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Who are the Taleban?

By Pam O'Toole, BBC News, Monday 3 August 1998, published at 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK

[Gun culture]

Years of conflict have made gun culture the norm in Kabul

The world first became aware of the Taleban in 1994 when they were appointed by Islamabad to protect a convoy trying to open up a trade route between Pakistan and Central Asia.

The group - comprised of Afghans trained in religious schools in Pakistan along with former mujaheddin - proved effective bodyguards, driving off mujaheddin groups who attacked and looted the convoy.

They went on to take the nearby city of Kandahar, beginning a remarkable advance which led to their capture of the capital, Kabul, in September 1996.


[Gun culture]

In spite of military victories the Taleban have yet to achieve the international recognition they crave

The Taleban's popularity with many Afghans initially surprised the country's warring mujaheddin factions.

As ethnic Pashtoons, a large part of their support came from Afghanistan's Pashtoon community, disillusioned with existing ethnic Tajik and Uzbek leaders.

But it was not purely a question of ethnicity. Ordinary Afghans, weary of the prevailing lawlessness in many parts of the country, were often delighted by Taleban successes in stamping out corruption, restoring peace and allowing commerce to flourish again. Their refusal to deal with the existing warlords whose rivalries had caused so much killing and destruction also earned them respect.

Islamic state


The Taleban took control of Kabul in 1996

The Taleban say their aim is to set up the world's most pure Islamic state, banning frivolities like television, music and cinema.

Their attempts to eradicate crime have been reinforced by the introduction of Islamic law including public executions and amputations.

A flurry of regulations forbidding girls from going to school and women from working quickly brought them into conflict with the international community.

Such issues, along with restrictions on women's access to health care, have also caused some resentment among ordinary Afghans.

Support wanes

With extreme poverty and disease on the increase, in some areas support for the Taleban is beginning to erode.

[Strict Islam]

The Taleban have enforced a strict interpretation of Islam

Kabulis - almost half of whom depend on foreign assistance - are particularly concerned by the latest confrontation between the Taleban and the international community which led most aid agencies to pull out of the capital two weeks ago. The Taleban have yet to achieve the international recognition they crave. Indeed, their rigid form of Islam has antagonised most of their neighbours and Islamic states who believe they are giving Islam a bad name. Shia Iran has described the Sunni Taleban as medieval while Russia and former Communist Central Asian states fear they may try to spread their form of militant Islam across the region. Not surprisingly, these states are said to be supporting the anti-Taleban opposition coalition. They will be watching the latest Taleban victories with increasing anxiety.