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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living