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Taliban learns to adapt, survive

By Associated Press
Published April 8, 2003

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Before executing the International Red Cross worker, the Taliban gunmen made a satellite telephone call to their superior for instructions: Kill him?

Kill him, the order came back, and Ricardo Munguia, whose body was found with 20 bullet wounds last month, became the first foreign aid worker to die in Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster from power 18 months ago.

The manner of his death suggests the Taliban is not only determined to remain a force in this country, but is reorganizing and reviving its command structure.

There is little to stop them. The soldiers and police who were supposed to be the bedrock of a postwar Afghanistan have gone unpaid for months and are drifting away.

At a time when the United States is promising a reconstructed democratic postwar Iraq, many Afghans are remembering hearing similar promises not long ago.

Instead, what they see is thieving warlords, murder on the roads and a resurgence of Taliban vigilantism.

"It's like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghanistan's president and his representative in southern Kandahar. "What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."

Karzai said reconstruction has been painfully slow - a canal repaired, a piece of city road paved, a small school rebuilt.

"There have been no significant changes for people," he said. "People are tired of seeing small, small projects. I don't know what to say to people anymore."

When the Taliban ruled, it forcibly conscripted young men. "Today I can say "we don't take your sons away by force to fight at the front line,' " Karzai remarked. "But that's about all I can say."

But progress also is a question of perspective. Capt. Trish Morris, spokeswoman for the Coalition Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force, said civil affairs teams have spent up to $13-million on projects affecting the daily lives of Afghans.

"That may not sound like a lot of money, but that's hundreds of schools and clinics and bridges and wells all over Afghanistan," Morris said.

From safe havens in neighboring Pakistan, aided by militant Muslim groups there, the Taliban launched their revival to coincide with the war in Iraq and capitalize on Muslim anger over the U.S. invasion, say Afghan officials.

Karzai said the Taliban is allied with rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, supported by Pakistan and financed by militant Arabs.

The attacks have targeted foreigners and the threats have been directed toward Afghans working for international organizations.

Today most Afghans say their National Army seems a distant dream while the U.S.-led coalition continues to feed and finance warlords for their help in hunting for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Karzai, the president's brother, says: "We have to pay more attention at the district level, build the administration. We know who these Taliban are, but we don't have the people to report them when they return."

[Last modified April 8, 2003, 01:31:46]