Afghanistan (February 1997)
by Peter Marsden February 1997

Having taken Kabul at the end of September, the Taleban then moved north and captured the towns and villages which lay between Kabul and the Salang Pass. These were quickly retaken by opposition forces, aided by insurrection from within the population.

Following a stalemate during which the Taleban and the opposition forces were locked into immovable positions north of Kabul, the Taleban again moved north at the end of December and have, over the succeeding weeks, managed to recover the lost ground.

The opposition forces have blocked the Salang Pass by blowing up part of the mountainside and a bridge. The Taleban have moved west into central Afghanistan and may attempt to cross the Hindu Kush through one of a number of other routes, all of which are virtually impassable under winter conditions.

To avoid the insurrections which plagued their earlier offensive, the Taleban have virtually emptied the captured towns and villages of their populations and sent them south to Kabul. 98,000 people have entered the capital since UNHCR started to monitor movements on 2 January 1997. Most are near destitution and it has been necessary for UNHCR, WFP and ICRC to provide relief assistance. Their arrival has placed further strains on a city which is already heavily dependent on relief distributions.

Rampant inflation throughout Afghanistan is making it increasingly difficult for families to survive. More than 40,000 have travelled to Pakistan since the beginning of October, in response to the economic situation. UNHCR and WFP are registering new arrivals at Nasirbagh camp near Peshawar. Many more would make the journey if they had the wherewithal to cover the cost of transport.

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