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Thousands flee amid Taliban confusion

CNN's Mike Chinoy
CNN's Mike Chinoy  

CNN's Mike Chinoy, reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, says there are signs that support for the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist regime, may be fading in Afghanistan.

(CNN) -- Thousands of people are on the move in Afghanistan amid signs that a humanitarian disaster is already in the making. Other events point to the disintegration of the ruling Taliban regime as a cohesive force.

Inside Afghanistan, huge numbers of people are fleeing into the countryside.

The borders with Pakistan are sealed, but those fortunate enough to get that far are prepared to risk a dangerous crossing through the mountains to escape their homeland.

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Most are forced to sleep out in the open and food is scarce, if available at all.

Conditions are terrible and aid authorities in Pakistan are looking for sites for up to 100 additional camps to accommodate the huge numbers now crossing out of Afghanistan.

Because the Taliban has forced international aid agencies to flee, there is no obvious source of practical assistance within Afghanistan.

On the political front, considerable movement also taking place, with the potential growing for the leadership to splinter and for the country to descend into anarchy.

In what could be a sign of erosion in Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime, middle and lower level Taliban officials and soldiers are abandoning their posts and young men are avoiding military conscription, sources tell CNN.

Islamic schools in Afghanistan have been closed so that the students can join the Taliban's military forces in the event of a U.S.-led attack, following the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

But the sources said many of these young men are avoiding conscription by returning to their villages or heading to Pakistan.

The number of security checkpoints manned by the Taliban have been reduced considerably, the sources said.

The local Afghan currency, the Afghani, has begun to strengthen considerably, possibly a sign that Afghan businessmen and money dealers see prospects for political change.

A similar phenomenon occurred in the early 1990s when the Afghani grew in value after the fall of the last pro-Soviet government.

CNN's Steve Harrigan, in northern Afghanistan, reported Wednesday that Northern Alliance commanders say several mid-level Taliban commanders are either discussing or making moves to defect to the alliance.

The Northern Alliance opposes the Taliban and is fighting Taliban forces in the northern parts of the country.

In another sign of growing discontent with the Taliban, sources tell CNN that tribal elders in the eastern city of Khost, fearing reprisal from the United States, have urged any Arab fighters in Afghanistan, especially in their area, to leave the country.

Khost was one of several Afghan targets hit by the United States in 1998 because of suspected ties to Osama bin Laden, believed to be behind the embassy bombings that same year.

Eastern Afghanistan is mostly Pashtun, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, and the Taliban have drawn much of their support from the Pashtun over the past two years.

Bin Laden is the primary suspect in the September 11 attacks and is believed to be in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban.

The Taliban have said they do not know where bin Laden is, a claim the United States rejects.


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