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Afghanistan: the regime and their U.N battle

By CNN's Craig Francis

The protracted struggle between the United Nations and the Taliban regime that controls most of Afghanistan shows no sign of an imminent resolution.

Since the repressive regime destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan -- two towering ancient statues -- the Taliban have shunned international opinion and refused to bow to U.N. sanctions.

The sanctions are intended to force the Taliban to hand over the Saudi-born militant Osama Bin Laden, accused of plotting the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which more than 250 people died.

But rather than cave in to debilitating restrictions, the Taliban have -- as seen with the stage-managed destruction of the Buddhas -- refused to budge even the minutely to international pressure.

Treating Bin Laden as a guest in their country, the Islamic fundamentalists have consistently rejected U.N. and U.S. demands for his handing over.

Since the world first became aware of the Taliban in 1994, only three countries -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- have formally recognized the regime.

Devastated by more than two decades of war, Afghanistan's capital Kabul now lies in ruins, and the Taliban's stated goal of creating the pure Islamic state has seen the implementation of a string of Draconian laws.

Public executions

Women are largely barred from education or employment, except in healthcare, and must remain completely covered and in the company of a male relative when leaving the home.

The teaching of other religions, rejection of Islam, homosexuality and female adultery can all result in the death penalty. Public executions are staged in sports grounds and amputations have been introduced to deter criminals.

The Taliban's criminal code has attracted global media coverage, something the regime has courted by meting out advertised public punishments.

Osama Bin Laden: at the center of the impasse between U.N. and Taleban  

Last year the regime's radio station broadcast to the nation that a young woman caught trying to flee Afghanistan with a man who was not her relative had been stoned to death.

On another occasion, it was announced that 225 women had been rounded up and sentenced to a lashing for violating the dress code. Another woman had the top of her thumb amputated for wearing nail polish.

Three men accused of sodomy were sentenced to death by being partially buried in the ground and then having a wall pushed over on them by a bulldozer.

And when the Taliban castrated and then hanged the former communist president and his brother in 1996, they left their bloodied bodies dangling from lampposts in busy downtown Kabul for three days.

Photographs of the corpses duly appeared in news magazines and newspapers around the world.

Taliban origins

The Taliban owes its present status as a regional power to one of its few allies, Pakistan.

The militia first came to prominence when they were assigned by the Pakistan government to protect a convoy trying to open up a trade route between Pakistan and Central Asia.

So effective were the religious students trained by the mujahedin, or Islamic fighters, that they advanced through an Afghanistan fractured by warring Tajik and Uzbek warlords, eventually taking the capital in September 1996.

The regime, largely comprised of ethnic Pashtuns, gained wider popularity by bringing order to a lawless land and through their refusal to deal with the existing leaders.

The Taliban now control all but the far north of the country. Afghanistan's seat in the U.N. is held by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Concessions to break the impasse by either the U.N. or the Taliban seem remote.

No doubt aware of the tide of world opinion turning against the effectiveness of sanctions in general and Iraq in particular, the Taliban -- if they care at all -- will be hoping the U.N backs down in the face of their resolute indifference to the global trade embargo.

For the U.N.'s part, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has admitted that sanctions alone will not be enough to bring the Taleban to heel. With the Taliban steadfastly refusing to talk, it is yet to be seen how the international community can assert any authority over the Islamic fundamentalist regime.

• United Nations

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