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Kamal Hyder: The impact of the Taliban's retreat

CNN's Kamal Hyder
CNN's Kamal Hyder  

QUETTA, Pakistan (CNN) -- The retreat by Taliban forces from the Afghan capital, Kabul, has sparked renewed military activity reaching to the south of Afghanistan. Northern Alliance forces are apparently readying for another confrontation with the Taliban in their stronghold of Kandahar.

CNN's Kamal Hyder left the war-torn region around Kandahar for Quetta, Pakistan, and spoke Tuesday with CNN's Sheila MacVicar about what he had seen there in the past two weeks.

MACVICAR: What was the situation like in Kandahar Tuesday morning?

HYDER: The people of Kandahar woke up to a surprise Tuesday morning when they found that Kabul had fallen. They were anticipating that the Taliban would put up a fight for Kabul and uphold the prestige or willingness to fight. But when they woke up after the news of Herat being taken over Monday, they were shocked, and they thought that all was lost.

MACVICAR: They believe that that was the end of the Taliban or there should be a new battle line drawn?

HYDER: The first thing that people talked about was that the front lines were going back several years. On Monday, people were talking about the front line going to 1997. Then Tuesday morning they said to me, "I think it's 1989 all over again."

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Basically, a feeling is emerging that as the Taliban forces withdrew, the main concern of the people in the south from where these people have gone to fight was, how to get out? I mean, a large force was stuck up in the north, and for them it was a logistical nightmare because their only supply lines were cut off. They were taken over by the Northern Alliance. So the biggest challenge was how do you get a force of 20,000 to 25,000 people from the north back to the south?

MACVICAR: We have heard reports over the last number of hours that the withdrawal has begun moving toward Kandahar. Did you see any evidence of that as you traveled out of Kandahar toward the Pakistani border?

HYDER: Activity started Monday evening. Intense security patrols and barricades and random checkpoints -- that started happening Monday as the news of the fall of Herat filtered through to Kandahar. So there was intense security Monday.

Tuesday afternoon, as we left Kandahar, we were stopped several times, and of course they were looking for possible infiltrators or foreigners traveling in Kandahar. We saw a lot of apprehension on the part of the Taliban that things weren't going their way, even in Kandahar.

MACVICAR: There has been a lot of talk over the last few hours of possible Taliban defections. We know that over the past 15 days or so that there have been a number of covert operations into southern Afghanistan -- tribal chiefs traveling in, talking to fellow tribe members, trying to persuade them that now is the time to defect. Were people beginning to talk about that?

HYDER: Yes, there is now the ground reality emerging. People in Afghanistan are pragmatists. They know what they're talking about. They know politics. They know intrigue better than anybody else because it's the land of the intrigue.

They realize that terrible mistakes have been made, like [anti-Taliban leader] Abdul Haq's murder. Some may call it an execution, but some people are calling it outright murder -- that he was murdered very brutally. We had reports that his body was riddled by several hundred rounds of AK-47 ammunition.

And there's a feeling emerging in Kandahar now that he was a Pashtun, he was popular, he could have held Kabul, he could have gotten a better deal for us. Now he's gone, and people are suddenly interested in the more moderate, more understanding Afghan leadership that can bring this country out of its misery.

MACVICAR: There have been reports Tuesday that as the Taliban departed Kabul, they took with them the eight international aid workers who were on trial in Kabul. They were supposed to have taken them perhaps to Kandahar. Do you have any news of them?

HYDER: Apparently they have been moved out of Kabul simply because people would have been able to release them. So they have been moved out. Now the journey from Kabul to Kandahar would possibly take place at night because in the daytime there is the chance of detection and they can't move large convoys in the daytime. So my understanding would be that if these people would indeed be moved to Kandahar, then it would take at least 24 hours to move them at the minimum. That means they should be reaching Kandahar on Tuesday night. To what purpose, we don't know.

MACVICAR: Were there any signs of any of the senior Taliban leadership still in Kandahar, or have they long abandoned Kandahar?

HYDER: When you talk about the senior leadership, then you must understand that the leadership is also very subtle. And they're subtle because they come up to the surface for now.

But as the situation continues to progress, and as the pressure continues to build, we'll see more and more fair-minded Taliban leaders who had a very good vision for the country, who had a vision for the future of Afghanistan and wanted to play a role in the multiethnic Afghanistan. There are people with a broad vision of Afghanistan who want to see a better future for the children of Afghanistan. And don't forget, the international community is reaping the harvest of abandoning the people of Afghanistan for 23 years.


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