Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Taliban Phenomenon - 3

Bint Waleed wrote:

Tariq Ali, Chomsky et al, may be atheists and secularists but they are somewhat objective and fair in their observation and judgment; they call spade a spade.

kaukab siddique wrote:

For Fatah, the Jihad against the USSR was a CIA operation, Osama and the Taliban are "blow back" and Islam is extremism.

Kaukab Siddique
Associate Professor of English & Mass communication

Dear Friends,

For Mr Kaukab and Ms Bint Waleed the Islamic History [Read Lies] compiled by Tabari more than thousand years ago is 'Authentic' [because it is quoted by the Godfather of Islamo Fascists like Mawdoodi and JI] but for them even the present day newspapers and the witnesses of those who have seen this CIA backed Jihad against the USSR is a lie. What a Joke!

To refresh your memories!


Are We to Blame for Afghanistan? By Chalmers Johnson

"Asked whether he in any way regretted these actions,

Brzezinski replied:

Regret what? The secret operation was an excellent idea. It drew the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: 'We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.'

Nouvel Observateur: "And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?"

Brzezinski: "What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

Are We to Blame for Afghanistan? By Chalmers Johnson

Mr. Johnson's latest books are Blowback (Metropolitan, 2000) and The Sorrows of Empire (Metropolitan, 2004), the first two volumes in a trilogy on American imperial policies. The final volume is now being written. From 1967 to 1973, Johnson served as a consultant to the CIA's Office of National Estimates.

This article first appeared on, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.

Copyright C2004 Chalmers Johnson

Subverting young minds by Zulfiqar Ali

IN 1980s, the Americans poured in mega bucks to glorify jihad in Afghanistan as it served their purpose and was required to drive out communism. Americans spent more than 50 million dollars on publishing text books to teach children the importance of jihad against communism. Once again, they are producing school books at the cost of millions of dollars. But, the motive is different this time around.

June 2, 2002

INDEPTH: AFGHANISTAN Back to school in Afghanistan CBC News Online January 27, 2004

The National Airdate: May 6, 2002 Reporter: Carol Off Producer: Heather Abbott
Editor: Catherine McIsaac

When 1.5 million children went back in school in Afghanistan in the spring of 2002, a tough lesson was waiting for them. While the country welcomed some semblance of peace for the first time in years, war remained very much a part of its classrooms. Afghanistan' s teachers tried to erase war images from the textbooks, images that got there in the first place due in large part to Cold War policies in the United States.

Textbooks are full of guns, swords and other images of war

At a public school in Kabul, students and teachers are anxious for some kind of normal routine. Some children bring their own chairs to school, if they have them. The school was almost destroyed by war. There's no electricity. It's colder inside than out. The cement floor is freezing.

But the students don't mind. The young women and girls at this school are back in the classroom after five years of banishment by the Taliban.

Women in their 20s have returned to Grade 11. But they're not bitter, they're happy.

"All the people in Afghanistan are hungry for peace, especially the younger generation," says Homa Yousef. "They have lots of enthusiasm to learn. That's why we must work hard to ensure the textbooks match their level of understanding so that they can become useful to society."

The pleasures of childhood are so simple. A kite to fly, a friend to share your dreams with, maybe a good storybook. In Afghanistan, a child's pleasure is simply an end to 23 years of war.

"Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to 10 September 2001", by Steve Coll, New York: Penguin, 2004.

Funding the Fundamentalists

The motives of the White House and the CIA were shaped by the Cold War: a determination to kill as many Soviet soldiers as possible and the desire to restore some aura of rugged machismo as well as credibility that U.S. leaders feared they had lost when the Shah of Iran was overthrown. The CIA had no intricate strategy for the war it was unleashing in Afghanistan. Howard Hart, the agency's representative in the Pakistani capital, told Coll that he understood his orders as: "You're a young man; here's your bag of money, go raise hell. Don't fuck it up, just go out there and kill Soviets." These orders came from a most peculiar American. William Casey, the CIA's director from January 1981 to January 1987, was a Catholic Knight of Malta educated by Jesuits. Statues of the Virgin Mary filled his mansion, called "Maryknoll," on Long Island. He attended mass daily and urged Christianity on anyone who asked his advice. Once settled as CIA director under Reagan, he began to funnel covert action funds through the Catholic Church to anti-Communists in Poland and Central America, sometimes in violation of American law. He believed fervently that by increasing the Catholic Church's reach and power he could contain Communism's advance, or reverse it. From Casey's convictions grew the most important U.S. foreign policies of the 1980s – support for an international anti-Soviet crusade in Afghanistan and sponsorship of state terrorism in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Casey knew next to nothing about Islamic fundamentalism or the grievances of Middle Eastern nations against Western imperialism. He saw political Islam and the Catholic Church as natural allies in the counter-strategy of covert action to thwart Soviet imperialism. He believed that the USSR was trying to strike at the U.S. in Central America and in the oil-producing states of the Middle East. He supported Islam as a counter to the Soviet Union's atheism, and Coll suggests that he sometimes conflated lay Catholic organizations such as Opus Dei with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian extremist organization, of which Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, was a passionate member. The Muslim Brotherhood' s branch in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami, was strongly backed by the Pakistani army, and Coll writes that Casey, more than any other American, was responsible for welding the alliance of the CIA, Saudi intelligence, and the army of General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan's military dictator from 1977 to 1988. On the suggestion of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organization, Casey went so far as to print thousands of copies of the Koran, which he shipped to the Afghan frontier for distribution in Afghanistan and Soviet Uzbekistan. He also fomented, without presidential authority, Muslim attacks inside the USSR and always held that the CIA's clandestine officers were too timid. He preferred the type represented by his friend Oliver North.

Over time, Casey's position hardened into CIA dogma, which its agents, protected by secrecy from ever having their ignorance exposed, enforced in every way they could. The agency resolutely refused to help choose winners and losers among the Afghan jihad's guerrilla leaders. The result, according to Coll, was that "Zia-ul-Haq's political and religious agenda in Afghanistan gradually became the CIA's own." In the era after Casey, some scholars, journalists, and members of Congress questioned the agency's lavish support of the Pakistan-backed Islamist general Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, especially after he refused to shake hands with Ronald Reagan because he was an infidel. But Milton Bearden, the Islamabad station chief from 1986 to 1989, and Frank Anderson, chief of the Afghan task force at Langley, vehemently defended Hekmatyar on the grounds that "he fielded the most effective anti-Soviet fighters."

When I mention Afghanistan’s Liberation War against the Soviet Union I intend no disrespect towards common Afghans who sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom and nor I am trying to mock their struggle but history’s record must be kept straight. As per a book “Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile during the so-called Afghan Jihad following things did happen;

“There were frightening posters and official briefings from the moment the soldiers got off the transport planes at Bagram Air Base, whispers about what had happened to their colleagues. They all knew about the fanatic Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s practice of leaving armless and legless Soviet soldiers on the road. {Page 288-489}.

“Hart {Station Chief of CIA in Pakistan in Afghan War days} himself, however, was deeply suspicious, even angered by Massoud’s refusal to move on the Salang Highway. He passed on his doubts to Langley, along with the ISI’s crude joke about the unmanly nature of Massoud’s Tajik: “When a Pashtun wants to make love to a woman, his first choice is always a Tajik man.” {Page 199}.

“In London, Avrakotos asked for a personal meeting with MI6 {British Intelligence}’s Massoud expert. He turned out to be a young, blond SAS guerilla-warfare expert with the peculiar nickname of Awk, a name said to vaguely resemble the grunting noise he would make on maneuvers. Awk had just returned from three months inside the war zone. It was about a two-week journey in those days, walking north from the Pakistan border through Nuristan and the Hindu Kush to reach Massoud’s valley. Awk had gone in with two other SAS commandos. Their report had astonished Avrakotos. “There was one passage in there that really got me,” remembers Avrakotos. “This guy was sleeping with a couple of his buddies and he said he awoke one night and heard horrible groans. He didn’t get up but was able to put on his night-vision goggles and saw a group of Massoud’s guy literally cornholing a Russian prisoner.” {Page 199}.

“At MI6 headquarters Awk told Avrakotos that watching that man die had made him finally understand the Afghans, ancient code: “Honours, hospitality, and revenge.” Raping an infidel was not the atrocity it would be in the West; it was simply revenge. {Page 199}.

“To begin with, anyone defecting to the Dushman {enemy} would have to be a crook, a thief, or someone who wanted to get corn holed everyday, because nine out of ten prisoners were dead within twenty-four hours and they were always turned into concubines by the mujahideen. {Page 332}.

“At one point Avrakotos {CIA officer responsible for Afghan Jihad} arrived for one of these White House sessions armed with five huge photographic blowups. Before unveiling them he explained that they would provide a useful understanding of the kind of experience a Soviet soldier could expect to have should he surrender the mujahideen. One of them showed two Russians sergeants being used as concubines. Another had a Russian hanging from the turret of a tank with a vital part of his anatomy removed.” {Page 333}.

“The CIA found itself in the preposterous position of having to pony up $ 50, 000 to bribe the Afghans to deliver two live ones {Russian Prisoners}. “These two guys were basket cases,” says Avrakotos. “One had been ****ed so many times he didn’t know what was going on” {Page 333}.

“In an interview on a private TV Channel ARY ONE’S VIEWS ON NEWS with Dr. Shahid Masood (June 16, 2004), former IG Police Sardar Mohammad Chaudhry, who was in sanctum sanctorum of General Zia, said that after the imposition of martial law of 1977, the West had cut off all financial aid and the country was on the verge of an economic collapse. Zia and his generals decided that the way out was to tap funds from Saudi Arabia. For that Islam had to be used as bait. Then on, the Hudood Ordinance and other such infamous laws against women were introduced ensuring a free flow of money from Saudi Arabia. Zia was never serious in his Islamic endeavours. "Regrettably, " Sardar said, "I was a part of that."

Where as General Zia and his toady Mufti/Mullahs were playing havoc with the lives of common citizens of Pakistan through exploiting Islam particularly the weaker section of society i.e. Women, Labour, Minorities but Pseudo Commander of the Faithful General Zia ul Haq appointed a ‘Society Lady’ Joanne Herring as Pakistan’s honorary Consul in Houston, Texas USA, earlier her husband Bob Herring was offered the post but he declined and gave his wife’s name.

“She was Zia’s most trusted American adviser, as per Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, She absolutely had his ear, it was terrible,” “Zia would leave cabinet meetings just to take Joanne’s calls. “There was no affair with Zia,” Wilson recalls, but it’s impossible to deal with Joanne and not deal with her on sexual basis. No matter who you are, you take those phone calls.” {Page 67-68}.


It is generally believed that the US wanted Zoulfiqar Ali Bhutto to be removed from the political scene of Pakistan mainly on two accounts. First, for the nuclear policy that he framed and tried to relentlessly pursue and secondly, from apprehensions that ZAB was influencing the countries. He posed a serious challenge to the US interests in the region. “Tally-ho. Kill Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, “ yelled the self-proclaimed policemen of the world. During August 1976, Amercian Secretary of States, Dr. Henry Kissinger had warned Bhutto, “We will make a horrible example of you,” adding menacingly, “When the railroad is coming, you get out of the way.” The American had successfully cultivated a number of well-placed bureaucrats, PPP stalwarts and ministers who wittingly or inadvertently served as the US agents of influence. American diplomats and CIA operators not only got most of the ‘inside’ information from these ‘gentlemen’ but also utilized their good offices to ‘convey’ whatever they wanted to feed or plant. Some officers from USMAAG had also made meaningful ingresses in the General Headquarters and not only gathered the thinking in the Services Headquarters but would also drop a ‘suggestion’ here and there. Some of the US Diplomats had established direct contacts with a number of PNA leaders whom they continued to aid, support and give day-to-day line of action.

A number of US diplomats were not only actively involved but also directed the operations against Bhutto. Jan M. Gibney, Political Officer, US Consulate General, Lahore, duly assisted by a couple of Pakistanis, was extremely active and would frequently visit a number of Politicians Maulana Maudoodi of Jamat-e-Islami and Maulan Obaidullah Anwar, Jamiat-e-Ulmai- Islam of Sheranwala Gate, Lahore. Apart from holding meetings, a wireless network had been established between the USIS-US Consulate General – Maulana Maudoodi’s residence. It was Gibney who had telephoned and conveyed to Howard B. Schaffer, Chief of Political Affairs, US Embassy, Islamabad, that notorious sentence, “The party is over. Merchandise has gone.” The US had also released PL-480 funds. Over night some Jamat-e-Islami workers were seen with pockets full of money and spending lavishly. A number of businessmen, particularly those, who had suffered due to ZAB’s economic and industrial policies, had also been prompted to contribute towards the PNA funds. As there were no party accounts being maintained as such, the contributions were received personally by some of the leaders. Justice (Retd.) Kaikaus and Rafiq Ahmed Bajwa are among those who are alleged to have made millions.

PROFILES OF INTELLIGENCE by Brigadier Syed I. A Tirmazi, SI (M).


Former Director General (DG) of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant General (Retd) Hameed Gul’s anti-American rhetoric in post-retirement phase makes headlines off and on in national news media/even on ARY {THE LATEST WAS on 8th September 2004}. It is interesting that when he was DGISI, US ambassador attended the meetings of Afghan Cell of Benazir government. In fact the major decision of Jalalabad offensive in 1989 was made in one of those fateful meetings. To date there has been no evidence (no statement by any other participants of those meetings or by General Hameed Gul himself) that Mr. Gul made any objection to the presence of US ambassador in these meetings, which had wide ranging impact on national security. It is probable that Mr. Gul was at that time a top contender for the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) race, therefore he didn’t wanted to be on the wrong side of the civil government. When he was sacked, then he found the gospel truth that US was not sincere. Another example is of former Chief of Afghan Cell of ISI, Brigadier (Retd) Muhammad Yusuf. For five long years, he was a major participant in a joint CIA-ISI venture of unprecedented scale in Afghanistan. During this time period, he worked with several different levels US officials and visited CIA headquarters in Langley. In his post-retirement memoirs, he tried his best to distance himself from the Americans.

His statements like, ‘Relations between the CIA and ourselves were always strained’, ‘I resorted to trying to avoid contact with the local CIA staff’, ‘I never visited the US embassy’ and vehement denial of any direct contact between CIA and Mujahideen shows his uncomfortability of being seen as close with the Americans. "Pakistan’s former foreign minister Agha Shahi in a conversation with Robert Wirsing said that in 1981 during negotiations with US, he gave a talk to a group of Pakistani generals on the objectives of Pakistan’s policy toward US. He stressed the importance of non-alignment and avoidance of over dependence on superpowers. Few days later one of the generals who attended Shahi’s briefing met him and told him that Americans should be given bases in return for the aid. "General Zia and DGISI Akhtar Abdur Rahman had very cordial relations with CIA director William Casey. To offset that uncomfortable closeness with Americans, Zia and Akhtar were portrayed as holy warriors of Islam and modern day Saladins. According to one close associate of Akhtar, ‘They (Casey and Akhtar) worked together in harmony, and in an atmosphere of mutual trust’. Brigadier Yusuf made the most interesting remarks about the death of CIA Director, William Casey. He states that, “It was a great blow to the Jehad when Casey died”. He did not elaborate whether by this definition one should count Casey as Shaheed (warrior who dies in battle in the cause of Islam). It will quite be amusing for Americans to know that one of their former CIA director is actually a martyr of Islam." {1}.

On page 503 in Charlie Wilson’s War, the author quoted “but it was losing Zia that crushed Charlie. At the state funeral in Islamabad, with a million Pakistanis and Mujahideen crowding up to him, Charlie made his way to Akhtar’s successor, Hamid Gul, and broke into tears. “I have lost my father on this day,” he said. {2}.

One of the leaked reports of CIA says, “A significant amount of the leaking was (as it still is) coming from within Pakistan, where corrupt government and rebel officials have suddenly become quite rich. Pakistani General Akhter Abdul Rehman, head of ISID up to 1987, and his successor, General Hamid Gul, are suspected to have been prime benefactors of the pipeline. They and their subordinates within the ISI’s National Logistic Cell (NLC) could easily have made fortune off CIA supplies. [Never-Ending Flow: The Afghan Pipeline by Steve Galster, Covert Action 59, Number 30 (Summer 1988)]. In one of his book Silent Soldier by Brigadier Retd. Muhammad Yousuf had done great injustice to General Zia and General Hamid Gul. General Zia for his intellectual dishonesty and political expediency for removing General Akhter from ISI under US pressure and to General Hamid Gul for his professional incompetence and failure from taking on from where General Akhter had left. After the demise General Ziaul Haq, the DG ISI of the time suddenly became all-powerful and played a predominant role in manipulating the political future of Pakistan.

General Hamid Gul and some of his close associates tried to carve out the political destiny of Pakistan by clubbing together nine political parties into IJI; a political front to confront the PPP.Judged purely from the standpoint of professionalism, the role of a ‘king maker’ assumed by General Gul and a couple of his colleagues tantamount to betrayal of the trust reposed in them by the nation. They played a partisan role and violated the charter of ISI duties. In fact, they must be held responsible for leading this sensitive and important institution on its death knell. The IJI-PPP confrontation so orchestrated by his group was purely for limited selfish motives and without any moral, ethical or professional justifications. The ISI as a principal intelligence and security agency, instead of being objective and realistic at that crucial juncture of history, played the role of a political broker. As a result of that time’s shortsighted policy, today the whole nation from a sepoy to an IG Police and from a naib qasid to a secretary stand polarized and politicized. This political divide has assumed such alarming proportions that no political party is prepared to tolerate the other. Bravo General Gul.

This attitude of DG ISI also set a chain reaction of fissiparous tendencies, which led to a political divide in the ISI as well. An institution, which, by its very character, must remain immune to diverse political or other influences, lay open for its personnel to exercise their individual choices of political alignment and loyalty. Obviously, while the DGI played partisan, he could not stop other members of the ISI from rendering personalized services to a party or a leader of their choice. To crown it all, General Mirza Aslam Baig also gave this good news to the nation and to the world at large that as Chief of Army Staff he had also made his contribution to further corrupting the ISI by contributing Rupees 140 Million to their secret funds to influence the national elections of 1988. General Baig further added that this money was ill gotten from an infamous character Younus Habib of Mehran Bank. We only await what the Americans have to say how much money they had contributed, through the ISI, towards Afghan War and who all have eaten that away. {3}.

The same NEW YORK TIMES wrote in 1996

JOHN F. BURNS and STEVE Levine, "How Afghanistan' s Stern Rulers Took Power," New York Times, December 31, 1996

When neighbors came to Mullah Mohammed Omar in the spring of 1994, they had a story that was shocking even by the grim standards of Afghanistan' s 18-year-old civil war.

Two teen-age girls from the mullah's village of Singesar had been abducted by one of the gangs of mujahedeen, or ''holy warriors,'' who controlled much of the Afghan countryside. The girls' heads had been shaved, they had been taken to a checkpoint outside the village and they had been repeatedly raped.

At the time, Mullah Omar was an obscure figure, a former guerrilla commander against occupying Soviet forces who had returned home in disgust at the terror mujahedeen groups were inflicting on Afghanistan.

He was living as a student, or talib, in a mud-walled religious school that centered on rote learning of the Koran.

But the girls' plight moved him to act. Gathering 30 former guerrilla fighters, who mustered between them 16 Kalashnikov rifles, he led an attack on the checkpoint, freed the girls and tied the checkpoint commander by a noose to the barrel of an old Soviet tank. As those around him shouted ''God is Great!'' Mullah Omar ordered the tank barrel raised and left the dead man hanging as a grisly warning.

The Singesar episode is now part of Afghan folklore. Barely 30 months after taking up his rifle, Mullah Omar is the supreme ruler of most of Afghanistan. The mullah, a heavyset 38-year old who lost his right eye in the war against the Russians, is known to his followers as Prince of All Believers. He leads an Islamic religious movement, the Taliban, that has conquered 20 of Afghanistan' s 32 provinces.

Mullah Omar's call to arms in Singesar is only part of the story of the rise of the Taliban that emerged from weeks of traveling across Afghanistan and from scores of interviews with Afghans, diplomats and others who followed the movement from its earliest days in 1994. It is a story that is still unfolding, with the Taliban struggling to consolidate their hold on Kabul, the capital. The city fell three months ago to a Taliban force of a few thousand fighters, who entered the city with barely a shot fired.

But the Taliban, despite their protestations of independence, did not score their successes alone. Pakistani leaders saw domestic political gains in supporting the movement, which draws most of support from the ethnic Pashtun who predominate along the Pakistan-Afghanista n border.

Perhaps more important, Pakistan's leaders, in funneling supplies of ammunition, fuel and food to the Taliban, hoped to advance an old Pakistani dream of linking their country, through Afghanistan, to an economic and political alliance with the Muslim states of Central Asia.

At crucial moments during the two years of the Taliban's rise to power, the United States stood aside. It did little to discourage support for the Afghan mullahs both from Pakistan and from another American ally, Saudi Arabia, which found its own reasons for supporting the Taliban in their conservative brand of Islam.

American officials emphatically deny the assertion, widely believed among the Taliban's opponents in Afghanistan, that the United States offered the movement covert support. American diplomats' frequent visits to Kandahar, headquarters of the Taliban's governing body, the officials insist, were mainly exploratory.

In fact, American policy on the Taliban has seesawed back and forth. The Taliban have found favor with some American officials, who see in their implacable hostility toward Iran an important counterweight in the region. But other officials remain uncomfortable about the Taliban's policies on women, which they say have created the most backward-looking and intolerant society anywhere in Islam. And they say that the Taliban, despite promises to the contrary, have done nothing to root out the narcotics traffickers and terrorists who have found a haven in Afghanistan under the mujahedeen.

In its most recent policy statement on Afghanistan, the State Department called on other nations to ''engage'' with the Taliban in hopes of moderating their policies. But the statement came as the Taliban were tightening still further their Islamic social code, particularly the taboos that have banned women from working, closed girls' schools, and required all women beyond puberty to cloak themselves head to toe in garments called burqas that are the traditional garb of Afghan village women. The result, so far, is that not a single one of the member countries of the United Nations has recognized the Taliban government and none have come forward with offers of the reconstruction aid the Taliban say will be needed to rebuild this shattered country. In the words of Mullah Mohammed Hassan, one of Mullah Omar's partners in the Taliban's ruling council, ''We are the pariahs of the world.''

On the Rise

Catching the Tide Of Discontent

How the Taliban succeeded in pacifying much of a country that had spent years spiraling into chaos is not, as their progress from Singesar to Kabul attests, primarily a question of military prowess. Much more, it was a matter of a group of Islamic nationalists catching a high tide of discontent that built up when the mujahedeen turned from fighting Russians to plundering, and just as often killing, their own people. By 1994, after five years of mujahedeen terror, the Taliban was a movement whose time had come.

One man who has seen more of the Taliban than any other outsider, Rahimullah Yusufzai, a reporter for The News in Pakistan, put it simply: ''The story of the Taliban is not one of outsiders imposing a solution, but of the Afghans themselves seeking deliverance from mujahedeen groups that had become cruel and inhuman. The Afghan people had been waiting a long time for relief from their miseries, and they would have accepted anybody who would have freed them from the tyranny.''

In any case, Mullah Omar contends that the decision to act at Singesar was not, at the time, envisaged as a step toward power.

Although he is universally known in Afghanistan as mullah, or giver of knowledge, he is a shy man who still calls himself a talib, or seeker after knowledge. He has met only once with a foreign reporter, Mr. Yusufzai. Mullah Omar said at their meeting in Kandahar that the men at Singesar intended originally only to help local villagers.

''We were fighting against Muslims who had gone wrong,'' he said. ''How could we remain quiet when we could see crimes being committed against women, and the poor?''

But appeals were soon coming in from villages all around Kandahar. At about the time the two girls were being abducted in Singesar, which is in the Maiwand district 35 miles to the west, two other mujahedeen commanders had confronted each other with tanks in a bazaar in Kandahar, arguing over possession of a young boy both men wanted as a homosexual partner.

In the ensuing battle, dozens of civilians shopping and trading in the bazaar were killed. After the Taliban took control of Kandahar, those commanders, too, ended up hanging from Taliban nooses.

With each new action against the mujahedeen, the Taliban's manpower, and arsenal, grew. Mujahedeen fighters, and sometimes whole units, switched sides, so that the Taliban quickly came to resemble a coalition of many of the country's fighting groups. The new recruits included many men who had served in crucial military positions as pilots, tank commanders and front-line infantry officers in the Afghan Communist forces that fought under Soviet control in the 1980's.

After a skirmish in September 1994 at Spinbaldak, on the border with Pakistan netted the new movement 800 truckloads of arms and ammunition that had been stored in caves since the Soviet occupation, there was no force to match the Taliban. Moving rapidly east and west of Kandahar in the winter of 1994 and the spring of 1995, they rolled up territory. Sometimes, using money said to have come from Saudi Arabia, Taliban commanders paid mujahedeen commanders to give up.

But mostly, it was enough for Taliban units to appear on the horizon with the fluttering white flags symbolizing their Islamic puritanism. ''In most places, the people welcomed the Taliban as a deliverance, so there was no need to fight,'' recalled Mr. Yusufzai, the Pakistani reporter, who has spent more time with the Taliban than any other outsider.

Another event in September 1994 gave the Taliban their most important external backer. Naseerullah Babar, Pakistan's Interior Minister, had a vision for extricating his wedge-shaped country from the precarious position in which it was placed when it was created in 1947 by the partition of India from territories running along British India's frontiers with Afghanistan.

Mr. Babar saw a Pakistan linked to the newly independent Muslim republics of what had been Soviet Central Asia, along roads and railways running across Afghanistan. He believed that stability in Afghanistan would mean a potential economic bonanza for Pakistan and a strategic breakthrough for the West. ''It was in the West's overall interest,'' he said in an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. ''Unless the Central Asian states have an opening to the sea, they will never be free from Russia.''

With the rise of Taliban power around Kandahar, Mr. Babar spied a chance to prove the vision's practicability. Using Pakistan Government funds, he arranged a ''peace convoy'' of heavily loaded trucks to run rice, clothing and other gifts north from Quetta in Pakistan, through Kandahar, and onward to Ashkhabad, the capital of Turkmenistan.

But outside the American-built airport at Kandahar, a mujahedeen commander guarding one of the thousands of checkpoints that had made an obstacle course of any Afghan journey seized the convoy, demanding ransom. Once again, the Taliban intervened, freeing the convoy and hanging, again from a tank barrel, the commander who hijacked it.

Mr. Babar's subsequent enthusiasm for the Taliban gave rise to a widespread belief among the the group's opponents that they were a Pakistani creation, or at least that their growing military power was sustained by cash, arms and ammunition from Pakistan. Because of Pakistan's close ties with the United States, it was a short step for these Taliban opponents to conclude that Washington was also backing the Taliban.

After Kabul fell in September, Americans venturing into non-Taliban areas north of Kabul faced a common taunt from soldiers of the ousted Government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani. ''The Taliban are American puppets!'' they said.

But while that was not accurate, there were ties between American officials and the growing movement that were considerably broader than those to any other Western country.

From early on, American diplomats in Islamabad had made regular visits to Kandahar to see Taliban leaders. In briefings for reporters, the diplomats cited what they saw as positive aspects of the Taliban, which they listed as a capacity to end the war in Afghanistan and its promises to put an end to the use of Afghanistan as a base for narcotics trafficking and international terrorism.

Unmentioned, but probably most important to Washington, was that the Taliban, who are Sunni Muslims, have a deep hostility for Iran, America's nemesis, where the ruling majority belong to the rival Shiite sect of Islam.

Along the way, Washington developed yet another interest in the Taliban as potential backers for a 1,200-mile gas pipeline that an American energy company, Union Oil Company of California, has proposed building from Quetta, in Pakistan, to Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic that sits atop some of the world's largest gas reserves, but has limited means to export them.

The project, which Unocal executives have estimated could cost $5 billion, would be built in conjunction with the Delta Oil Company, a Saudi Arabian concern that also has close links to the Taliban. Among the advisers Unocal has employed to deal with the Taliban is Robert B. Oakley, a former American Ambassador to Pakistan.

American officials, however, denied providing any direct assistance, covert or otherwise, to the Taliban. Similar assurances were given to Russia and India, as well as indirectly to Iran, countries that were involved in heavy arms shipments of their own to the Taliban's main opponents, the armies of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and President Rabbani that control the 12 northern provinces that continue to resist the Taliban.

''We do not have any relationship with the Taliban, and we never have had,'' David Cohen, the Central Intelligence Agency official who directs the agency's clandestine operations, told Indian officials in New Delhi in November.

Mr. Babar offered similar denials, asserting that ''there has been no financial or material aid to the Taliban from Pakistan.'' But Western intelligence officials in Pakistan said the denials were a smokescreen for a policy of covert support that Mr. Babar, a retired Pakistani general, had extended to the Taliban after the convoy episode at Kandahar airport.

That support, the intelligence officials said, apart from ammunition and fuel, included the deployment at crucial junctures of Pakistani military advisers. The advisers were easy to hide, since they were almost all ethnic Pashtuns, from the same tribe that make up an overwhelming majority of the Taliban.

Gaining Support To U.S. Diplomats A Rosy Picture

American officials like Robin Raphel, the top State Department official dealing directly with matters involving Afghanistan, have placed heavy emphasis on the hope that contacts with the new rulers in Kabul will encourage them to soften their policies, especially toward women.

They also say that the United States sees the Taliban, with its Islamic conservatism, as the best, and perhaps the only, chance that Afghanistan will halt the poppy growing and opium production that have made Afghanistan, with an estimated 2,500 tons of raw opium a year, the world's biggest single-country source of the narcotic. A similar argument is made on the issue of the network of international terrorists, many of them Arabs, who have set up bases inside Afghanistan.

But as the Taliban consolidate their power in Kabul, the signs of cooperation are not strong. In the week before Christmas, as bitterly cold winds from the 20,000-foot Hindu Kush mountains swept down on Kabul, senior Taliban officials seemed to be in a more pugnacious mood than in October, when a counteroffensive by the Rabbani and Dostum forces came within 10 miles of Kabul.

The attacking forces have since been driven back beyond artillery range, allowing the Taliban to concentrate on tightening their grip on Kabul's restive population of 1.5-million.

The sense that those Taliban leaders now give is that they see little reason to accommodate the West. Reports from United Nations officials monitoring drug flows suggest the Taliban have done nothing to impede the trafficking and that in the key provinces of Helmand and Nangarhar -- accounting for more than 90 per cent of the opium production -- they are in league with the drug producers, taxing them, and storing some of the opium in Taliban-guarded warehouses.

Turning Away Elusive Positions On West's Concerns

Confronted with these reports, Taliban leaders have a stock response. ''We intend to stop the drug trafficking, because it is against Islamic laws,'' they have said. ''But until we can rebuild our economy, there are no other jobs, so now is not the time.''

The Taliban position on those who support international terrorists is still more elusive. According to Western intelligence estimates, as many as 400 trained terrorists are living in areas under Taliban control, some of them with links to the groups that mounted the bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993 and other major attacks, including the attempted assassination of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in Ethiopia in 1995 and attacks in France by Algerian militants.

One of the most-wanted men of all, Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian businessman who has been called one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremists in the world by the State Department, has been spotted within the past month at a heavily guarded home in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, held by the Taliban since early September.

But it is on their treatment of women that Western governments' attitudes seem most likely to hinge, and on that matter the Taliban show no sign of relenting. After a Taliban radio bulletin earlier this month celebrated the fact that 250 Kabul women had been beaten by Taliban in a single day for not observing the dress code, an Australian working as a coordinator for private Western aid agencies in Kabul, Ross Everson, visited one of the city's top Taliban officials, Mullah Mohammed Mutaqi, to appeal for a turn toward what Mr. Everson called ''the doctrine of moderation that the Islamic faith is famous for.'' Mullah Mutaqi stood up and waved his fist in Mr. Everson's face. ''You are insulting us,'' he said, Then, snuggling back into the blanket that Taliban officials wear around their shoulders for warmth in the unheated offices of Kabul, he made his clinching argument. ''I must ask you, are you the Muslim here, or am I?'' he said. ''If you Westerners
want to help us, you are welcome. Otherwise you are free to leave Afghanistan. You may think we cannot survive without you, but I can tell you, God will provide the Taliban with everything we need.''



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