Wed, May 07, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Revived Taliban making waves in northern Pakistan


It is like a scene from the old days of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Dozens of religious students, or Talibs, and other Afghan exiles with thickly wound turbans and long beards gather on Thursday afternoons on two of the main squares in this city.

They are among the many Taliban who took refuge here in the border regions of Pakistan after their government collapsed in December 2001, and they are staying in the sprawling Afghan refugee settlements here or with fellow tribesmen in remote villages.

These days they are gathering openly, showing a growing confidence since an alliance of religious parties sympathetic to their movement won provincial elections here last fall.

On Thursdays they meet and greet each other, and the talk is of war and the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan.

"We don't like the Americans, and Karzai is a puppet of [US President] George W. Bush," said Abdul Karim, 26, a member of the Taliban movement until he left Afghanistan two years ago, referring to Hamid Karzai, the new leader of Afghanistan. "We want an Islamic government in Afghanistan," added Karim, who is now a student at a madrasa, or religious school, in Quetta.

Nasrullah, a religious student here who recently arrived from Kandahar, in Afghanistan, said that "if the situation continues and the Americans do not behave well, I am ready to fight, because jihad is the duty of every Muslim."

He said he had left home two weeks ago, after the governor of his province ordered Taliban supporters to leave unless the elders of their village could vouch for their good behavior.

"It is too difficult studying in Afghanistan, because all the time people demand, `Who are you and what are you doing?"' said Mullah Shahzada, a religious teacher and former fighter from the southern province of Helmand.

Quetta is a home away from home for the Taliban. CDs of Taliban leaders' speeches are on sale in the shops, the Friday sermons in the mosques are openly supportive of those who consider themselves to be waging a holy war against Americans or other non-Muslims, and young men speak openly of their desire to go and fight in Afghanistan.

The Taliban presence is so strong that even many of those who have been refugees here for 20 years seem to believe that the Taliban will return to power in Afghanistan.

"There will be fighting until the Taliban get power again," said Nur Mohammed, an Afghan shopkeeper. "God willing, they will force those infidels out of the country."

The border regions of Pakistan, and Quetta in particular, are emerging as the main center of Taliban support in the region, and a breeding ground for opposition sentiment to the American campaign in Afghanistan and Karzai's government. Senior Taliban officials and commanders are taking refuge here, too, Afghan and American officials say. Members of the political opposition in Pakistan confirm that Taliban leaders are active and are recruiting young men to fight.

Alarmed by the recent increase in attacks by rebels on American and government forces, Karzai asked Pakistan last week to hand over some senior Taliban officials and commanders who he said were in Pakistan. American military officials and diplomats have also pushed for more effort from Pakistan on the border to prevent infiltration of armed groups into Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials deny any knowledge that senior Taliban or al-Qaeda figures are in Pakistan, but have said they will investigate.

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