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.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little