source ref: ebooktal.html
|Part 3:The Islamic Jihad|
In April 1987, the Afghan Information Center (AIC) in Peshawar the only independent Afghan source of news about the fighting inside Afghanistan broke its general rule of avoiding news and commentaries on the political situation in Pakistan to note the groundswell of support for Zahir Shah among refugees and mujahidin. This news accompanied indications that the Soviets might at last be ready to leave the country. According to the AIC, support for the king while most evident among Afghans from the southern provinces was widespread throughout the refugee and mujahidin communities and came even from some Hizb-i Islami commanders whose endorsement directly contravened their partys official position:
A large number of refugees from the camps as well as resistance commanders and fighters from all political organisations met in Miranshah, North Waziristan on April 11. People were shouting pro-Zahir Shah slogans. All the speakers at the meeting without exception made strong declarations in his favour. Even Amanullah Mahssur and Shahzada Massud[,] commanders of Hezb-e-Islami (Hekmatyar), commander Khan Gul Khan of Jamiat (Prof. Rabbani), Gulam Jan[,] a Jamiat commander in Samangan[,] and Sufi Abdurrouf[, Gailani] commander in Herat[,] delivered speeches and declared their support to the former king. 
This report went on to describe a meeting outside Quetta of some six thousand refugees and mujahidin from the four western provinces (Qandahar, Helmand, Zabul, and Uruzgan) at which the speakers "deplored the persisting disunity among the political leaders and criticised their inability to unite, and at the end all shouted: We want King Zahir Shah!"
To this point in the conflict, the director of the AIC, Professor Sayyid Bahauddin Majrooh, had maintained a determined neutrality on political questions (Fig. 15). Since founding the AIC and taking on the responsibility of editing its bulletin, Majrooh had avoided taking sides with respect to the Peshawar political parties. In the seventy-plus monthly bulletins published up to that time, the activities of the Peshawar leadership were referred to on only a half dozen occasions and then only to report without commentary a new alliance or similar event. The bulletins focus through early 1987 had been almost exclusively on providing an accurate portrayal of the infighting and intrigues of the Kabul regime and the progress of the war itself, and Majrooh had endeavored to be as comprehensive as possible, including accounts of activities in the most distant provinces and from every party. He also featured interviews with well-regarded commanders, regardless of their party affiliation. In the course of these interviews and in some accounts of the military and strategic situation in different areas, fighting between parties was noted, usually without commentary, and it was also noted when different parties were cooperating with one another in the field. Since Hizb-i Islami was involved in most of the internecine battles within the mujahidin and was rarely involved in battlefield alliances, it received worse coverage in the bulletin than other parties, but the only direct criticism of the party was that expressed by commanders themselves in their interviews.
If Majroohs assumption of neutrality on the political questions of the war was in part a response to the polarization that existed in Peshawar, it had deeper roots as well. Majroohs grandfather, Pacha Sahib-i Tigari was one of the principal deputies of the Mulla of Hadda, who set up residence in Upper Kunar, in the interstices between the Safi and Mohmand tribes. Neutrality was one of the services offered by Sufi pirs. In the combative world of tribal honor, they offered sanctuary and mediation when disputes and feuds became excessively burdensome. Majroohs office in Peshawar was a contemporary variation on a Sufi khanaqa in the sense that all were welcome there. Commanders from different parties could come and tell their stories, and Majrooh earned their respect by keeping himself aloof from the party factionalism that dominated almost every other corner of the city.
Majrooh began to set aside his studied neutrality in the spring of 1987, when talk of an imminent Soviet withdrawal was causing Afghans in Pakistan and abroad to turn their attention to possible endgame scenarios. The article on popular support for Zahir Shah was one of the first indications of Majroohs shift, and it was followed two issues later by a signed commentary titled "The Future Government of Afghanistan,"in which he argued for the formation of a "united political leadership for the resistance."Among the points Majrooh made in this article was that one of the casualties of the war was the traditional respect the Afghan people held for the central government. Prior to 1978, popular insurgencies had rarely been directed against the central government but rather at local officials who had made themselves unpopular with the people. There were exceptions, such as the uprising against Amanullah, but even in such cases the sovereignty of the state had ultimately been reclaimed without significant opposition, and a legitimate ruler had been reinstalled on the throne.
All of this changed, however, when the Khalqis took power. For the first time, "the age-old magical charm"that had kept the population in thrall to the Kabul government was broken, and "rebellion against the central authority . . . was justified, disobedience became lawful[,] fighting the communists a religious and national duty." While it had sustained more damage than at any other time in modern history, the magical charm, Majrooh argued, still had enough vitality to ensure that the leaders in Peshawar would be unable to secure power for themselves once the Soviets had withdrawn and the puppet regime had been overthrown:
Paradoxically, the same factor . . . which has prevented the Kabul Marxist regime from establishing its authority over the country, is also working against the resistance political leaders. The latter are well respected as persons, and also for their role in the jihad; they are also expected to have a role in the future political solution, but none of them is considered as a legitimate national leader able to re-establish the respect for a central authority. Anyone of them coming to power will be challenged and other mujahideen groups will find enough justification to fight against the central government. 
In Majroohs view, the only solution to the leadership problem was for the country to accept as its ruler a man "having the aura of the central authoritys magical charm around his person someone like former King Zahir Shah not attempting to restore the old family rule, but working with an entirely new team." Majrooh may not have been entirely objective in his desire to see Zahir Shahs return to the political arena. His father, Shamsuddin Majrooh, had served as minister of justice under Zahir Shah and had been a member of the committee that drafted the 1964 constitution, which introduced democracy to Afghanistan. Majrooh himself had served as governor of Kapisa Province under Zahir Shah before returning to Kabul University, where he was a dean and professor of philosophy and literature. Despite his associations with the former king, Majrooh viewed the monarchs return as an interim step, a way of rallying the popular support needed to forestall a political free-for-all in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal. Zahir Shah was the only person everyone in the country knew who was not also tainted by association with one or another of the existent political parties. His passivity during the years of the war was in a sense his greatest strength because he didnt have anything in his record to explain the abuses of his own regime being not only long ago but also trivial compared with what had happened since.
To gauge the level of support for the former king, Majrooh devoted the bulk of the following issue of the bulletin to a survey of Afghan refugees, which asked the question "Who would you like to be the national leader of Afghanistan?"The data-collection team put together by Majrooh contacted more than two thousand respondents in 106 of 249 camps, representing twenty-three of the twenty-eight provinces, the eight major ethnic groups, and all seven political parties. The result was that 72 percent of respondents wanted Zahir Shah as the national leader of Afghanistan. Only nine of the two thousand people surveyed, or 0.45 percent, wanted one of the leaders of the resistance parties in Peshawar, and a mere 12.5 percent indicated that they would like to see the establishment of "a pure Islamic state."
Despite the limits and biases of a survey of this type, the overwhelming support expressed for Zahir Shah, combined with the direct rebuke of the resistance leaders, indicated that the majority of Afghans remained unmoved by the Islamic political rhetoric with which they had been relentlessly assailed for the better part of a decade. Zahir Shahs support may have been largely nostalgic in nature and reflective of his stated view that government should play a limited and nonintrusive role in peoples lives. Or it may simply have stemmed from the fact that he was not part of the morass in Peshawar. Whatever the reasons, Majrooh demonstrated with a degree of empirical precision heretofore lacking what everyone had long assumed namely, that the Afghan people, if given the option, would choose Zahir Shah as their ruler.
In response to calls for his return, Zahir Shah broke his usual silence on exile political affairs in a radio interview with the BBC World Service in which he stated his willingness to serve the Afghan people if called on to do so; he stressed that, if asked to return, he would under no circumstance seek the restoration of the monarchy. These assurances aside, Hizb-i Islami and other radical Islamic parties reiterated their absolute opposition to any negotiated settlement that would bring Zahir Shah back to Afghanistan, even if he were selected through a democratic election. Hekmatyars position, as well as that of other radical leaders, was that Afghanistan should be an Islamic state and that the head of state should be selected by a council of qualified Islamic scholars and leaders from among those who had played an active part in the jihad. Since he had remained in Europe throughout the war and had made no sacrifices for the jihad, Zahir Shah was disqualified a priori from consideration. Majroohs commentaries and refugee survey challenged that view and gave ammunition to those who sought a more moderate solution to the political crisis facing Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal.
While disunited among themselves, the Peshawar parties had nevertheless succeeded in dominating the political debate and excluding other interest groups and the people at large from participation in discussions about Afghanistans future. Majrooh tried to break that monopoly and would pay dearly for doing so. Around 5 P.M. on February 11, 1988, gunmen rang the buzzer at his compound gate, and when Majrooh opened the door, they opened fire. The killer or killers apparently had been watching the movements in and out of the compound, for they waited until Majroohs cook had gone to buy bread at a nearby bakery before ringing the bell. Majrooh had been expecting a visit from the chargé daffaires of the French embassy in Islamabad, so one imagines that he must have been caught unawares when he opened the gate and saw through the evening dusk the Kalashnikov pointed at his chest. He probably had never seen his killer before, but, in any case, those responsible have never been identified. No person or group has ever stepped forward to claim responsibility, and no solid clues have ever been discovered to indicate why Majrooh was singled out, though few who were familiar with Peshawar were surprised. If anything, many who knew Majrooh were surprised that he had lasted in the city as long as he did.
Majrooh was representative of a type that had largely vanished from the Afghan community in Peshawar. Since he had received his Ph.D. in France, he undoubtedly could have emigrated there or to the United States or Great Britain or Germany. He spoke the languages of all of these places and had friends and admirers abroad who would have helped him secure the necessary papers. But aside from short trips overseas, Majrooh maintained his base in Peshawar and never seriously contemplated leaving. Like his Sufi grandfather perhaps, he seemed happiest and most complete in the thick of warring protagonists, for each of whom he offered equal access and service. His staying might also have had something to do with the profound sense of detachment and solitude one sensed in Majroohs company. For nearly two years in the mid-1980s, he had been my neighbor, and I frequently dropped in on him at his office. Invariably anywhere from six to twelve men would be sitting around the living room smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, but Majrooh rarely joined them. He was almost always in the adjoining room, listening to the conversation as he typed up one of his stories.
Majrooh was senior in age and status to most of the men who congregated at the AIC office, but his separateness derived from deeper springs of isolation. His name itself was indicative; majruh was an appellation, or takhalus, meaning "wounded."The family had adopted the word as its surname years earlier at a time when educated elites in Kabul were fashioning new, more cosmopolitan names for themselves, distinct from the tribal and regional terms by which most people were known when they left their home areas. The term majruh has Sufi connotations, evoking the suffering of the believer separated from God, the Beloved, but the name was especially apt for Sayyid Bahauddin. A Parisian intellectual by temperament and training, as well as a Sufi poet, Majrooh was nowhere at home in the world, except perhaps when absorbed in his work. He had children, but no real family or home, having been estranged from two wives. Even his physical condition reflected his chosen name, for years earlier he had been involved in an automobile accident that left him with a permanent limp.
While he hated all that Peshawar had come to represent, Majrooh knew he would never be happier elsewhere, and he seemed even to take a certain perverse satisfaction in defying the moralists who dictated behavior to others. If he chose to smoke French cigarettes and enjoy an occasional glass of Scotch whiskey, that was his business, and he had no need to apologize for it. Majrooh knew his own mind and conducted himself as he pleased. As long as he provided the much-needed service of reporting the war and assisting Western journalists who wanted to see the war for themselves, important commanders and the more open-minded of the leaders were glad for his presence, even after he published an extended poetic allegory titled "The Ego Monster"(azhdeha-yi khudi), which told of a traveler journeying in a benighted land not unlike Afghanistan and Pakistan ruled over by tyrants not unlike the leaders in Kabul and Peshawar.
Apparently, Majroohs decision to openly support the return of Zahir Shah changed the thinking of at least some party leaders as to Majroohs continued usefulness to their version of the jihad. His proclamations that a wide array of commanders, including some from Hizb-i Islami, supported Zahir Shahs involvement in the peace negotiations undoubtedly made him seem not just expendable but also dangerous to the more radical leaders, particularly when it became known that Majrooh had also been meeting with Felix Ermacora, the United Nations Investigator for the Human Rights Commission, and appeared ready to play a prominent, personal role in U.N. efforts to mediate an end to the fighting. Majrooh possessed the pedigree to assume this role and might have been accepted as a mediator, despite his background as a Westernized intellectual, since most of those with established religious credentials had compromised their neutrality through their involvement with the various parties. Majrooh, the journalist, had not, and he had thus put himself in a position to play an important part in the upcoming negotiations, as his grandfather Pacha Sahib had done on many occasions in his native Kunar Valley and as religious figures have done throughout Afghanistans history.
Majrooh certainly knew the risks he was incurring by his actions and recognized that he would face the wrath of party leaders; they had turned a blind eye to his presence in the past because they saw him as a benign presence but would be unlikely to do so now. That he was mindful of his jeopardy, however, makes his death no less tragic. The Soviets announcement of their intention to withdraw from Afghanistan created a brief opportunity for commanders and party leaders and ordinary people to find common cause. Majrooh recognized that the chance was at hand and would soon be lost. This is why, I believe, he decided to break his customary silence on political issues to seek a solution based not on any residual loyalty to the old monarchy but rather on his understanding of Afghan culture and history. In past crises, Afghans had been able to use the institution of the jirga to meet together and choose one among them to rule. The point this time was not for Zahir Shah to reclaim his throne but for the old monarch who had stayed out of the fray for the previous decade to provide a symbol of national unity around which people could rally until a coalition government could be formed. Majrooh was enough of a realist to know that Zahir Shah had neither the charisma nor the vigor nor the strength of character to weld the nation back together as his father had after Amanullahs overthrow. However, he also knew that, if left unchecked, the parties would soon turn the country into carrion, and no other leader had sufficient stature to bring the people to him and, thereby, the parties to heel. It was a perilous wager, but one he chose to make. Lesser men have been called heroes.
1. Afghan Information Center Bulletin, no. 73, April 1987, 4 -5. [BACK]
2. Ibid., 5. [BACK]
3. If there was any bias in the bulletin, it was not toward the moderate parties but rather toward Jamiat, in part because Majrooh, who had studied in France, had close ties with a number of French journalists and researchers, who were the most active and courageous group covering the war. These individuals, including Oliver Roy, Jean-Jose Puig, and others, often traveled inside Afghanistan with Jamiat units and usually provided reports for the bulletin on their return. Through these reports, Jamiat received more attention than other parties, and a number of Jamiat commanders, including Ismail Khan in Herat, Zabiullah Khan in Mazar-i Sharif, and especially Ahmad Shah Massoud in Panjshir, were lionized, while commanders from other parties labored in relative obscurity. For his part, however, Majrooh appears to have tried to correct for the French bias toward Jamiat commanders by sending his own reporters out to provide coverage of other groups and by conducting interviews himself with commanders from other parties, including Qari Taj Muhammad (Harakat) from Ghazni, Amin Wardak (Mahaz) from Wardak, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani (Khales) from Paktia, and Maulavi Shafiullah (Harakat) and Abdul Haq (Khales) from Kabul. [BACK]
4. Sayyid Bahauddin Majrooh, "The Future Government of Afghanistan,"Afghan Information Center Bulletin, no. 75, June 1987, 2. [BACK]
5. Ibid., 5. [BACK]
6. Ibid. [BACK]
7. Ibid. [BACK]
8. Afghan Information Center Bulletin, no. 76, July 1987, 2 -8. [BACK]
QUETTA, Pakistan, November 7  (Reuters) Islamic students have captured Afghanistans second largest city, Kandahar, and freed a Pakistani trade caravan held by guerrillas, Pakistani official sources said Saturday.
They said the 30-truck convoy, held up by two guerrilla commanders Tuesday while on its way to Central Asia, reached Kandahar in southwest Afghanistan Friday when the Taleban student group took control of the city.
The Taleban fighters have also captured Kandahar airport and governors house, the sources added.
More than 50 people have been killed in four days of clashes between the Taleban and guerrillas, the sources said, quoting reports they said they had received from the area.
The caravan, the first of several Pakistan plans to send to blaze the trail for regular commerce with former Soviet republics, left Baluchistans provincial capital of Quetta Oct. 29 with gifts for Afghanistan and the two Central Asian republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The trucks were carrying rice, wheat, clothes, medicines, surgical instruments, and X-ray machines.
The party polarization and infighting that I had witnessed in the mid-1980s became even more severe following the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989, as leaders and groups jockeyed to dominate what was expected to be the short endgame to the war. To the surprise of almost everyone, however, the government of President Najibullah refused to fall even after the departure of Soviet troops; his survival was undoubtedly assisted by the failure of the resistance parties to work in a coordinated fashion. Nominally, the seven principal parties established a power-sharing interim government. This new government entity was supposed to establish a capital for itself in Jalalabad, the assumption being that under the combined force of the seven parties the city would quickly capitulate; but the attack failed to dislodge Najibullahs forces, and this failure exacerbated frictions within the resistance coalition, as local fronts increasingly disconnected from central control intensified their attacks against one another. Banditry also increased as the withdrawal of the Soviet forces led to a decline in financial assistance to the Peshawar parties and a concomitant reduction of support to local fronts; as a result, many individual commanders had to look to the people around them to provide the resources they needed. In local parlance, this period after the withdrawal of Soviet forces came to be known as topakeyano daurai, the time of the gunmen, the nomenclature reflecting the fact that, in peoples eyes, the once venerated mujahidin, the warriors of God, had become simply men with guns, intent on their own selfish goals.
President Najibullah, who was still receiving financial help from Moscow, was also stepping up assistance to local militia and front commanders in an effort to undermine the parties attempt to coordinate their activities. These efforts enabled Najibullah to hang on for several years, but his government finally fell in April 1992, amid a flurry of deal making involving party and former government and militia leaders. Thus, an arrangement among Ahmad Shah Massoud (Rabbanis deputy and the strongman in Panjshir Valley), Parchami leaders in Kabul, and Rashid Dostam (a powerful Uzbek militia leader and former general from northern Afghanistan) enabled Massoud to effect a bloodless takeover of Kabul and to assume the role of defense minister and strongman of the new government. Sibghatullah Mujaddidi assumed the presidency of the new Islamic government, with party leaders agreeing that the presidency and ministerial posts would rotate among them on a regular basis. This arrangement, not surprisingly, proved impractical, and the peace was predictably short-lived as leaders refused to relinquish their formal posts at the end of their allotted turns, and each tried to improve his military position at the expense of the others.
As before, Hekmatyar was among the most ruthless in his pursuit of power, and his Hizb party soon initiated street fighting in an effort to improve its position in the capital. In the bloody skirmishes that followed, old battle lines, most notably the longstanding antagonism between Massoud and Hekmatyar, were renewed, while new ones, such as that between the Shia Hizb-i Wahdat and Sayyafs Saudi-supported Ittihad, were initiated. The primary victims were the residents of Kabul, thousands of whom fled the capital to escape the fighting and incessant rocket attacks. Further conflict in the winter of 1993 led to the negotiation of a new power-sharing agreement between Rabbani and Hekmatyar that allowed Rabbani to stay on as president past his allotted term and made Hekmatyar prime minister. A sign of the precariousness of this arrangement, however, was that Hekmatyar, fearing for his safety, refused to go to the prime ministry in Kabul from his base in the suburb of Charasiab, while Rabbani was prevented on one occasion from meeting with Hekmatyar at his base by attacks against his convoy.
While the parties were at the center of the fighting in Kabul, one of the most pronounced developments of this period was the radical polarization of ethnic alignments, with Tajiks (including many who had been associated with the Parcham faction in Kabul) rallying to Rabbani and Massouds cause, Hazaras to the Hizb-i Wahdat party, and Uzbeks to the militia force of Rashid Dostam. All these groups were fearful that, regardless of the talk of establishing a "true"Islamic government, Hekmatyar, Sayyaf, Khales, and the other principal party leaders, all Pakhtuns, would renew the time-honored practice of suppressing and exploiting the non-Pakhtun groups within Afghanistans borders once they had power in their hands. At the same time, however, while ethnic alignments hardened, the party leaders themselves were as willing as ever to make opportunistic deals across ethnic boundaries to advance their personal positions and to exploit the vulnerabilities of their rivals. Thus, in February 1993, Massoud joined Sayyaf to attack the Shia Hazaras, who controlled the western suburbs of Kabul, while in January 1994 Hekmatyar joined forces with Dostam to try to unseat Rabbani and Massoud. This attack, which continued on and off throughout 1994, led to the flight of tens of thousands of residents from Kabul and was halted only when Hekmatyar himself was forced by the emergent Taliban militia to flee Charasiab and set up a new base at Sarobi, on the road between Kabul and Jalalabad.
The appearance of the Taliban in Qandahar and their rapid success in reaching the outskirts of Kabul caused Rabbani, Massoud, and Hekmatyar to come up with a new power-sharing agreement, which briefly kept the militia at bay, but by the fall of 1996 the Taliban had succeeded in dislodging the established Islamic political parties from Kabul and had forced all the party leaders to flee for their lives. Massoud was the only one of the old leaders to mount an effective resistance, but his base in the Panjshir mountains became increasingly isolated and his struggle seemingly ever more quixotic. The rest of the leaders had to content themselves with fulminating to the press, and when the press stopped listening, they mounted websites to continue their efforts to prove that they alone should rule Afghanistan.
KABUL, Sept 27  (Reuters) Afghanistans Taleban Islamic militia appeared in full control of Kabul on Friday after entering the capital in tanks and on foot, witnesses said.
They said the streets were bustling with pedestrians, cyclists and cars, and shops and markets were open despite an Islamic holiday. Tanks had pulled back to the side streets although fighters were still visible at key points.
All key government installations appeared to be in Taleban hands including the Presidential Palace and the Ministries of Defence, Security and Foreign Affairs.
No government forces were visible on the citys streets.
Unusual activity was most obvious outside the presidential palace, where crowds had gathered to see the bodies of former President Najibullah and his brother Shahpur Ahmadzai hanging from a concrete traffic-control post.
"We killed him because [he] was the murderer of our people,"Noor Hakmal, a Taleban commander who entered the city from Charasyab, south of Kabul, overnight, told Reuters.
Najibullah was ousted in 1992 when Islamic Mujahideen guerrilla forces closed in on Kabul after 14 years of civil war against a Soviet-backed communist government.
The Taleban met little resistance from government forces which had abandoned the city hours before.
Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai, Afghanistans deputy foreign minister, said at the United Nations in New York on Thursday that government forces had retreated to prevent civilian casualties.
The Islamic movement announced just hours after the takeover that an interim six-man ruling council would run the country.
A Taleban commander, who gave his name only as Musa, told Reuters the militia was using loudspeakers to tell civilians to go about their daily life as usual.
Musa said he hoped the new regime in Kabul would mean more plentiful food in the capital. But he added hundreds of thousands of civilians would remain vulnerable, particularly in the coming winter.
He said the International Committee of the Red Cross was asking Taleban to protect civilians and not to retaliate or carry out executions.
He said Taleban were not out for revenge.
"Taleban will not take revenge. We have no personal rancour. If the people find someone responsible for crimes in the past we will judge him according to Islamic law,"he said.
Musa said Taleban fighters had occupied Afghan army headquarters in the northern suburb of Khairkhana, which was headquarters of government commander General Baba Jan.
He said Taleban forces were heading north from the Bagram airbase they captured last night. "We know the senior government leaders escaped from Kabul to the north,"he said.
Musa said the Jala-us-Seraj base further north was still held by the governments top commander Ahmad Shah Massood but Taleban fighters were heading in that direction.
The emergence of the Taliban caught observers of the Afghan scene off-guard. Few people had heard much of this group before it suddenly started moving up from the south, and its immediate and rapid success in consolidating power in and around Qandahar and then in expanding its advance to the suburbs of Kabul was something that no other military force had been able to accomplish in the preceding eighteen years of war. The most common explanation one heard after the Talibans first appearance was that they were the creation of the same Pakistani security forces the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) that had built up Hekmatyar and Hizb. One opinion has been that the failure of Hekmatyar to consolidate power led the leaders of ISI to fabricate a new entity to do their bidding, and the Taliban militia was the result. While Pakistan probably played a substantial role in organizing, arming, training, and financing the Taliban, the manpower and the motivation behind the movement cannot be explained away entirely as a Pakistani fabrication, and the ultimate meaning of the Taliban likewise defies so simple or so conspiratorial an explanation. While a comprehensive discussion of the origin of the Taliban is beyond the scope of the present work, I do want to consider the meaning of the Taliban in the context of the discussions in the preceding chapters, particularly the connection between the Taliban and the Islamic political parties that won the jihad yet lost the war and the more general implications of the Taliban in relation to Afghan political culture.
In analyzing the success of the Taliban, it is important to recognize that despite the apparent novelty of the movement, this was not the first time religious students (taliban) played an important role in political events. To the contrary, madrasa students were the principal sources for various political movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; they were viewed as especially dangerous by the British colonial authorities because they were so difficult to identify or hold accountable. For all the problems the tribes occasionally brought down on the Raj, they were nevertheless locatable on a map; they had villages that could be razed if need be; they had leaders with whom to negotiate and from whom to extract promises; and they had practical and material interests that provided a basis for getting along once the enthusiasms of any given moment had passed. Madrasa students, however, were from everywhere and nowhere; they were often destitute and generally had much more to gain by keeping people in an agitated state than by allowing a conflict to die down. 
The contemporary situation is different, but one point of commonality is that religious education once again became an important avenue of social mobility, especially for young male Afghan refugees. On the frontier, at the turn of the last century, becoming a taleb was one of the few ways an individual could improve his life fortunes, gain social respect, and escape the for some claustrophobic world of the tribe and the village. In Afghanistan prior to the war, the government sponsored tribal boarding schools, and many of the brightest and most ambitious young men from the border areas attended these schools with the hope of landing a government job after graduation. However, this possibility ended for most Afghans when the war began. Between three and four million people fled to Pakistan, and the vast majority ended up in refugee camps scattered up and down the frontier. Most of the camps had primary schools, and a few secondary schools were set up especially for Afghan refugees. But these schools had more to do with social control than with education, and few who attended them had their life chances expanded as a result. The same was not the case, however, for those who attended madrasas. As in the nineteenth century, a religious education once again became the surest avenue to social advancement. In the years before the war, madrasa graduates generally ended up in menial positions teaching children and taking care of village mosques, but in Pakistan, with the resistance parties in the hands of religious leaders, madrasa graduates had more numerous and lucrative options than ever before. Madrasas were also more vibrant and lively than secular schools and more connected to the world outside because the war, which defined peoples lives, was seen as a religious struggle and those who graduated from madrasas were considered more likely to play significant roles in that struggle.
For all the power of the parties, religious schools were by no means simple indoctrination centers. Though party-supported madrasas tended to toe the party line, many other schools remained outside the orbit of politics, found their own financial sponsors, and maintained their independence from the parties. Consequently, through the 1980s and early 1990s, as the reputations of the Islamic political parties and their leaders steadily declined, madrasas kept alive the notion that Afghanistan could still become an ideal Islamic polity. This message held a special potency for veterans of the fighting, who had become disillusioned with the way the jihad was being conducted by the parties, as well as for young refugees who had grown up in camps and who witnessed firsthand the corrupt administration and moral malaise of refugee society. 
Those who refer to the Taliban as a creation of the Pakistan government often overlook the fact that the Taliban themselves were in a fundamental way Pakistani, or at least a hybrid of Afghans and Pakistanis. Unlike earlier generations, who were tied to village and tribe, the Taliban generation grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan with people from a variety of backgrounds, and many of them were orphans who had lost one or both parents in the war. In such a context, loyalty to place, to descent group, to tribal ancestor, even to family lost much of its former saliency. Religious schools built on this foundation, bringing together in one place young men from a variety of backgrounds, many of whom had never set foot in Afghanistan and therefore had only vague conceptions of what Afghanistan was like before the war. Like their teachers, most of the madrasa students were disillusioned with the infighting and corruption of the parties but still idealistic in outlook. Having spent months and years in quasi-monastic communities, the potential recruits were also naive in their understanding of the world and relatively untainted by the tribal, regional, ethnic, and party loyalties that conditioned and compromised the values of so many in the refuge universe. They were also, undoubtedly, eager to put into practice what they had been discussing in theory, and the emergence of the Taliban movement offered that opportunity.
One of the most remarkable features of the Talibans drive to power was how little resistance they encountered up until the siege of Kabul itself. For nearly twenty years, efforts to establish a unified movement had failed, and the question that arises is why the Taliban were successful. In answering this question, one must take into consideration the fact that the early, easy Taliban successes were all in Pakhtun areas; the Taliban did not make significant inroads in non-Pakhtun regions without effort and bloodshed, as evidenced by their prolonged struggle with Massoud for control of the Tajik areas north of Kabul. Even with this caveat, however, the Taliban accomplishment is still considerable, for while Pakhtuns probably made up somewhat less than half of the prewar population of Afghanistan and have long been the most powerful ethnic group in the country, they are also famously fractious, and no party or movement had previously managed to bring so much of this large and disparate population under one political umbrella.
The Talibans success in moving from madrasa to military movement stems in the first instance from the corruption that preceded them. Part of the Taliban mythology is that Mulla Umar committed himself to forming the Taliban one day when he came across a carload of people by the side of the road whod been robbed, raped, and killed by former mujahidin who had taken to preying on the people in their area. Whether apocryphal or not, the story is believable within the experience of average Afghans, who came to see the Taliban as a deliverance from the anarchy that had befallen Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal.  Even before people knew who the Taliban were or what they represented, they were willing to give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt, and even if they were suspicious, they werent willing to risk their own lives to defend those in charge against the Taliban assault.
Another factor in explaining the Talibans success is that they consistently downplayed tribal or regional identities in favor of what might be called "village identity."As a Taliban spokesman stated to Western reporters in an interview, "Our culture has been greatly changed over the past 40 or 50 years, particularly in Kabul. In the villages the culture has not changed much. . . . The Taliban are trying to purify our culture. We are trying to re-establish a purist Islamic culture and tradition." In identifying purist culture and tradition with the Islam of the village, the Taliban were indirectly condemning the Islam of the parties since most of the party leaders were products of Kabul University or had worked for state-sponsored institutions. They were also putting themselves on a par with the people whose support they had to enlist if their movement was going to be successful. The truth was that the Taliban themselves, having spent most of their lives in refugee camps, armed mujahidin groups, and religious madrasas, had little experience of villages, but this was still an effective position to take, given the nostalgia people felt for the world they remembered or at least imagined before the war.
An additional point in the Talibans favor was the relative invisibility of their leadership. Although the Taliban was nominally headed by the rarely seen and seldom heard Mulla Umar, most decisions emanated from a council of Islamic clerics headquartered in Qandahar. No one knows much about these men, and they appear to have made it a point of policy to keep a low profile. One can only speculate on the motivation behind this strategy, but it seems reasonable to conclude that it might be related to the peoples disillusionment with the all-too-visible leaders of the established religious parties, who did so much to divide the country. In this sense, the Taliban in their first period seemed to represent something like an anticharismatic movement; the emphasis was not on leaders and their promises but on the movement itself and its supposed rootedness in an idealized sort of ordinary village existence that had been absent for twenty years and that was longed for all the more for that reason. The fact that most of those who were recruited into the Taliban movement had little experience of the village life they idealized mattered less than the fact that the movements leaders promised a return to this life and were distinctly different in their approach to politics than were the parties that had come before.
Perhaps the most significant reason for the Talibans success though was simple exhaustion. As the Taliban movement began to pick up steam in 1995, their reputation for keeping security preceded them into each new area. Thus, for example, when they launched their attack on eastern Ningrahar Province, where roadblocks had become a fixture of everyday life and renegade mujahidin operated with impunity, the local population failed to support local commanders, even when they were from the same tribe or ethnic group; the people were simply tired of the status quo and willing to accept the new leadership, despite its promises of certain austerities and purist doctrines that deviated from established custom. While the Taliban did not gain mastery over the entire country, the roads in areas they did control were relatively safe. People were able to ride buses without fear of being searched at roadblocks, something they had been unable to do for years, and trucks carried goods without having to pay exorbitant road taxes. That may not sound like much of an accomplishment, and it is generally ignored in Western accounts, but after a decade of Soviet rule and more years of predation by former mujahidin commanders, basic security was a longed-for luxury and sufficient reason for many to offer their support to the new regime.
KABUL, March 17  (Reuters) Afghanistans purist Taleban rulers pledged their support for a revival of Moslem and Afghan culture at a seminar in Kabul which concluded on Monday.
"I would like to give my assurances that I will do my best for the support of those involved in cultural spheres, the education of future generations, and for the preservation of our genuine culture,"said a message from Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, read out at a two-day seminar on "Endeavours Directed at the Revitalisation of Islamic Culture."Omars message also asked Afghans to reject foreign cultures.
"Everyone should reject foreign cultural influences and abide by their own cultural values,"said the message.
On the podium behind the speakers hung a banner reinforcing the message: "The struggle against colonialist culture is the duty of every Moslem,"it said.
Since first appearing in Afghanistan more than two years ago, the Taleban have forced women in territory under their control to wear the burqa, the traditional Afghan head-to-toe veil that has a small patch of gauze over the eyes. They have declared that Saudi-style veils, which do not cover the eyes, are not allowed.
There seems to be some confusion in the Taleban ranks on the overlapping of Islamic laws and traditional culture of southern Afghanistan, home to most of the Taleban.
Although the edict concerning burqas was publicly justified by saying that Sharia, or Islamic law, demanded it, the head of the Talebans highest court told Reuters that Sharia allows women to bare their faces.
"Sharia allows women to have their faces unveiled as long as there is no sign of agitation or lust on their faces. However we are now in an emergency situation, so it is right that women should have their faces covered,"Mullah Abdul Ghaffour Sanani said.
Some Afghans have expressed concern that the Taleban were using Sharia as an excuse to impose southern Afghan culture on this ethnically and culturally diverse nation.
The tradition that women should not work and should stay at home, which has been made law by the Taleban in areas they control, has never been part of the northern Afghan way of life, although it is common in the southern provinces.
Although in Mondays message Omar pledged Taleban support for the education of future generations, that support does not yet include education for women.
Women were excluded from Kabul University when it was officially re-opened last week.
The Minister for Higher Education told journalists that the segregated education of women would begin when resources became available, but that women would only be allowed to study certain subjects.
"The main problem is a lack of resources. We need separate facilities for girls and we do not have enough women teachers, but if we get the resources, womens faculties in certain subjects will be allowed to open,"said Higher Education Minister Maulawi Hamdullah Noumani.
"Although they may not be allowed to study engineering for example, they will be allowed to study medicine, home economics and teaching,"he said.
There were 4,000 female students at the university before the Taleban took over Kabul last September and closed the university.
While the reasons for their initial success may be debated, there is little doubt that the Taliban have redefined the role of religion in Afghan political culture, particularly the relationship between religion, state, and tribe. In an earlier age, Islam had played an interstitial role between the tribes and the state. Having no coercive power of their own to wield, Muslim leaders had to rely on their charisma and powers of persuasion to fuse tribal coalitions or, contrarily, to ingratiate themselves with and becomes allies or even functionaries of the ruler. Muslim leaders existed on the in-between margins; on the one hand they pulled the tribes out of their insularity through a rhetoric of common submission and promises of eternal reward, and, on the other hand, they served as mediators and guarantors of state authority at the peripheries of government control. On those occasions when the ruler overstepped his authority, Muslim leaders were in a position to exaggerate and channel tribal energies outward rather than in the usual internecine directions. Likewise, when tribes became fractious, the ruler could recruit Muslim leaders with established followings in the tribes to help calm the storm of discontent or to redirect it against an enemy common to the tribes and the state; this enemy could be either another tribe or ethnic group (Hazaras and Uzbeks were the most frequent targets) or that other ruler over yonder (most often the British, but later also the Pakistanis). In all cases, Muslim leaders stood betwixt and between, possessing a forceful ideology but little power of their own.
In the middle decades of the twentieth century, the relationship of Islam, tribe, and state became more complex, but this basic structure remained the same. Religious leaders like the Hazrat of Shor Bazaar and Naqib Sahib continued to court tribal support, making periodic visits to the homelands of their supporters and welcoming delegations of visitors to their khanaqas; but they also accepted visits from the king and his ministers, along with occasional marriages with the royal family, and in some cases they held official positions within the court and government bureaucracy. The political tenor of these relationships became increasingly muted, particularly following the overthrow of Amanullah. Established religious families and lesser figures were pulled into the orbit of the state; madrasas and shrines were put on the dole; and new graduates of religious schools were given government sinecures. However, the possibilities for antagonism were never entirely eliminated, if only because no individual figure or family could represent Islam or hold a monopoly of power. Charismatic leaders could always appear unexpectedly and seemingly out of nowhere, as was the case with Maulana Faizani. In addition the advent of modern communication and transportation meant that Afghanistan, more than ever, was connected to broader currents of political activism that the government could not control, particularly with the expansion of secondary schools and universities, sympathetic places for radical political ideas from abroad to incubate and develop.
In the overheated environment of Peshawar, the multiple strands of Afghan religious political culture intertwined and cross-fertilized. Old-style clerics began imitating the young radicals by forming political parties of their own, while younger radicals educated in secular schools memorized the Quran and hadith to prove their own Islamic bona fides; but this cross-fertilization did not lead to a fusion of purpose and conduct, despite the obvious commonality of interest of the different factions and their declarations of common devotion to Islam. Rather, Peshawar became its own insulated world, cut off from the rest of Afghan society, a world that finally referred more to itself than to the struggle going on inside Afghanistan. The parties headquartered in Peshawar lost touch with the basic truth of Afghan history: that religious leaders dont have power of their own they borrow it from others. In the past, religious leaders had gained authority through association with the tribes or the government in Kabul. This time, the parties gained leverage from the patronage of Pakistan, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and China, and they were successful as long as they had massive infusions of financial and military assistance from these sources. But with the departure of the Soviet Union, much of that assistance dried up, the parties had less to offer, and whatever credibility they still had with the people had largely withered because of their ruthless pursuit of their own political agendas.
The Taliban prospered at first because they seemed to renounce the ways of the parties. Their approach was different, and they seemed to care about and identify with the people. Unlike the parties, which could never surmount their individual political interests when given the opportunity to rule, the Taliban managed to form a government with a unified purpose and direction, and they have sustained much of this unity, or at least the appearance of unity, despite the severe economic and military challenges they have faced. In evaluating this accomplishment it is easy to ignore how novel the situation is in the longue durée of Afghan history. Although it has happened before in smaller contexts, the reign of the Taliban represents the first time, at least since the advent of the Afghan state under Ahmad Shah Abdali, that religion does not function as support for the ruler but is identical with state rule. Given the rough-and-ready rural background of the Taliban, from their top leaders to their rawest recruits, and the regimes self-conscious identification with an idealized "village"culture, one might even go so far as to argue that the Taliban victory has fused all three traditional legs of Afghan political culture Islam, state, and tribe and that being the case, one might have expected the Taliban to be more successful than it has proven to be in uniting the country in the wake of their relatively easy early triumphs.
MIRAN SHAH (North Waziristan), January 26  (NNI): An Afghan tribe in the western province of Khost has demanded of Taliban authorities to hand over the militia officials involved in the killing of several people last week. At least 6 persons, including a woman, were killed and 2 women injured in fighting between a local tribe and Taliban officials in Khost on Wednesday.
The fighting broke out when youth of Gurbuz tribe refused to obey Talibans orders to stop playing a traditional "egg fighting"game, they said. Taliban officials stopped the children from the game, which they considered as un-Islamic.
Taliban had sent a jirga (team) of Pakistani religious scholars and Afghan elders to the Gurbuz tribe for resolution of the dispute but failed to reconcile the angry tribesmen. Taliban have rejected the demand to hand over their officials to the tribe.
The Gurbuz tribe, which had backed Taliban when they tried to capture the Khost province, has announced withdrawal of its support to the student militias administration.
Ulema returned here from Afghanistan say tension has gripped the area following the incident and Taliban are facing problem to deal with the situation. Taliban, who control some 90 per cent of Afghanistan, enforced strict Islamic laws in the areas controlled by them.
Before the Soviet invasion, there had always been an adaptive side to Afghanistans political incoherence, particularly given its location at the interstices of powerful empires in Iran, the Indian subcontinent, and Central Asia. As the British discovered to their dismay, securing the capital tended to enflame rather than behead the resistance. Captured kings were replaceable, and the presence in Kabul of a foreign host provided a context for desperate and mutually antagonistic tribes and ethnic groups to rally together, most often under the inspirational leadership of a Sufi saint or revered clerical leader. Then, once the foreign presence had been expelled, the steady state of balanced opposition between the central government, the tribes, and Islam could reassert itself, with a new king taking control of the capital, the tribes retiring to their homelands enriched with booty, and the saints and clerics returning to their schools and shrine centers shrouded in reverence.
The advantages of incoherence in relation to the external world are apparent, but perhaps incoherence has also been internally adaptive perhaps the existence of separate realms of discourse and moral expectation has provided a degree of internal flexibility that has dampened more extreme turbulence within this multiethnic, linguistically heterogeneous, historically composite, and never entirely logical nation-state. In their zeal to overcome the abuses of the previous twenty years and to create a new foundation for the country, the Taliban have instituted an uncompromising moral severity and inflexibility that, abuses aside, does not mesh well with Afghan sensibilities, especially the valorization of individual autonomy that is shared across the ethnic and regional spectrum. Afghans rejected the Marxist regime principally because they came to believe that Taraki, Amin, and later Karmal were intent on imposing a foreign moral code on the country, and now many feel that the Taliban are trying to do the same thing this time instituting under the cover of "village morality"religious mores that are more parochial and conservative than those of the vast majority of Afghans, including most Afghans from rural areas. Ironically, the Qandahari villages that Mulla Umar and other top Taliban officials come from are famous throughout Afghanistan for their enjoyment of music, dancing, and games of various sorts. One comes to the conclusion that the Taliban call for a return to "village morality"has as little connection to real villages as the Khalqi valorization of "downtrodden peasants"did to the struggles of actual people. One also suspects that just as the isolation of Kabul-based Marxist leaders from the lives of the rural poor led them to formulate unrealistic social programs, so the cloistered society of the all-male madrasa has led the Taliban to create an idealized vision of Afghan villages unmoderated by the domestic influences of women, families, elders, and the everyday realities of tilling fields, tending flocks, and raising children.
The Taliban failure to consolidate their early victories is most pronounced in non-Pakhtun areas, where the people see the emergence of the Taliban as one more instance of Pakhtun hegemony. During the course of the war, the non-Pakhtuns of the country, who control more than half the land mass and constitute close to half the population, became disengaged from their dependence on the central government and ever more distrustful of the parties in Peshawar. Back in the 1980s, when I spoke with Uzbek, Tajik, or Hazara mujahidin who had journeyed to Peshawar to negotiate with the parties for weapons, they always expressed wariness and suspicion of what was going on around them. They walked the streets of Peshawar in groups, not interacting much with Pakhtun Afghans and keeping to themselves. It seemed that they felt almost as alien in Peshawar as they would have among the enemy in Kabul, where at least they would have encountered more people who looked like themselves and who spoke the same languages and dialects. While they still had need of the financial support offered by the parties, the non-Pakhtun populations of Afghanistan became more independent and self-assured over the course of the war. The parties provided for certain of their needs, but they otherwise went about their business, developing local organizations and institutions of their own and in some cases developing alternative avenues for the supply for weapons and ammunition.
Since the Taliban have come to power, non-Pakhtun groups have shown little willingness to relinquish their hard-earned autonomy, and the determination of the Taliban to impose their morality throughout the country has further alienated groups with different and often considerably more liberal traditions (for example, with regard to female veiling and the right of individuals to worship as often and with whom they please) than those of the conservative and conformist Taliban. With much of the population exhausted and impoverished from decades of war, distrustful of political leaders and of other ethnic groups, and, in many areas, suffering from prolonged drought and famine, it is not surprising that, with the exception of Massouds continuing holdout in the Panjshir Valley, a widespread and sustained military challenge to the Taliban has not yet arisen. However, evidence of popular discontent is considerable. Stories regularly filter out of local disputes, such as the one in Gurbuz in 1999, involving villagers who fight back when local Taliban authorities try to tell them, for example, how to celebrate a marriage or a circumcision. Other cases are more serious, such as the 1997 uprising in Mazar-i Sharif, which left thousands dead and many more homeless. Similar incidents have occurred in Herat and the Hazarajat, as well as in Pakhtun areas like Kunar, where the people resent the Qandahari ascendance almost as much as Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Shia Hazaras do.
While the Taliban have generated hostility in Pakhtun areas, there is little doubt that antagonism to the regime is most concentrated in non-Pakhtun areas and that the regime has greatly exacerbated ethnic divisions within the country that were already made worse during the Soviet occupation. Thus, even before the Taliban came to power, one notable result of the war was the loss of an Afghan lingua franca. Before the war, young people throughout the country learned both Dari Persian and Pakhtu, but the collapse of the educational system and the exodus of mostly Pakhtun refugees to Pakistan and Iran mean that most of the younger generation of Afghans is more likely to speak only their native tongue or to have Urdu as a second language than to be conversant in the two Afghan national languages. When they first came to power, the Taliban claimed to represent all Afghans, and some Afghans I have spoken with believe that their public execution of former president Najibullah was a demonstration of their intention not to offer more favorable treatment to Pakhtuns.  Whatever the original ambitions, however, few doubt that divisions are stronger than ever particularly between Persian and Pakhtu speakers. Some Afghans I have spoken with even contend that, were it not for the large numbers of Pakhtuns who were forcibly resettled in the north by the government since the time of Amir Abdur Rahman, Afghanistan would now be a divided country, with Pakhtuns ruling south of the Hindu Kush, Tajiks and Uzbeks contending for control of the north, and Hazaras holding out against both sides in the center.
One lesson from the Taliban experience is that a degree of political indeterminacy of the sort that had previously existed in Afghanistan may be necessary for effective rule, with respect to both forces outside the borders and the heterogeneous population within. Perhaps the triangulated political culture of the past, which had seemed incoherent and destructive of civil society, was actually its guarantor. More simply, perhaps people like their rulers to be separate from themselves and are not so eager to abandon the moral logic of opposition of tribe/ethnic group and state, of "rough"village ways and "smooth"urban custom. The failure of the Taliban to consolidate their rule forces the question of whether their subjects want uniformity across social planes and to have their cities treated as though they were big villages. Afghan culture has long been defined by dynamic oppositions, not by transparency and sameness, and people generally might be more eager to explore the future than to accompany their rulers on their excursion into the past.
KABUL, January 25  (AP) The Taliban religious police have jailed 22 hairdressers accused of propagating a western-style haircut referred to among young men in Kabul as "the Titanic,"residents said Thursday. The hairstyle mimics that of actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the cut is named for the movie in which he starred.
Religious police deployed by the Talibans Ministry of Vice and Virtue responsible for imposing the religious militias brand of Islamic rule say the hairstyle is offensive, according to Mohammed Arif, a barber in Kabul.
The hairstyle allows hair on the forehead, which the Taliban say could interfere with a persons ability to say his prayers. Muslim prayers are said while bowing toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islams holiest site.
The arrests began last Saturday. Some 22 men have been arrested, Arif said.
Its not clear whether they will be punished or what the punishment might be. So far none of those arrested have been freed.
In the 95 percent of Afghanistan that they control, the Taliban have imposed a harsh brand of Islamic law that espouses public punishment for most offenses. The Taliban also ban most forms of light entertainment and demand men grow beards and pray in the mosque.
Arif said men secretly trim their beards, an offense according to the Taliban.
"They come very early in the morning or very late at night,"he said. "It is done very secretly and only for friends,"he said.
I began this book with a description of Lowell Thomass trip in 1922, when the American showman set out to meet the Afghan king in "forbidden Afghanistan"and found instead a Hollywood stage set. Thomas encountered not an exotic Oriental despot but a progressive leader intent on dressing up his nation to prepare it for a different future than his people had ever imagined they might have. When I first lived in Afghanistan, I discovered that Amanullahs dream had not died with the overthrow of his regime five years after Thomass visit. The students I met each day in class had absorbed something like his dream and wanted something like the future Amanullah had sought, and they too dressed for the occasion in cast-off Western clothing that seemed no less dignified for being second-hand.
Recently, I had the chance to view the film Naim and Jabar, discussed in the Introduction, which captures so well the sense of possibility that students felt before the revolution. It was the first time I had watched the film in a number of years, and I saw again the earnest longing of fourteen-year-old Naim, who wants so desperately to join his friend Jabar at the high school in Mazar-i Sharif. New details appeared to me with this viewing such as Naims response to the filmmakers question of what he would do if he were admitted to the school ("Id conquer Aq Kupruk,"his home village) and what hed do if he were rejected ("My heart will break, by God "). This time I noticed as well the blind and absolute faith that the two boys fathers both landless farmers and itinerant laborers place in education as a path for their sons ("If I am down to my last crust, my children go to school "). And I saw more clearly than ever the look of desperation in Naims face as it becomes clear to him that his desires will not be realized, that he will be getting on the truck to go back home to the village rather than starting school in the city. Still, the most poignant moment in the film was the one I discussed in the first chapter when Naim, wearing his new coat, casually removes his head covering after Jabar has whispered in his ear that his friends will think he is "a villager"if they see him wearing a turban. More than a quarter century later, that scene is sadder and more poignant than ever. If a butterfly beating its wings off the coast of Africa can, in theory, set off the chain of meteorological events that culminates in a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, could not a gesture like this be linked to the political maelstrom that followed?
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson wrote of the pilgrimage to the city of village boys, all speaking different languages and wearing their regional costumes, all transiting through primary and secondary schools, where their separate dialects and costumes were melded into one and where they were transformed into functionaries of the state.  Afghanistans progress in the last half century begins with the expansion of the state into ordinary lives, much as Anderson describes in Southeast Asia, and the early life histories of Nur Muhammad Taraki, Samiullah Safi, and Qazi Amin in their different ways all provide examples of the sort of nationalized youth about whom Anderson writes so eloquently. However, these men became not government functionaries but revolutionaries intent on disrupting and overturning the institutions of the state. Taraki, Safi, and Qazi Amin couldnt be more different in most respects. Their goals were contradictory, and they each detested what the others represented, yet their similarities are also profound most important, their shared commitment to social progress as they each defined that ideal.
However impoverished he may have been as a child and however mistreated his family by feudal landlords, Tarakis vision of social justice seems to have owed less to personal experience than to his own flights of imagination and his reading of socialist theories that he spun together in his novels and speeches. When he suddenly and unexpectedly had the opportunity to resolve in real life the sorts of social dilemmas he lamented in his writings, Taraki proceeded with ill-considered haste. The decision to implement social reform on a host of fronts may have been due to Hafizullah Amins influence, but Tarakis poor connection to social realities outside Kabul and perhaps his vanity kept him from objecting.
Samiullah Safis notion of social justice seems separated from reality for different reasons. He was from the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum and learned his way in the world watching a father who, in his own valley, commanded fear rather than pity. In Safis world, there was much talk of the equality of honor and the importance of personal autonomy, but equality of means was never a possibility. Men affected equality through their adherence to the tribal code, which Safi could exalt; however, his testimony reveals a man who remained troubled by the contradictions poverty posed to the values of his people. Safi also saw the great man, his father, wrenched from his valley and forced to suffer humiliations at the hands of a government that viewed his power and wealth with suspicion. This experience engendered indignation at government abuses and its failure to care for the people, but indignation only briefly found its channel, perhaps because Safi could never feel entirely at home in the presence of the strangers he called kinsmen.
In my meetings with Qazi Amin, social principles rarely came up perhaps because I focused my questions on the events happening around me, as I tried to make sense of Peshawar politics. But I dont think this is the whole answer, for none of the leaders in Peshawar or anyone else for that matter spent much time worrying about principles. It always appeared that when leaders brought up abstract matters like what an Islamic state should stand for, how it should organize economic life and treat its people, they were doing so to gain an advantage over their rivals. These leaders were animated not by abstract matters but by the politically relevant questions of precedence (Who started the jihad and was therefore entitled to lead it?) and qualification (Did a madrasa education count more than a university one? Were maulavis or maktabis better suited to run the government?).
In this way, the impassioned debates of the 1960s over ideals and first principles were superseded by a more brutal concern for power, in pursuit of which the primary actors found themselves trusting those most like themselves regardless of their political beliefs. Thus, one of the saddest ironies of the Afghan conflict is that the contest of ideas between Marxist and Islamist ideologues ultimately mutated into an ethnic struggle between Pakhtun and non-Pakhtun. At the center of this development was the rivalry between Ahmad Shah Massoud and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for preeminence in the resistance. As each sought advantage over the other, belief gave way to self-interest, and self-interest to compromise, with both leaders seeking alliances with former ideological enemies who would give them additional leverage and who could be trusted because they were something close to kin. Perhaps because his was the more precarious position, Massoud appears to have been the first to make this move; the alliances he forged with Tajik Parchamis in Kabul in turn led to the separate peace with the Soviet invaders that he began to negotiate in the late 1980s. When Hekmatyar saw Massoud first attracting Western aid and adulation and then making deals with the government in Kabul, he did everything in his power to undermine his rival and proved equally willing to broker his own deals with Pakhtun Khalqis who could help him move closer to his ultimate ambition of ruling Afghanistan.
The most gruesome irony of the partisan strife and bloodletting that bedeviled Afghanistan during the last three decades of the twentieth century is that the idealistic visions of progress that animated Afghan politics in the democratic period ended with the Taliban. Arresting men for growing their hair is an example chosen for its resonance with earlier examples where appearance also mattered, but it is only one of many reported instances in which the Taliban Bureau for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (amr bi al-ma ruf wa nahi an al-monkar) imposed its moral vision of a future defined entirely by the past. Sadly, virtually the only reports that make it into Western media regarding Afghanistan have to do with public punishments for various offenses. One time the story is of women caught in public without their burqa veils; another time it is of men flogged for clipping their beards too short; the next is of thieves having their hands and feet surgically removed or of homosexuals having mud walls toppled on their backs for the crime of sodomy.
While Western media tend to forget the years of war, invasion, and predation that hardened the Taliban in their severity and also to ignore other, less sensational stories like the multiyear drought that has made vast stretches of the country uninhabitable or the success of the Taliban in lowering poppy production, the Taliban campaign for public morality is a significant story and deserves attention for what it tells us of the regime and its vision of society. And what we learn from these stories is not so much that the Taliban rule through fear but that they rule out of fear. The fear that grips the regime more than any other is the fear of having any intercourse with the larger world; and intercourse, with its sexual connotations, is the appropriate word to use in this context, for in the Taliban vision of the world all relations with outsiders, particularly non-Muslims, carry the taint of the licentious and forbidden.
If, as I have implied, Naims disposable turban can be taken as an appropriate symbol for the fearlessness that fueled the revolutionary movements that collectively tore Afghanistan apart, then the indispensable burqa that is being reimposed on the women of Kabul is certainly the best symbol for the fearful spirit that animates the Taliban rulers today. The burqa tries to preserve a rigid divide between male and female, public and private. It seeks to manage threats to womens virtue by eliminating situations of insecurity and ambiguity. More intimately, it speaks to male anxieties over being shamed before peers and to mens need to maintain control over uncertain circumstances whatever the costs to themselves and their dependents; and in this respect, the hypermorality of the Taliban bears as much resemblance to the honor-based insecurities of Sultan Muhammad Khan as it does to the quotidian practices of village Islam, which the regime claims to represent. Taken as a more general symbol of Afghanistan under the Taliban, the burqa can be seen to embody a spirit opposite to the one the young people I met in 1975 possessed in such abundance. Those young people so wanted the world to open up for them, to offer them new experiences. Now the youthful faces of the Taliban, faces that have known mostly war, refugee camps, and the cloistered confines of all-male madrasas, stare back with unblinking negation. Nothing outside their own world is good, nothing outside their own experience and their scriptural lessons is worth emulating or caring about. The world for them is closed.
Stories like the one about "Titanic"haircuts offer some hope at least. In another context, a story of boys imitating a popular film stars hairstyle would hardly be news, but in present-day Afghanistan, where men are forced to wear black turbans to work and to keep their beards long and where every other form of nonconformity is a punishable offense, it is significant that boys the same age as many in the Taliban risk punishment to keep some exposure to the outside world alive. It is also sadly ironic that the film of the great ship that hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic should be so popular in this landlocked desert nation that is itself like a great ship rocked by natural forces (repeated earthquakes, devastating droughts followed by bitter-cold winters, plagues of locusts) and buffeted by wave after wave of political turmoil.
The paramount question now is whether the Taliban vision is one that Afghans generally will embrace or at least accept. While the peoples devotion to Islam is deep and abiding, it cannot be said that they are clamoring for a more orthodox approach to their faith, that they want to rid religious practices of customary overlays like shrine visitation, that they feel the government needs to intervene to make sure people attend the mosque on Fridays, or that they are as worried as their rulers about womens dress and mens turbans. The Taliban has premised its rule on precisely these matters, and from the moment the movement captured Kabul and, in its first public act, hung the castrated bodies of former President Najibullah and his brother from a traffic light in the city center, it has gone about its business in a public and often spectacular style. If this manner of exercising power resembles anything, it might ironically be the reign of Abdur Rahman, who likewise ruled with his whip hand and incurred the wrath of his subjects for his brutality. But as ruthless as he could be with those who challenged his power, Abdur Rahman also recognized the need to meet peoples basic needs and to accept progress and technology where it could augment his authority and bring prosperity to his kingdom. To date, the Taliban have shown little of Abdur Rahmans larger vision for the nations future to go along with their exercise of power, and so one suspects that their own tenure may be short-lived.
Speculation about the future aside, another question of special significance to my project concerns whether the Taliban victory represents a decisive break with the political culture of the past. The monarchy, at least in its recognized form, is gone, but the tribes may not be. They and other more remotely located ethnic groups (Hazaras in the center of the country, Turkmen and Uzbeks in the northwest, Tajiks in the northeast, Nuristanis on the eastern frontier) are pursuing their own goals and taking advantage of their opportunities while the Taliban continue to expend most of their energies subduing the immediate threat of Massoud. Borders these days are also porous. Commercial traffic of various sorts, much of it involving illegal drugs, weapons, and smuggled goods, flows in and out, and it is increasingly unclear whether it makes sense to speak of a coherent political structure of any sort. The future of Pakistan as a nation-state is also tenuous; the collapse of that countrys governing structure would make Afghanistans existence even more precarious and would perhaps lead to the complete disappearance of the boundaries separating the two countries, as well as those to the north and perhaps also to the west. Afghanistan would then effectively come to an end, and the rules of nation-state engagement that have held firm in the region for the last hundred years would cease to matter.
In key respects, conditions would be similar to those that Abdur Rahman confronted before he forged the Afghan state at the end of the nineteenth century; at that time power was not institutionally fixed in administrative structures and demarcated at external borders, but rather it radiated out from various charismatic centers. The cycle would thus begin again, but it would be fair to say that this age is not conducive to heroic action, as that time arguably was. While the political conditions might recapitulate those of an earlier era, things have changed. Weapons of personal destruction are more powerful and menacing, the means of communication and transportation are quicker and more efficient, competing forms of purist Islam and ethnic nationalism have coalesced and hardened against one another. All that can be said with certainty is that ordinary people now, as before and ever since, will more often be the victims of political change than the beneficiaries. That, sadly, is one facet of the situation that is unlikely to change whoever rules Afghanistan in the future.
1. The authors of a 1901 British report on the tribes of Dir, Swat, and Bajaur discussed the role of madrasa students in inciting popular discontent in the following terms (McMahon and Ramsay 1981 , 22 -23):
Worse even than the bigger men are the Talib-ul-ilm (seekers of knowledge). These are men, chiefly young men, who contemplate following the religious profession. They flock to the shrines of the country and attach themselves to some religious leader, ostensibly for religious education. Their number far exceeds those required to fill up vacancies in village mullahships and other ecclesiastic appointments, and they are reduced to seek other means of livelihood. They are at the bottom of all the mischief in the country, the instigators and often the perpetrators of the bulk of the crime. They use their religious status to live free on the people, who are too superstitious to turn them out, even when they destroy the peace of the family circle.
2. For a contemporary depiction of talebs as vituperative as that of McMahon and Ramsay, see Goldberg 2000. [BACK]
3. During a trip through eastern Afghanistan in 1995, a year prior to the Taliban takeover in the region, I witnessed the conditions that the Taliban complained about and cited as justification for its existence. On that occasion, I was accompanied by a number of armed men and so was relatively safe, but wherever we traveled we had to pass through improvised roadblocks where vehicles were stopped and forced to pay tolls. Local commanders drove around in expensive four-wheel-drive cars and trucks and were clearly enriching themselves as the mass of people scraped by. While I never encountered or heard of an incident as brutal as the one Mulla Umar is said to have come across, it was clear from what I saw that the country was in a state of nearly complete anarchy a state that had little to do with the Islamic principles on which the war against the Soviets had been premised. [BACK]
4. Interview with Maulawi Rafiullah Muazin, Cfirstname.lastname@example.org, March 29, 1997. [BACK]
5. Whether it was officially sanctioned or not is unclear, but the act of removing President Najibullah and his brother from the United Nations compound where they had been given refuge and stringing their mutilated bodies from a traffic light in downtown Kabul was seen as a dramatic repudiation of the previous Islamic regime, which had allowed Najibullah to stay put. Afghans understood that the Taliban were not just executing a Marxist; Najibullah was also a prominent member of the Ahmadzai Pakhtun tribe, and people saw the incident as an example of the Pakhtun Taliban being willing to risk the enmity of a powerful tribe in order to fulfill their vow to rid the country of the immoral, whoever and wherever they might be. Thus, while the act was gruesome, it had symbolic value as a unifying gesture. Whatever utility it might have had at the time has since been squandered, however, as non-Pakhtuns have come to see the Taliban as another variation on the theme of Pakhtun political domination. [BACK]
6. B. Anderson 1983, ch. 4. [BACK]