May Pashtuns Persians

The Taleban or religious students lead a strict regiment in the areas they rule ■ From Kabul Ahmad Taheri

Grenades crash into the valley. Yellow-brown dust columns show where they hit. Fighting has been going on for two days in the Logar province south of Kabul, the Afghan capital. The government troops are trying to chase the Taleban, or religious students, as the new Afghan war party is called, out of the area. The road is full of craters. Our rickety Volga drives at a snail's pace.

The 50-kilometer drive from Kabul to the Taleban base takes three hours. There are several tanks in front of a mud house. In the semi-dark room of the group's headquarters, two dozen bearded men crouch around the meat and rice pots. They wear black or white turbans. Otherwise they are dressed like all Afghan mujahideen: bloomers, ankle-length shirt, waistcoat and a striped cloth over the shoulder.

Mullah Mohammed Rabbani, the commanding officer, is a 32-year-old Pashtun of massive stature. He comes from Kandahar and is the second man in the Taleban movement. He came, says Rabbani, to personally “free Kabul from murderers and robbers”. After dinner, my Japanese colleague unsuspectingly takes his Nikon out of his photo bag. “Get rid of that thing,” orders the Pashtun mullah. "Angels don't fly in a house where pictures are hanging," he quotes an alleged saying of the prophet. The young Taleban who lie outside in the sun don't seem to care. They get up, pick up their Kalashnikovs, adjust their turbans and pose in front of the camera. Whatever flag they fly, Afghans love to be photographed.

When we were back in our Kabul hostel that evening, a Danish journalist complained about the Taleban. In the afternoon she was in Maidan-Shahr, 45 kilometers from the capital, to speak to the Taleban. The young woman had the blond curls modestly covered with a headscarf and covered the blue eyes with dark glasses. Still, she wasn't even allowed to get out of the car. The Taleban wouldn't talk to strange women, if they were told.

The fundamentalist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar would have received the young Dane with exquisite courtesy. The Afghan Islamists are not afraid of contact with foreign women. But the Taleban are not Islamists. They are religious Sunnis of the Hanafi direction, zealots of the traditional kind, fundamentalists only in the religious sense. They consider the ideological Islam of a Hekmatyar to be Bad'a, a blasphemous innovation. “The only orthodoxy,” says Mullah Rabbani, “is the Hannafi belief”. The Afghans and the other peoples of Central Asia follow Abu Hannifa, the 8th century Islamic theologian of Iranian origin.

In addition to the Prophet and Abu Hannifa, the model is the Taleban Ahmad Shah Abdali. The Pashtun tribal prince from Kandahar united the torn country in the 18th century and conquered large parts of India. “We are the sons of Ahmad Shah,” says Rabbani with pride. The bull-necked Koran teacher combines the Pashtun man's addiction and the piety of a Stone Age village mullah. "When Afghanistan is liberated," he says full-bodied, "then it is the turn of Iran, Pakistan and the countries beyond the Amu Darja."

Initially, the Taleban movement consisted of 800 students. They were children of the Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan living in Pakistan. Before they took up arms, they learned the Koran, prophetic tradition and Arabic syntax in the madrasahs established by the Jama'at-e Ulama-e Islami, a Pakistani theological association. “We heard,” says Hajj Ahmad Dschan, spokesman for the Taleban in Peshawar, Pakistan, “how Muslims fought against Muslims in our homeland, how women were violated and boys were raped. Our hearts were bleeding with pain. "

One day last autumn, Ahmad Dschan and his fellow students raised the white flag of peace and marched into the Afghan fatherland, the Kalashnikov in their left hand and the Koran in their right. On the way, in the name of the Almighty, they disarmed the mujahideen troops who were making the streets unsafe as highwaymen. One of their teachers, the Pakistani theologian Moulawi Abdolghani, had called for jihad against “the corruption” in neighboring Afghanistan.

The fact that it was a Pakistani mullah of all people who drummed for the holy war reinforced the suspicion that the Pakistani secret service was behind the pious students and that Islamabad wanted to secure the transport routes between the Indus and Amu Darja with the help of the Taleban. Kandahar, the center of the Afghan south, was the first city to open its gates to the white-robed multitudes. The population welcomed the Taleban with jubilation. Their reputation as the hosts of peace had preceded them. Since then, Kandahar, city of pomegranates and pederasts, has been the capital of the movement.

Moulawi Mohammad Omar, the undisputed leader of the Taleban, resided in Kandahar. The tall, lean Pashtun, 36 years old, calls himself Amir al-Mu'menin, Prince of the Faithful. This is what the Islamic caliphs once called themselves. For his followers, however, he is called "Omar-e sani", the second Omar. The first Omar was the early Islamic caliph who conquered the Persian Empire. Like his namesake, the Taleban leader is a man of simple living and strict justice. Crouching on the bare ground under a tree, he welcomes the visitor.

The “second Omar” sees himself as the guardian of Sharia, Islamic law. 36 He had thieves chopped off the hand. A predatory, pedophile mujahideen commander dangled from the gallows for three days. The Taleban handed a Kalashnikov to a woman whose son had been killed by a gang leader in front of the assembled people so that she could carry out the Ghisas, Islamic retribution. She was allowed to pull the trigger twice because her son had been found with two bullets in his head. The Taleban call such barbaric customs “Haqq an-Nas”, the “rights of the people”.

Mohammad Omar ordered the strict separation of the sexes. He forbade Afghan women to go to the bazaar. But soon the husbands complained. She and her children would have to go to sleep in the evening with a hungry stomach. And the shopkeepers were storming, the loss of female customers was ruining their livelihoods. The Taleban boss showed insight, invoked the religious principle of necessity and lifted the exit ban for the “black heads”, as women in Afghanistan are called because of their sack-like robes that cover them from head to toe.

For men too, “Islamic clothing”, that is, the traditional Afghan costume, is compulsory in the Taleban's sphere of influence. Anyone caught in a western outfit or with an uncovered head or a shaved chin must go to the Kadi. The beautiful curls of young Afghans have also fallen victim to strict morals. "The Prophet himself had shoulder-length hair!" I say to the Taleban leader Mohammad Rabbani. “The Messenger of Allah,” he replies, “washed and combed his blessed locks daily and covered them under his turban. But these fellows with their wild manes frighten women and children. "

As men of Islamic law and order, the Taleban managed to triumph over eleven of the 30 Afghan provinces in just a few months. The battered people saw them as a heavenly host. "They are angels in human form, sent by God to save Afghanistan," shouted preachers in the mosques on both sides of the border. Behind the enthusiasm for the Taleban was also Pashtun nationalism. The Taleban were seen as the vanguard of Pashtunism on the march into the Afghan capital. In droves, the Pashtun mujahideen fighters and their weapons joined the Taleban. The group grew by 25,000 men. As their spokesman Ahmad Dschan says, the Taleban now have 350 tanks, twelve Mig bombers and six helicopters. "Who is using these weapons?" - "The repentant officers of the communist regime," answers Taleban leader Rabbani.

It is no longer a secret that a number of Chalqi, the national communists of Pashtun origin, are working with the Taleban. General Schahnawas Tani, once the interior minister of the communist Najibullah, is now said to be an advisor to the Taleban leader Omar under the name of Mullah Bashir. Mullah Rasul, a killed Talebank commander, was identified as Abdol Wakil, the former communist chief of Kapisa province.

Six months after their first appearance, the Taleban were in Jarasiab not far from Kabul. It was from here that the fundamentalist zealot Hekmatyar had bombarded the Afghan capital for three years. Before the arrival of the students, Hekmatyar had fled through the night and fog without taking all his weapons with him.

The disgraceful escape of the notorious warlord was a credit to the Taleban. Her fame now extended far beyond the Afghan border. Mahmud Mistiri, the UN envoy for Afghanistan, described the victorious Koran students as a new force who would “advance the peace process in Afghanistan”. In Jarasiab, the Taleban called on government troops to lay down their arms. You would ensure peace and order in Kabul yourself. President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a thoroughly washed politician, was playing for time. Radio Kabul spoke of the "sacred cause of our dear Taleban".

Now Afghanistan was looking with bated breath to Kabul and awaiting the showdown in the battle between the Taleban and the government. The first bullets came from Jarasiab. The doves of peace had meanwhile become fighting cocks. Several dozen civilians fell victim to the angry theologians' bullets in the bazaar. “Hekmatyar,” said Gulalgha, our driver, “fired 20 to 30 rockets into Kabul every day. The Taleban brought it to 200 in two hours. "

Retribution was not long in coming. On the night of March 17-18, Jarasiab was stormed by Ahmad Shah Masud. At five o'clock in the morning, before the muezzin called to prayer, Radio Kabul reported the "Fath-ul Futuh", the victory of all victories. When the sun rose, the last Taleban had fled. The hills were littered with the corpses of white-clad fighters from distant Kandahar.

In the battle for Jarasiab, the Taleban lost the nimbus of their invincibility. Afghanistan's self-proclaimed rescuers failed in their hour of probation. And Afghans don't like losers. "Those who walk with their heads held high today are Tajiks, those with bowed heads a Pashtun," says Gulagha, the driver.

Ethnic hatred is rampant in Afghanistan. The struggle of the quarreling mujahideen groups is well on its way to culminate in the battle of the jealous peoples. The Pashtuns had ruled Kabul for 250 years. Even the communist leaders were almost all of Pashtun origin. The fact that the Tajiks are now in charge in Kabul is a thorn in the Pashtun's eye. “Everything has gone crazy in our country,” says Abdolkarim Niasi, a Kabul merchant who fled to Jalalabad. “Plants, animals, people and mullahs. When will this buskaschi end? ”Buskaschi, or“ pulling goats ”, is an Afghan equestrian game in which a dead goat is fought over. At the end of the fight, all that remains of the carcass is a torn bundle of skin and bones.