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QUETTA/PESHAWAR, Dec 7: Thousands of fighters loyal to interim Afghan prime minister Hamid Karzai and former Mujahideen commander Mulla Naqibullah took control of Kandahar after the Taliban militia surrendered their spiritual headquarters on Friday. However, foreign agencies, quoting AIP, said the Taliban handed over the control to a tribal council (Shoora).

The Taliban leadership also surrendered Helmand and Zabul provinces to the interim government forces.

“The Taliban authority is effectively finished. There is no longer a situation where we need to push the Taliban forces out of Kandahar,” Hamid Karzai said in an interview with a foreign news channel.

Mr Karzai said the Taliban fighters had been scheduled to surrender their weapons on Friday at two locations as per an agreement reached on Thursday, but instead they began fleeing the city overnight. “There is now calm in Kandahar city,” he asserted.

With the fall of Kandahar, the Taliban, who had burst onto the Afghan political landscape from the very city in September 1994 and brought more than 90 per cent of Afghanistan under their control by September 1996, have now practically lost the whole country.

There was, however, no clue to supreme Taliban leader Mulla Omar’s whereabouts. Haji Bashar, an spokesman for the newly-formed council, told the BBC that he had no information where Mulla Omar was. “We don’t know about his whereabouts.”

He said that fighters of Mulla Naqibullah and former governor Gul Agha Sherzai had entered and taken control of the city.

He said a council of tribal elders and ulema would meet on Saturday to discuss names for city administration and resolve other problems. Hamid Karzai would also visit Kandahar the same day, Mr Bashar said.

The BBC, quoting a Pakistani journalist from Chaman, said that Afghan commanders in Spin Boldak had told him that Mulla Omar’s family riding in two cars had crossed over into Pakistan and taken shelter in Chaman.

He said that some other senior Taliban leaders, including education minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Kandahar’s military commander Akhtar Osmani, had been seen in Spin Boldak while interior minister Mulla Abdur Razziq had taken shelter in Chaman.

Meanwhile, Khalid Pushtunyar, a spokesman for Gul Agha, said that fighters loyal to the former governor of Kandahar had taken control of parts of Kandahar and reiterated that they would not accept Mulla Naqibullah as the new field commander.

“Mulla Naqibullah means Taliban. They are one and the same people. Even now he has given protection to top Taliban leaders and their fighters,” he claimed in an interview with BBC.

Mulla Naqibullah is considered to be a pro-Taliban former Mujahideen commander, who, as the city’s military commander, had helped Taliban gain control of Kandahar.

Mr Khalid said that Gul Agha’s fighters were compelled to attack and take control of parts of the city. “We have given sacrifices,” he said and claimed that Hamid Karzai had not consulted tribal elders before signing the agreement with the Taliban.

He said that Gul Agha’s fighters had taken control of the city and denied claim by supporters of Hamid Karzai and Mulla Naqibullah that they had taken over the airport.

“Nobody has taken control of their airport,” he said. He said a group of over 200 Arab fighters was still holding out in parts of the airport and putting up resistance.

The contradictory statements by the two anti-Taliban sides suggest that all is not well and that there is an intense tug of war between the two sides for the control of the city.

Reports from Kandahar spoke of overnight looting with miscreants targeting relief agency warehouses as well as private businesses and households.

These reports said that the situation in Spin Boldak was also tense as rival groups were trying to gain control of the area. The reports said that checkpoints had sprung up on the road from Spin Boldak to Kandahar with armed groups searching people and passengers.

Afghan refugees entering Chaman told newsmen that they saw armed people looting shops and commercial establishments in Kandahar.

“I saw armed people looting shops and ransacking commercial centres,” Abdul Razak, an Afghan refugee, said who reached Chaman on Friday evening.