Medieval new wave

SINCE the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the pro-Moscow administration there, Afghanistan has been yanked back into the Middle Ages. However flawed they were, pro-Soviet and communist Afghans adhered to certain concepts appropriate to the 20th century - like literacy, and education for women. The anti-Soviet mujahedin who were so assiduously backed by Washington and the West, not to mention most of the British left, would never dream of entertaining such notions.

In the past three years, fighting between rival mujahedin bands has claimed 20,000 lives in the capital Kabul alone. The mujahedin, who accused the Soviet army of killing civilians, have shown every willingness to fire rocket barrages into densely-populated districts of Kabul.

Yet reports about the situation in Afghanistan have been remarkably rare in the British media. Sandy Gall, for example, has kept his distance. No longer a Cold War football, Afghanistan seems to have lost all interest for such people (Speaking of football, some mujahedin have banned the game on the grounds that it is inappropriate to Islam). Or perhaps the mujahedin are themselves a source of some embarrassment.

However, a new spectre haunts Afghan politics. The Taleban is a group of religious students who have emerged, seemingly from nowhere, and scored important battlefield victories. Time magazine (February 27) reported one of the Taleban leaders as saying that their aim was to “cleanse Afghanistan of those mujahedin who have become killers, thieves and drug dealers in the name of Islam. We want to bring an end to looting, lawlessness and the dishonouring of our women.”

Many Afghans welcome the Taleban, hoping they will end the incessant fighting and crime. The Taleban have forced women to stop attending school, and in this they are no different from those forces they are trying to “cleanse”. They cherish the ambition of creating an Islamic state, although that is what Afghanistan officially is - or would be if a state actually existed. The Taleban could end the endemic fighting, but Afghanistan appears set on a road towards a system that will make Saudi Arabia look progressive.

Steve Kay