Taliban Claims Another Victory
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The Taliban claimed another in a string of victories in the north Wednesday, advancing toward their goal of putting all of Afghanistan under their rigid version of Islamic law.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Hay Muttayn said Pul-e-Kumri, about 100 miles north of Kabul, fell with little resistance and the opposition retreated south toward the central province of Bamiyan, one of its last remaining strongholds. He had few details, and his claim could not be independently confirmed.
Anti-Taliban coalition member Syed Jaffer Naderi had his headquarters at Pul-e-Kumri. If Muttayn’s report is confirmed, it would be the fourth strategic town or city to fall to the Taliban in the last week and a half. A major prize came Saturday, when Taliban troops captured Mazar-e-Sharif, the biggest city in the north.
Muttayn said Taliban troops were continuing their march north after taking Pul-e-Kumri.
Rejecting calls for peace talks, the Taliban Foreign Ministry vowed last week to pursue a military solution to Afghanistan’s civil war and establish ``100 percent Islamic law.″
The Taliban, whose name means ``students of Islam,″ emerged in southern Afghanistan in 1994 and surprised many with the speed at which they have captured most of the country, including the capital, Kabul. Under their strict interpretation of Islamic law, girls are barred from school, most women are confined to their homes, and music, movies and television are banned.
The Taliban have pledged to bring peace to a country that has been in conflict since a series of military and communist coups in the 1960s.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Taliban advances posed ``a real threat″ to the coalition of former Soviet republics, the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia is ready to fortify the southern borders of former Soviet republics in Central Asia to guard against any spillover of the turmoil in Afghanistan, the ministry said.
Afghanistan borders three former Soviet republics: Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Tajik officials have said that in some areas the Taliban have advanced to within 12 to 25 miles of the Tajik border.
Russia fears the entrenchment of a radical Islamic state in Afghanistan would bring an influx of refugees and weapons into the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Moscow, Abdul Waha Assefi, who represents the anti-Taliban alliance, said Afghanistan was ``virtually occupied by Pakistan.″ He called for international pressure on Pakistan to stop helping the Taliban.
Pakistan is widely believed to be the force behind the fundamentalist movement, but both Pakistan and the Taliban have denied such accusations. The Taliban have also said their campaign is no threat to neighboring countries.
On Wednesday, Iranian police surrounded the Pakistani Embassy in Tehran after scores of protesters tried to force their way into the compound to demand the release of Iranians allegedly captured in Afghanistan.
Iran, which is suspected of supporting the anti-Taliban coalition, claims that 11 of its diplomats, a correspondent of the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency and 32 Iranian drivers were captured by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.
Iran has said it holds Pakistan responsible for the Iranians’ safety because of its alleged support for the Taliban.
Pakistan has said that it could not be responsible for events in northern Afghanistan but that it had used all possible influence to ensure the safety of any Iranians.
The Taliban say they know nothing about the Iranian diplomats, although they claim to be holding some 30 Iranians suspected of arming the Taliban’s enemies.