Koran spurs on mystery militia

The black Chevrolet limousine was crammed with armed Afghan rebels. Raising a tornado of dirt, it slewed through the adobe village of Charasyar, accelerated past a few captured tanks and sped towards the mountains. The rebels grinned and waved.

"The car once belonged to the Communist president. Then it was grabbed by the rebel commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Now that we've chased him away, the car belongs to us," boasted a young Afghan, whose AK-47 rifle and white turban identified him as a member of Taliban, the militia of Koranic students who have pulled off a swift and nearly bloodless conquest of southern Afghanistan.

Numbering more than 10,000 and backed by 100 tanks and several MiG fighter jets, the students are within eight miles of the capital, Kabul, and demanding that the government of "criminals" step down.

The history of Afghanistan has often been a repetitive tale of double- crossing tribes stealing land and looting from each other. It used to be horses; now it is a Chevrolet. The Taliban movement has gained momentum and widespread support among the Afghans, because they vowed to uphold Islam and restore peace and justice to this country, shattered by 15 years of unending war.

With the Taliban artillery rolling through iron-coloured hills south east of the capital, many of Kabul's citizens are worried about the motives of this mysterious militia. The Taliban claim they want to reunite Afghanistan. But perhaps they, like the warlord commanders they denounce as bandits, only want their share of Chevrolets.

Their view of Islam is fundamentalist: they killed opium smugglers and shot a fruit vendor in Kandahar for serving a woman. Most Taliban zealots belong to the Pathan tribes, who are Sunnis, yet they are tolerant of the minority Shias under their control. Some Afghans said the Taliban receive covert aid from Pakistani militant Muslim groups but no proof has emerged. So far, they have been able to sweep past the ethnic and sectarian hatreds which have set the mujahedin factions killing each other.

On their tanks the Taliban fly white flags, the Islamic colour of peace. They charge into battle with Korans strung round their necks. Even their strength is unknown. Guesses range from 6,000 to 25,000. Over the past three months they poured out of the madrassas, or religious schools. Many were recruited from the camps in western Pakistan where more than 1.5 million Afghans live in tents and on charity handouts. They are prepared to wage a new holy war, not against Soviet troops but against the mujahedin factions whose intrigues and feuds have left 20,000 dead over the past few years and pounded Kabul into rubble.

A Kabul teacher, Mohammed Arif, expressed the fear voiced by many in the capital. "We don't know anything about the Taliban. We're worried that they might try to attack the city." For now, though, Kabul is grateful that the Taliban have driven off the Hezbi Islami forces of Mr Hekmatyar, who for two years have shelled the capital mercilessly. You can drive miles through the city without seeing a house, a mosque or a bridge that has not been damaged.

For a week now the shelling has stopped. The Taliban opened the southern roads into the besieged city and prices for food and petrol have nearly halved. When a few boys yesterday flew their kites, it was such a rarity after months of falling rockets that hundreds gathered to watch the kites soaring in the icy wind that swept off the mountains.

Even at the front line on the Logar road, where the Taliban and the troops of President Burhanuddin Rabbani are staring at each other from only 100 yards away, the atmosphere is relaxed. Fighters wander across the lines, chatting with the enemy. The Taliban are said to have infiltrated unarmed Koranic students into Kabul who are trying to ease fears of another assault. At the Taliban's battle headquarters in Charasyar there are no hints of an impending attack. Many of the Taliban were sitting along a wall, impatient for the setting of the sun, which will bring an end to their day-long Ramadan fasting. One madrassa student, Mullah Samant Halim, said: "How could I study books when my country was falling apart? There was too much plundering, murder. It had to be stopped.''

A Taliban's commander, Mohammed Rabbani, is expected to meet today a United Nations envoy, Mahmoud Mestiri, who is trying to set up an interim council to take over from Mr Rabbani. The President should have stepped down seven weeks ago but has been slow to give up power. The Taliban views the UN peace plan as positive, but will refuse to deal with the proposed council, since it comprises representatives of the mujahedin factions.

Mr Rabbani was due to transfer power to the council, headed by Sultan Ghazi, a cousin of Afghanistan's deposed monarch, today, but the handover may be delayed for several days, according to diplomatic sources. A key obstacle to peace in Afghanistan is the Taliban's insistence that Mr Rabbani's forces be withdrawn from Kabul and be replaced by a neutral security force. But after fighting so hard to remain in Kabul, Mr Rabbani and his forces may be unwilling to give it up so easily.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Copywriter / Direct Response Copywriter

£20k plus sales linked bonus. : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Copywriter to j...

Recruitment Genius: Accounting Technician

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

Guru Careers: 3D Creative Designer

Up to £26k DOE: Guru Careers: A Junior / Mid-Level 3D Creative Designer is nee...

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Website Digital Marketing Manager - Fashion / Retail

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You'll be joining a truly talen...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen