Taliban launch house-to-house search for weapons ... and TVs

With music and television banned by the Taliban militia in Kabul, schools closed, women forbidden from working and a curfew in force, most Afghans have no choice but to turn on the radio after 6pm and brace themselves for the latest bizarre decree issued by their new Islamic rulers.

Kite flying has been prohibited, along with marbles, large wedding parties, picnics and owning songbirds, Beauty shops have all been shut down, and so have the gyms. "What are we supposed to be doing when we're not praying five times a day at the mosque? Memorising the Koran, I guess," one Kabul student said glumly.

The latest communique by radio has worried Kabul residents the most. It warned that Taliban militiamen would be going from house to house confiscating weapons (many Afghans had guns at home to scare off bandits).

Seizing weapons may seem reasonable to Afghans, since the Taliban's decision to remove the foot of any thief who is caught has cut down crime. But the militia also have instructions from the Department of Good and Abstaining from Bad to search houses and seize televisions and music and video cassettes. One former Communist, busy trying to grow his beard, said: "We've fallen into a black hole, 500 years back in history."

Many of the Taliban militia cruising Kabul's dusty streets in jeeps armed with quivers of rocket-propelled grenades are without any schooling, except the Koran. Their leaders are clerics who are imposing an Islamic regime in Kabul harsher than anywhere else in the Muslim world.

A Taliban cleric, Mullah Mohammed Ghous Akhunt, said the ban on women working and girls going to school, would be lifted once "full security prevails". But towns such as Kandahar and Herat, captured by the Taliban over a year ago, are fully secure, yet Afghans are still waiting for girls' schools to be reopened and nurses to be allowed back in hospitals.

The Taliban forces are sweeping north into the Hindu Kush mountains, about 120 miles from the capital, where the former Defence Minister, Ahmed shah Massoud, has retreated. Nicknamed the "Lion of the Pansheer" for his valiant defence of the Pansheer valley against the Soviet army, Mr Massoud has gone back to the craggy mountains he and his men know best.

Attacking with heavy artillery, backed by fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships, over the past three days the Taliban have succeeded in penetrating three miles into the valley. The Afghans think Mr Massoud stands no chance of ever winning back Kabul.

Flushed by their conquest of Kabul, the Taliban may next aim for the northern domain of the Uzbek warlord, Abddurrashid Dostum. However, Mr Dostum has powerful allies in the Central Asian republics, and these former Communist regimes have warned the Taliban not to push too far.