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Taliban appears to be regrouped and well-funded

A new hierarchy of leaders has emerged across parts of Afghanistan.

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Salam, who lives in his native Logar Province, neighboring Kabul, refuses to talk about his own activities in the Taliban today. Days after the Taliban fell, Northern Alliance troops surrounded his home, but eventually left without explanation. Salam has remained free since and admits that he maintains contact with the Taliban movement.

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A well-funded Taliban

Proving any covert support for the Taliban is, of course, monumentally difficult. No nation admits to supporting Al Qaeda or its allies, including Pakistan. And the Bush administration has praised Pakistan for its cooperation in rounding up some 400 suspected Al Qaeda members. But even during the decade-long Afghan jihad against the Soviets, the Pakistani government never admitted to funding the mujahideen.

Professor Rubin casts doubt on the supposed support of Russia and Iran, in part because these two countries were bitter enemies of the Taliban in the past. "In the case of Russia, it would be very strange because they believe the Taliban were helping the rebels in Chechnya and the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan," Rubin says. "In the case of Iran, they practically went to war with the Taliban, but given the way Iran conducts its foreign policy, that doesn't mean they wouldn't support them for one reason or the other."

But, Rubin adds, Pakistan's hand is much harder to watch, because state governments elected last October have placed openly pro-Taliban leaders in power. "Pakistan may be allowing its provincial governments to conduct their own foreign security policy," he says, "to support the Taliban rather than hand them over, which is convenient for the federal government."

Engineer Hamidullah, the Taliban's former deputy chief of finance, says that today's Taliban are at least as well funded as they were when they were in government. At that time, the main source of financial support came from one man: Osama bin Laden.

Much of the funding came through a black-market banking system called hawala, which is common throughout the Middle East and South Asia. But Mr. Hamidullah says that Pakistan generally sent its money by hand, using ISI officers. "During Taliban times, Pakistani colonels would bring money to support Taliban soldiers," he says.

Today's Taliban continues to receive funding, he adds, some of it from rich Arab donors, but much of it from the intelligence agencies of Russia, Iran, and Pakistan. "There are some countries that are against the polices of the US and the United Nations, and they support the guerrillas. The most important role belongs to Russia, Iran, and Pakistan."

Salam says Afghans would prefer to rely on their own resources, even if the jihad takes years or decades. "We don't want the interference of foreign countries like Russia, Iran, and Pakistan. We want Afghan people to be united and select their leaders. We want Afghanistan to solve its problems through discussion."

But there is no use discussing peace when the US-led military coalition continues to patrol Afghan territory, he adds. "The last loya jirga [national council] was done by force," says Salam, pointing a finger to his head like a gun. "But if there was a real loya jirga, and the people who were appointed were good, then I would work with my head and feet and heart for my country."

Staff writer Faye Bowers in Washington contributed to this report.