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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Are the Taleban finished?

By Paul Anderson
BBC correspondent in Kandahar

The future of the hard-line Islamic Taleban movement is under scrutiny after its failure to disrupt Afghanistan's presidential election earlier this month.

Taleban fighters in Zabul
Taleban fighters in the province of Zabul

They carried out a few attacks, but not enough to put off millions of voters.

So is the militant movement finished?

Almost, but not quite, says Col Dick Pederson, commander of the American-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.

"We are on the road to a strategic success for the Afghan people. We're almost at the point of irreversible momentum," he told the BBC.

The Taleban can only succeed with mass popular support, he argues: "The fact that people have turned out in great numbers to vote shows where their hearts lie."

For Col Pederson, the Taleban now amounts to "bad guys out there who can and will do harm to Afghans, and who are still trying to stop the progress that's been made."

'Generous funding'

Support for the US military view comes from Engineer Yusaf Pashtoon. He is the governor of Kandahar province, the Taleban's former heartland.

Taleban soldiers
Gone, but not forgotten: Taleban soldiers in their heyday

Mr Pashtoon says the Taleban still gets generous funding from "al Qaeda-linked Middle Eastern dollars and Pakistani rupees".

But he says that money does not find its way through to the Taleban foot soldiers, heightening their sense of disillusion.

On the other hand, Governor Pashtoon argues that Pakistan still needs to do more to crack down on Taleban members and sympathisers on their side of the border.

The Pakistani leadership is aware of the need to crush that support, but the governor says the message has not filtered down yet through the ranks of the official agencies who dealt with the Taleban when Pakistan supported it.

'I'd join Taleban again'

Speak to ordinary people on the streets of Kandahar city, and you will still find plenty of direct and indirect support for the Taleban.

US forces with a suspected Taleban member in Afghanistan
The US says the power of the Taleban is receding

"I was with the Taleban from the start until the end," says Abdul Nafeh, who now makes his living by selling watches.

"They brought Islam and peace to Afghanistan and that's why I joined.

"They're starting a serious army again. If the Americans leave, the Taleban will be back in three days. If they come here, I'll go and work with them."

Other Kandahar residents were less sympathetic to the Taleban, but nonetheless were not prepared to forget the movement's virtues.

"We don't want them back, but they did bring peace," says Janan Agha, a baker.

"There was no stealing back then and the people had security. The Islamic system was so good too. But they were too restrictive. We couldn't do anything as teenagers like having picnics or playing music."

The Pashtun factor

Politicians in southern Afghanistan demand that their colleagues in the capital, Kabul, wake up to the idea of bringing former Taleban sympathisers into the mainstream.

An Afghan civilian is treated for head injuries, incurred when a bomb went off as two suspected Taleban fighters were trying to load it on to a motorcycle in Kandahar
A civilian injured by a bomb blamed on the Taleban

Kandahar's governor, Yusaf Pashtoon, believes that would help marginalise the extremists.

"Our belief in democracy tells us that a person among the Taleban, who is not accused of a particular crime, can join the peace process. Definitely he should be treated like an ordinary Afghan and he should have the same right to exercise it."

The governor of Zabul province, Khial Mahmad Hosseini agrees. He is a former member of the Taleban himself.

"We follow the beliefs that Islam forgives those people who lay down their arms. So yes, if Afghanistan's future leaders want unity and peace, they need to include everyone," he says.

Interim President Hamid Karzai has spoken out in the past about the need to include former Taleban moderates in Afghanistan's political process.

If, as everyone expects, he is the winner in Afghanistan's first presidential election, he will be under pressure to deliver on that.

But it's not just about embracing the former Taleban. It's about embracing the ethnic majority they hail from, the Pashtuns.

Mr Karzai himself is Pashtun. But he will still have a task to persuade the warlords from the north, who until the election dominated the administration in Kabul, of the wisdom of including their former enemies in the process.



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