Afghanistan: a country once again Taliban victory: Islamic extremists finally vanquish other Islamic extremists.

September 28, 1996

THE FIRST ACTION of victorious Taliban religious fighters swarming into Kabul from all sides on Thursday was to hang the former president of Afghanistan, Najibullah, an infamous secret-police torturer and Soviet puppet. The second was to forbid women to work in offices.

Taliban did not exist when the Soviet troops evacuated in 1989 or when Najibullah's regime collapsed three years later. It was founded in August 1994 by a one-eyed wounded religious fighter, Mullah Muhammad Omar, who had quit the militia in disgust at corruption and factional fighting and studied religion. Most of his followers came from religious schools, many across the border in Pakistan.

The defeated regime of Burhanuddin Rabbani accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, even though he and his rivals had previously enjoyed such support. Although the Taliban are Islamist extremists overthrowing others, the regime of neighboring Iran distrusts them, partly because of the Pakistani connection and partly because the Iranians are Shiite while the Taliban are Sunni.

Most of Afghanistan's history is a struggle between the center and the regions. The kings who ruled for centuries were vaguely westernizing and modernizing. The country was divided along ethnic lines, and within the Pashtun majority, among clans and factions -- not religion. In the 1960s, Western hippies found Kabul a center of tolerance and marijuana.

This was ended after a leftist prime minister deposed his cousin the king in 1973 and put the country on a socialist course, to be overthrown by a succession of presidents, each more Communist than the last, leading to the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the deposing of the penultimate puppet by Najibullah at Soviet command in 1986. The Western influence, tolerance and Islam were equally suppressed.

Since 1992, three Islamic regimes have come and gone in the capital with a fourth now installing itself, while rival religious militias have strewn the country with land mines and shelled Kabul. It is impossible to believe that the tension between the center and the regions is over, that history has ended, that this is the last of the Islamist regimes, or that this tyranny will last longer than earlier tyrannies.

For the moment, Afghanistan gives the appearance of being a nation state once again. The kings, Communists, Westernizers and hedonists are gone but the impulses which supported them must still be present. Mullah Omar, believed still in his 30s, is in control for now. But this cannot be the end of it.

Pub Date: 9/28/96

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