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Taliban yield Kabul, but not war

Concern for human rights follows the swift rebel capture of the capital yesterday.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 14, 2001



KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

Tears of joy - and sorrow - greeted Afghan rebel forces yesterday, as they seized the capital, Kabul, from the retreating Taliban militia.

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Rejecting all advice but their own, Northern Alliance rebels paused at the gates of the city - as promised - and then roared into the capital with armor, troops, and police units.

The quick capture of the capital - with little military resistance - is a symbolic victory that signals the end of the first phase of this military campaign. But it's not clear how much control the Northern Alliance will assume, and how much control the US can exert over the alliance. While both the US and UN are rushing to put together a coalition of Muslim nations to form a peacekeeping force, no political plan has yet been agreed upon that would include all of this nation's fractious ethnic groups.

The US has three concerns: that the Alliance itself doesn't take iron-fisted control of Afghanistan, that it doesn't commit revenge atrocities as it has in the past, and how to proceed militarily from here. The Taliban aren't finished.

The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar Mohammad, says they are retreating to their strongholds in the remote southern mountains of Afghanistan - where they can fight the US on a more equal footing - to wage guerrilla warfare.

But for the residents of Kabul, this is a time of celebration. Flowers and cheers showered the arriving alliance troops on the streets, where people said they were grateful for "liberation" from five years of oppressive Taliban rule.

"The people are free!" shouted Massood, a university student. "I never thought I would see Kabul fall so quickly. Only God knew better. Now there will be wedding parties with dancing and music every night!"

Taliban forces - pushed back by an alliance offensive and US airstrikes - withdrew overnight. Then came a day of extraordinary emotion, that ranged from fear to jubilation - and, for some, despair.

"Thank you, Mr. Bush!" shouted Nissar, standing on the edge of a crowd holding cloth over their noses, as they gathered around the bodies of several Taliban soldiers ambushed in their car as they tried to flee. The gruesome sight was one of a handful that dotted Kabul yesterday.

"We don't like this one," Nissar says, pulling at his long beard - a legal requirement for all men that the Taliban enforces with whips and jail time. "I will shave it off very soon."

Tanks and vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft fire rumbled through the streets, as alliance policemen - wearing distinct blue bands on their hats - deployed with shoulder-held grenade launchers at every corner. Some women revealed their faces from under their burqas - a liberty forbidden by the Taliban. Others relished the return of music - also outlawed.

"This is the first time I listen to this in public in five years," says Hashem, listening to an Iranian tape on a like-new walkman. "I will shave my beard, too. We are so happy - this is a celebration day!"

As he said it, a wedding party - the colorfully decorated lead car and bus of revelers encouraged by the changing hands of their city - drove by behind.

But along with the cheers for the retreat of the Taliban, a certain trepidation was evident. Some here fear a repeat of the ethnic bloodletting that left tens of thousands dead the last time the alliance ruled here, from 1992 to 1996.

Ethnic Pashtuns - who make up 38 percent of the Afghan population, and dominate the Taliban - rejected rule then by the minority Tajiks, Uzbek, and Hazaras, who constitute most of the alliance forces.

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