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CRACKS IN THE TALIBAN
PROMINENT OFFICIALS FLEE TO PAKISTAN; RELIGIOUS POLICE LIE LOW
By Ahmed Rashid
Issue cover-dated October 11, 2001
The defiance of Taliban leader Mullah Muhammed Omar in the face of America's wrath is not matched by the mood amongst many of his followers. Many prominent Taliban officials are reported to be defecting or trying to escape the country. Afghan sources in Quetta, Pakistan, say that the mayor of Kandahar, an Islamic judge and several senior officials of the religious police have fled Kandahar, where the Taliban is based, and arrived in Quetta with their families. Several Taliban ministers have sent their families to Peshawar.
The much-feared religious police have disappeared from the streets of Kabul. Many are reported to have fled, fearing retribution from angry civilians whom they have harassed, jailed and beaten in the past five years. Discipline is breaking down amongst Taliban soldiers, who have robbed shops and homes in Kabul.
In the west of the country around the city of Herat, Taliban troops have deserted checkpoints along the border with Iran and some clan leaders have approached local United Front leader Ismail Khan to try and strike a deal with him. "In the west the Taliban have all but disappeared," says Patricia Gossman, an American human-rights advocate who is in touch with Afghans inside the country. Taliban officials in Herat have not followed Omar's orders to close down UN relief-agency offices and stop their Afghan staff from communicating with their headquarters in Islamabad, as officials have done in other cities.
In provinces bordering Pakistan, local Taliban officials have come under pressure from farmers and traders to force Arab fighters to leave. And among the tens of thousands of refugees who have arrived on Pakistan's borders are young men from Kabul escaping conscription by Taliban goon squads. "They are running away to avoid fighting for the Taliban," says an Afghan source in Quetta. Even though Omar has closed all religious schools in order to induct the students into the army, many of the children have fled to the Pakistan border.
Nevertheless the Taliban army is still intact in the north, where it has halted a week-long offensive by the United Front, also known as the Northern Alliance. The United Front has made little ground since it took some towns in the north following the terrorist attacks in the United States. The Taliban has also reinforced its front-line positions 40 kilometres outside Kabul, where it expects another United Front attack. Taliban control over the country is on the wane, but hardliners in the army are still expected to put up a tough fight against any attacking U.S. forces.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 04, 2001