeep-load to commanders in the mud-walled villages and mountainsides along the front.

There was a miscalculation. The new Afghan bills were almost worthless. The money traders near the Blue Mosque were the first to realise that President Rabbani lacked the hard cash and bullion to prop up his gift. When the Afghani began falling against the dollar, wiping out people's meagre salaries, the police shut down the money bazaar. This was the people of Kabul's first sign that the next siege of their devastated city was about to begin.

The Taliban started over a year ago as a mass movement of Koranic students who wanted to put a stop to anarchy and war. Chopping off the hands of thieves and hanging bandit commanders from tank gun-barrels as they went, the Taliban swept through the desert badlands in the west and south, capturing the towns of Kandahar, Gardez, Ghazni and Herat. In Kabul, few believe the students learned to fly helicopters and shoot rocket launchers in their religious schools. President Rabbani accuses Pakistan of aiding the Taliban, whose graphic descriptions of the Rabbani government have not been forgotten by Kabul officials. "They say Kabul is like a well with a dead rat inside," a foreign ministry official recalled.

Just a few miles past the summer palace of Darulaman, holed and blasted at by the warring factions, lies the front line between the President's forces and the Taliban. The two sides are only 200 yards apart, shooting from the windows of abandoned farmhouses, and the air hums with the passage of bullets and larger objects.

Despite the chill, some teenagers on the government side wear rubber sandals. Few of the new Afghani notes had drifted this far down the chain of command. The shaggy youths posed with a rocket-propelled grenade aimed through a hole in the mud wall. "Shall I fire it?," one boy asked. "The Taliban are sure to shoot back. They might kill us." This seemed to be a novelty, a side of war he had only recently discovered.

As we were scurrying through the courtyard of the farmhouse, the oldest boy stepped forward and said apologetically: "It's our tradition to offer you tea but we don't have it." He added: "And besides, the Taliban have artillery-spotters up there. You'd better go."

Unless the Taliban can bribe a government commander or two, their attack on Kabul is probably doomed. It is expected within the next month, unless the government strikes first. Mr Rabbani and his defence adviser, Ahmed Shah Massoud, would probably hit the Taliban base 40 miles south of Kabul, at Maidan-Shar.

If successful, Mr Massoud may attack the Taliban-held city of Herat, whose cultivated, Persian-speaking inhabitants loathe their Pashtun invaders.

President Rabbani's forces are well-armed and have new, powerful allies: India, Iran and, most surprising of all, Russia. After waging a jihad against the Russians for 10 years, Mr Rabbani has become their friend. Not only do the Russians send in fresh supplies of money, they also stock Mr Rabbani with ammunition needed to keep his Soviet-made weaponry firing. India and Iran are propping up President Rabbani to stop Pakistan from meddling too deeply.

The Afghans tell a joke about a zookeeper who has two Afghan hounds that constantly fight. He lets a bear into the dog pen. The two hounds immediately tear into the bear, wounding it so badly that the zookeeper has to rescue the larger animal. Without drawing a breath, the two Afghan hounds resume their fighting. Before, the Soviet Union was the bear that intruded into Afghanistan. The next could be Pakistan.

Pakistan wants to open trade routes from the new Central Asian republics to the seaport of Karachi. It can only do this through Afghanistan, where the roads are bad and vehicles tend to get stolen. Using the Taliban, the Pakistanis have pacified a swathe of the country, from Quetta to the western town of Herat. Ignoring President Rabbani, the Pakistanis have announced plans to build a Taliban-protected road to Turkmenistan. Pakistani banks and consulates have sprung up inside Taliban territory.

This alarms not only the Iranians, whose border lies close to the projected Pakistani road. Some of the rebel mujahedin factions fighting against Kabul are starting to view the Taliban - and their Pakistani mentors - with hackles raised. President Rabbani is holding exploratory talks with his old enemy, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose militia infests the canyons between Kabul and the Khyber Pass.

At least 1 million Afghans have been killed since the Communist takeover in 1979, and 8 million have been displaced by fighting. As the Taliban and the government ready for war around Kabul, many Afghans heed an old superstition. Wasif Bakhtri, a radio announcer, explained. "The mujahedin commanders went to Mecca and swore they would honour peace. They broke that oath, and now Afghans say they have put a curse on their country."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn