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Taliban March to Their Own Tune

August 13, 1998

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ The Taliban chief and the U.N. aid worker met for four hours. When they emerged, it was as if they had been in different rooms all that time.

Taliban Planning Minister Khalid Din Mohammed told reporters after the closed-door session earlier this month that he and Bronek Szynalski were close to resolving a dispute between international aid groups and Afghanistan’s zealously Islamic leaders. A somber Szynalski said next to no progress had been made on how to get the groups back to work.

The aid dispute persists, as does the gulf of understanding between the Taliban _ whose name means ``students of Islam″ _ and much of the rest of the world.

With a series of advances in recent days into the northern Afghan territory of their enemies, the Taliban are near their goal of bringing the entire country under an interpretation of Islam that spurns outside influences.

``The Taliban’s stance is very rigid,″ said Ghairat Baheer, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan before the Taliban captured Kabul, the capital, two years ago and sent their own envoy to Islamabad.

``They don’t believe in give-and-take, they don’t believe in being part of the international community. They don’t know they’re living in the 20th century.″

Foreign aid workers and hundreds of Afghan families, fearing a decisive Taliban assault was imminent, fled Thursday from what little territory remains in the hands of the anti-Taliban alliance.

Burhanuddin Rabbani, the president the Taliban ousted from Kabul in 1996, said a guerrilla war against the Taliban would continue, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

In the 90 percent or so of Afghanistan the Taliban control, women risk being whipped by religious police if they venture out without a head-to-toe veil known as a burqa.

Girls’ schools have been closed, even home schools international aid groups had tried to run quietly. Restrictions on women’s work and movements, which seem more rooted in rural traditions than the Koran, has made it difficult for women to seek medical treatment or even the bread distributed by aid agencies.

``Such discrimination and the suffering it causes constitute an affront to the dignity and worth of Afghan women, and humanity as a whole,″ the independent Physicians for Human Rights says.

The Taliban accuse aid workers of flouting Afghan laws and traditions. About 200 aid workers who had refused Taliban orders to move to war-ravaged dormitories in Kabul were expelled last month.

Taliban officials say international organizations are welcome to help Afghanistan develop, but only if they obey the country’s laws and respect its traditions.

They have said their edicts are aimed at preventing outside influences such as music and television from corrupting people and distracting them from prayer.

The Taliban also have pledged to bring peace to Afghanistan _ which has been in conflict since a series of military and communist coups in the 1960s _ by subduing enemies they describe as ``evil and corrupt.″

``If the Taliban take all of Afghanistan, we will have peace in the country,″ John Aziz, a driver in Kabul, said Thursday. ``But the Taliban should pay attention to education and the country’s economy. If they destroy the schools or universities, we will see a very black future for the next generation.″

Baheer doubts that the Taliban, who have little diplomatic or bureaucratic experience, will be able to run Afghanistan. But he says the administration he represented, less a government than enemies grudgingly banded together because they all wanted a piece of power, bears some of the blame for the Taliban’s success.

The Taliban emerged in 1994 in southern Afghanistan, many of their leaders schooled in religious institutions in neighboring Pakistan that emphasized the infallibility of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz, denies widespread accusations Pakistan has armed the Taliban. Aziz cast his country _ one of the few to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers _ as a friendly adviser trying to persuade its neighbor to improve human rights and soften its approach to the outside world.

``One the fighting phase is over, we will see the better side of the Taliban,″ Aziz said.

Update hourly