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.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution