Relentless student army eyes Kabul

The Islamic students are marching through Afghanistan with open Korans. And when Allah's words fail to persuade Afghan rebels and bandits to surrender, the student militia, known as the Taliban, relies on its 100 tanks and armoured vehicles to clear the way with fire.

Afghanistan's main rebel group, Hizbe Islami, yesterday admitted that it had been driven from its stronghold at Charasyab, 18 miles south of Kabul. Only a few artillery blasts from the Taliban were enough to dislodge Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's forces from the positions they had used to pour shells daily into Kabul, killing thousands of Afghans in the capital.

The victory marks a decisive and unforeseen twist in Afghanistan's anarchic civil war. Six months ago, the Taliban militia - the name simply means "religious students" - did not exist. Now it has conquered most of southern Afghanistan, driven the most powerful warlord's forces into retreat, and is advancing on Kabul.

The capital's defenders, who are loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani, could not push Hizbe Islami out of Charasyab, despite air raids and offensives.Yet Mr Hekmatyar fled from his headquarters without a fight before the advancing students. Reporters said the rebel commander left without taking his prized carpets, his documents or even a change of clothes. He retreated to Sarobi, where he can cause mischief on the main road between Kabul and the Khyber Pass into Pakistan.

Although Kabul's citizens passed a rare night yesterday without rockets or shells, their relief may be short-lived. The Taliban militia vowed to take the capital, and it is doubtful that the government troops, led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, will give up easily after battling so long. The Taliban accuse all nine mujahedin rebel factions - which have been feuding among themselves since crushing the pro-Soviet regime in 1992 - of being "criminals" who "betrayed" the Afghans' trust. The 4,000 armed Muslim students, recruited mainly from Afghan refugee camps along the Pakistan border, consider Mr Rabbani just as "criminal" as the Hizbe Islami warlord.

Taliban's message is popular. After the jihad victory against the Communists, the rebel leaders have splintered Afghanistan into warring fiefdoms where banditry and opium-smuggling are rife. Led by a reformist Kandahar cleric, Mulana Omar, the Koranic students have opened up roads, allowing supply convoys to reach Kabul's starved citizens and have brought a hope of peace to the nine of Afghanistan's 30 provinces under their control.Many rebels have chosen to join their ranks rather than fight the fundamentalist Islamic students.

The Taliban's rapid advance has thrown into disarray a United Nations- brokered peace plan, set to begin on Monday. Under the UN formula, Mr Rabbani is to hand over power to an interim council made up of "neutral personalities" and representatives of the nine main mujahedin factions. Short-sightedly, the UN failed to invite the Taliban students to join the council.

Mahmood Mestiri, a UN envoy, said in Islamabad that despite Hizbe Islami's defeat, and the proximity of the student fighters to Kabul, the UN still intended to set up its power-sharing council. "This should make the peace talks more urgent. All parties now feel threatened by the Taliban."

Mr Hekmatyar's forces had been the most badly battered by the Taliban fighters sweeping towards Kabul. Their defeat also weakens Mr Hekmatyar's two powerful allies, the Uzbek army of General Abdul Rashid Dostum and the Shia militias.

Many diplomats are asking who is behind the mysterious Taliban militia. Its fighters obey a Shura or general assembly, based in Kandahar, 280 miles south of Kabul, yet the students are known to have links with radical Islamic groups in Pakistan and possibly other Muslim countries which funded the Koranic schools in the refugee camps. So far, though, by adhering to the Koran, the Taliban has avoided embroiling itself in ethnic and political rivalry.

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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
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

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice