11 September 2001>News Stories>Taliban Will Rise Again, Aide to Leader Tells Journalists

Taliban Will Rise Again, Aide to Leader Tells Journalists
Norimitsu Onishi . NYTimes . 22 November

Tayab Agha, a Taliban spokesman, told reporters on Wednesday that his fighters would never abandon their territory in southern Afghanistan.

SPINBALDAK, Afghanistan, Nov. 21 The Taliban said today that they would never give up their stronghold in southern Afghanistan and their spiritual home, the city of Kandahar, ruling out any talks with the Northern Alliance or other opposition groups on a future national government.

In the Taliban's first news conference in Afghanistan since the United States bombing campaign began in early October, a spokesman for their supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, warned that the country was on the verge of the anarchy and warlordism that existed before the rise of the Taliban in the mid-1990's.

Saying that the Taliban still controlled the territory that had served as the springboard for their conquest of the rest of the country last time around, the spokesman, Tayab Agha, predicted that the Taliban once again would unify the country under their vision of Islamic rule.

"We started the movement and then the formation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan before controlling Kabul and before controlling the northern areas of Afghanistan," Mr. Agha said. He later added: "We will defend the present provinces we control. But when the time comes, the compulsion or the responsibility of taking other provinces lies on our shoulders."

This defiant message was delivered as the Northern Alliance's stunning accumulation of victories appeared to be stalling. Instead of folding, the Taliban have clung to power here in southern Afghanistan.

Without the outside support they enjoyed in the mid-1990's most importantly from Pakistan's military the Taliban are unlikely ever to be able to reclaim the entire country. But they may be able to hold on to southern Afghanistan, a condition that could leave the country in Somalia-like chaos, threatening the success of the American war on terrorism here.

In a measure of the Taliban's confidence, they invited journalists to Spinbaldak, a dusty, desert town about five miles from the Pakistani border. The statements by Mr. Agha, Mullah Omar's 25-year-old private secretary, were clearly intended to dispel recent reports that the Taliban were ceding political power and heading to the hills and caves to wage guerrilla war.

Last week, a news agency close to the Taliban, the Afghan Islamic Press, reported that Mullah Omar was handing over control of Kandahar to Mullah Naqib Ullah and Hajji Bashar, two Pashtun commanders who fought in the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980's.

But today, Mr. Agha said that Mullah Omar "is not going to leave Kandahar, and this is not something of his choice." Mr. Agha explained that the Taliban's Islamic faith bound them to defend the city.

A Pakistani official in touch with Taliban representatives in Kandahar said that Mullah Omar had experienced a vision in which the Prophet Muhammad told him not to surrender, assuring him that God would save the Taliban.

Flanked by soldiers with Kalashnikov rifles, Mr. Agha denied reports that Kandahar, about 60 miles west of here, was riven by infighting, pitting moderate members of the Taliban against hard-liners, as well as foreign Taliban fighters. He said that journalists would soon be permitted to visit the city.

American bombers have been pounding Kandahar and its surrounding areas, sending many civilians fleeing to refugee camps nearby and across the border into Pakistan. United States Special Forces have also been active in the region, blowing up bridges, blocking roads and working to unify Pashtun tribal leaders against the Taliban.

The Taliban clearly wanted to show that the strategy had not worked.

Mr. Agha began the news conference at an abandoned United Nations compound here with a review of the past quarter-century in Afghanistan. The end of the war against the Soviets, he said, led to anarchy, which was relieved only by the Taliban.

In recent weeks, as the Taliban have lost control over much of the country, the warlords who were chased out of power by the Taliban to popular acclaim between 1994 and 1996 have re-emerged. In the western city Herat, Ismail Khan reinstalled himself as the governor; in the northern city Mazar-i-Sharif, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum is back in power; and Haji Abdul Qadir, who allowed Osama bin Laden to stay in his province in 1996, filled the vacuum created by the Taliban's retreat from Jalalabad last week.

But here in southern Afghanistan, home to their fellow ethnic Pashtuns, the Taliban remain in charge.

"These people cannot control the nation, but will carry the nation of Afghanistan to division and to other problems that it was facing before 1994 in the time when there was fighting in different factions of Afghanistan," Mr. Agha said.

The return of the warlords has complicated plans to form a national unity government in Kabul. The Northern Alliance, which seized the capital city despite Washington's warnings not to, has agreed to talk with other Afghan factions next week in Germany. Taliban officials said today that they would not attend any meeting arising from the American intervention or organized by the United Nations, which Mr. Agha described as "working under the instructions of America."

"The foreign intervention and foreign interference can never bring peace and stability in the country," he said.

In this area, as well as in the north, United States Special Forces have intensified their hunt for Mr. bin Laden and his Qaeda terrorist network. Mr. Agha said that Mr. bin Laden was no longer in Taliban-held territory, and that the Taliban no longer knew his whereabouts.

Asked whether the Taliban had made a mistake in shielding Mr. bin Laden, Mr. Agha said: "He was somebody who was ready to give his blood for the sake of this nation during the Russian interference. What is friendship more than that?"