A new hierarchy of leaders has emerged across parts of Afghanistan.
As the fiery chief justice of the Taliban's Supreme Court, Abdul Salam shook the world once, proclaiming the right to execute foreign aid workers accused of converting Afghans to Christianity.
Today, not only is Justice Salam back, talking to a foreign reporter for the first time since the Taliban fell a year and a half ago, but he says the Taliban are back as well. Regrouped, rearmed, and well-funded, they are ready to carry on guerrilla war as long as it takes to expel US forces from Afghanistan.
It's what Afghans want, "because during the Taliban times, there was peace and security," says Salam, who retains the long gray beard that marks him as a devout Muslim.
Across the southern portions of Afghanistan, where the Taliban found strong support among the rural conservative Pashtun populations, there are definite signs that the Taliban are making a comeback. Some Taliban leaders, such as Salam and Taliban commander Mullah Muhammad Hasan Rehmani, are giving interviews once again. Others are dropping leaflets, calling for a jihad against US forces and against the new Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. Still others are increasingly willing to discuss the secret hierarchy that is directing this jihad and the sources of funding that keep it running.
It's this confidence that undercuts recent assertions by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that major combat operations in Afghanistan are over, and that the focus will now be on reconstruction. "The general idea that was being put forward by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld last week, is that the Afghan military, backed by US forces, is engaged in mopping up some remnants of the past - that is not true," says Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan at New York University. "They [the Taliban] are now organizing for a new offensive, and they are still getting some support from Pakistan. Even if Pakistan is not cooperating directly, it is not cooperating in efforts to end the support that is coming from Pakistani territory."
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