KABUL/PESHAWAR, Nov 13: The Taliban on Tuesday abandoned the Afghan capital without firing a single shot and fled eastwards to their spiritual headquarters of Kandahar.
The Northern Alliance took control of Kabul, putting themselves in the driver’s seat before negotiations for the formation of a new government.
Panic gripped hundreds of Taliban soldiers and their sympathizers, mostly Pakhtoons, as reports of the Northern Alliance forces breaking through the frontlines north of Kabul reached the city around 4pm (Afghanistan time) on Monday.
The Taliban, riding in their trademark pickup trucks and followed closely by panic-stricken civilians, drove out of the city as night fell.
The Taliban evacuation from the city was complete by dawn, leaving Kabul at the mercy of the Northern Alliance forces. The opposition regained the capital five years after it had lost it to the Taliban in a strikingly similar fashion _ without the firing of a single bullet.
There were indications that defection by some Taliban commanders enabled the Northern Alliance to break through the frontlines and head towards Kabul.
Eyewitnesses said the Alliance launched a three-pronged attack from the old and new roads north of Kabul and from the Najrab and Tagab districts to the east. There were no Taliban to be seen anywhere in the area, eyewitnesses said.
Informed sources said defections and desertions by some Taliban commanders to the north of Kabul had resulted in the surprising retreat.
Analysts said the Taliban appeared to be melting away as fast and in as dramatic a manner as they had swept through the country and later captured Kabul in 1996. “It means that deals are being cut and there are defections in pretty much the same way the Taliban had won over former mujahideen commanders to their side in the past,” one observer said.
Senior Taliban officials were seen taking away with them whatever they could, loading their luggage, office equipment and others belongings on to pickup trucks and leaving the capital hours before the reports about the crumbling frontlines began circulating in the city.
Known Taliban sympathizers and Pakhtoon civilians, who felt insecure in the event of the Northern Alliance taking over the city, were seen jostling for cabs and private cars to flee towards Jalalabad and Logar.
A Taliban official confirmed they had emptied the vaults of the central bank before abandoning the city. Thousands of Northern Alliance forces entered Kabul early in the morning, cheered by jubilant crowds as they marched through the city.
Raising slogans of “Death to Taliban”, “Death to Mulla Omar” and “Death to Pakistan”, the people played patriotic songs as they walked along with the Northern Alliance soldiers, carrying portraits of Ahmad Shah Masood, the top opposition commander killed in a bomb explosion in September.
Reports said while many of the Northern Alliance troops were still waiting outside Kabul, the opposition-trained police had taken over the security of the capital and were conducting house-to-house searches for Taliban and their Arab and Pakistani supporters.
Eyewitnesses said the Northern Alliance police had captured a few Arabs and Pakistani fighters in the search, while there were reports of some of them having been killed.
Some Arabs, who lived in Wazir Akbar Khan and Shehr-I-Nau, had either fled or were hiding in the city.
An orgy of loot and pillage overtook some parts of the city, particularly in the currency exchange market of Serai Shehzad, though locals said the incidents were nothing like the mayhem witnessed when the mujahideen took over Kabul in 1992.
The witnesses said the retreating Taliban had also taken with them the eight detained aid workers, six of them female staff members, of the Shelter Now International, to Kandahar.
The foreign workers, who include two Australian, four Germans and two American citizens, are in Taliban custody on charges of preaching Christianity.
JALALABAD: With the fall of Kabul to the Alliance, all eyes are now set on Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern Nangrahar province. The anti-Taliban commanders have swung into action to capture the vital city that sits on the main highway linking Pakistan with Kabul.
The city was tense with signs of unrest among the people. A local reached by phone in Jalalabad said offices were closed and senior Taliban officials were nowhere to be seen.
Efforts, however, were under way to negotiate a peaceful surrender of Jalalabad. The governor of the eastern Afghan province and head of the eastern zone that also includes the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, Maulavi Muhammad Kabir, has sent his family to Pakistan, prompting speculations that he too might cross over any time, abandoning the province to the anti-Taliban forces.
An Alliance source said Taliban commander Malik Hazrat Ali was moving towards Jalalabad from Darr-i-Nur from the north, while former governor of Jalalabad, Haji Qadeer, was reported to be moving from the Sarobi side.
Haji Zaman, another top commander, said he had also sent in his men. His four-man delegation had left Peshawar for Jalalabad in the morning to negotiate a surrender of Jalalabad with Maulavi Kabir, but it returned to Torkham in the evening.
They said they could not find either Kabir, considered to be one of the moderate Taliban, or the deputy governor, Maulavi Sadr-i-Azam.
Zaman, however, told Dawn he was optimistic that Jalalabad would fall without any resistance, but for the Arabs and Pakistani supporters of the Taliban who would probably put up a fight.
He put the total number of foreign fighters in Nangrahar at 2,000.
MULLA ROCKETI: In a related development, the corps commander of Jalalabad, Mulla Rocketi, has already left Nagrahar for Zabul.
Afghan sources said Rocketi had been neutralized by his former party chief, Prof Abdur Rab Rasul Sayyaf, who is a key member of the Northern Alliance.
These sources said similar efforts were under way in Paktia and Paktika, where former mujahideen commander and the Taliban minister for frontier regions, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, had influence.
The sources were confident that Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand would also fall to the Alliance in the next few days. “The next three to four days are very crucial,” the sources insisted.
ARABS: Informed sources said that over 250 families of Arab fighters had moved to Paktia province, causing alarm that they might move in to the tribal areas in Pakistan.