Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Saturday, 21 October 2006 12:09 UK

On the road with the Taleban

David Loyn
By David Loyn
BBC News, Afghanistan

Nato troops in Afghanistan have been facing a growing number of suicide bomb attacks. It was hoped the troops would be able to make peace, win friends and provide security for reconstruction projects, but now it seems the regime they removed is beginning to return.

Osama Bin Laden
The Taleban stuck by their 'guest'

"You destroyed our government and all because of just one guest in our country, Osama," said the man leading the war against the British.

We sat late at night in what must have been the women's side of a house commandeered for just that night by a man who stays constantly on the move.

The family were not there of course, but their presence was all around.

A Chinese-made sewing machine sat in the corner, and small scraps of cloth littered the floor, mingling with the rinds and pith of pomegranates, which the Taleban soldiers who filled the room ate as we talked.

Afghans feel that there is not enough to show for the billions spent by the world on their country since 9/11

We sat cross-legged on thin felt mattresses lining the wall, with the commander propped up on a cushion in the corner.

He was an intelligent man in his 40s, smoother and more groomed than many Talibs I have come across, with delicate hands.

He spat his pips into a small bowl as we talked, breaking off frequently to listen to a two-way radio, receiving news at one point that a British military vehicle had been hit by a landmine.

The commander waved me away impatiently when I said that the British had come to provide security for reconstruction.

"They have had five years and look at the state of the roads here" he said.

International promises

And that is the biggest problem for the credibility of the British operation in the south. Afghans feel that there is not enough to show for the billions spent by the world on their country since 9/11.

Corruption on this road has a powerful symbolic resonance for Afghans

Too little of the money promised has made any difference to life here and that is a powerful recruiting tool for the Taleban.

And there is another problem with the roads.

As we made our way towards our rendezvous along the main road from Kandahar to the west, Afghanistan's trade lifeline, we were stopped every few minutes at checkpoints.

At every one we were asked for money: not much - 10 Afs - about 10p ($0.19) at each one. But they demand more from truck drivers, and the amounts add up.

These checkpoints are not manned by bandits but by soldiers from the newly constituted Afghan National Army, at one point supervised by an American patrol, keeping watch from a discreet distance on the ridge.

'Recruiting tools'

Corruption on this road has a powerful symbolic resonance for Afghans, because it was to stop just this kind of casual theft that the Taleban began.

A photograph of Mullah Mohammad Omar taken in 2001
Since the fall of the Taleban Mullah Omar has been forced into hiding

Their founding myth is an epic drive from the Pakistani border to Kandahar in 1994, destroying checkpoints manned by rival mujahideen as they went.

The Taleban leader Mullah Omar began with 20 men and by the time he arrived in Kandahar he was the head of a movement that went on to take the capital two years later.

That Nato is allowing institutionalised corruption on this same road again is extraordinary.

The Taleban can hardly believe their luck since they know what people are saying: Nato and President Karzai are allowing the same kind of corruption that the Taleban stopped in the 90s.

So men who had been hedging their bets, are now signing up to fight again against what they see as foreign invaders.

The other key Taleban recruiting tool, apart from the corruption of the state which they see as being endorsed by the British-led Nato forces, is the increasing violence.

Resurgent force

Civilian casualties are of course inevitable in any conflict, but this British force was supposed to be providing protection for those rebuilding the country.

A British soldier from Nato patrolling next to an Afghan woman in Kabul
Nato has asked for an extra 2,500 troops to be sent to Afghanistan

The mosques and homes I saw destroyed by Nato bombs have helped the Taleban to win hearts and minds.

Those at the centre of this resurgent Taleban force are the same single-minded Muslims I remember from the time when I travelled with them in the late 90s.

They observe their interpretation of Islamic law to the letter, and support the primitive conservative values of the villages in this region.

Here many women do not even have a name that is used outside their family.

Bombing threat

Travelling with the Taleban this time, I did not see a single woman.

Map of Afghanistan showing the capital Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad

When we stopped one evening at nightfall to break the Ramadan fast that they had kept zealously in the hours of daylight, I was ordered to finish eating quickly.

This was so we would not lay our eyes on the women who would come to sit down where we had been, to eat the scraps from communal bowls the men had left half-full of food.

The commander told me that mistakes were made during the years of Taleban rule.

They did not want to impose themselves so harshly this time, yet playing host to Osama Bin Laden was not one of the mistakes he was talking about.

He said there were hundreds of suicide bombers now waiting to attack the British-led forces.

He was having to hold them back because if they all came at once there would be chaos.

He justified the tactic as a valuable weapon in a war which now looks unwinnable for Nato without destruction on an unthinkable scale.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 21 October, 2006 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Who are the Taleban?
02 Sep 06 |  South Asia
Country profile: Afghanistan
14 Sep 06 |  Country profiles
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
06 Jul 10 |  South Asia


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific