Islamic tide in Afghanistan Taliban conquests: Extremists battle each other in name of religion.

September 15, 1996

THE FALL of Jalalabad on Wednesday promises resolution to the struggles among extremist groups, extolling their own Islamic purity, that has tortured Afghanistan since the collapse of its Communist regime four years ago. The most extreme and least known of the groups, Taliban, controls more than half the country and lays siege to the capital, Kabul.

President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a clergyman elected by rivals to interim leadership, heads a government whose writ runs only in the capital and parts of the north. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another zealot to whose group in exile the U.S. gave most of its military aid in the late 1980s, barely took part in the war to oust the Soviets, then used his hardware to fight the Rabbani regime. Only in June did he acknowledge the impossibility of success and join that regime as its supposed prime minister.

The Taliban did not exist when the U.S. inadvertently fostered Islamic extremism and terrorism by backing exile movements in Pakistan to defeat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Some of the international extremists who joined that movement went on to acts of subversion and terrorism in Egypt, Bosnia and the United States. But the Taliban grew at home among Afghani religious students disgusted at incessant struggles for power.

During this breakdown, Afghanistan has ceased to exist as a country. If there is any force that can make it one again, as it was under kings and Communists, it may be Taliban. It promises to oust women from work and girls from schools, cut off the hands of thieves and claim the Koran as source of all law, condemning any who interpret it differently. Where Taliban rules, it makes good on these promises.

As the government side disintegrates, new streams of refugees enter Pakistan to escape the fighting. The Rabbani government claims that the Taliban is supported by Pakistan, which denies it. Anarchy is retreating before the triumphant warriors of tyranny. The victims are many, all Afghani and all Muslim.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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