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Opposition Leader: Taleban Surrendered with Minimal Bloodshed - 2001-11-19

The rule of the Taleban has collapsed swiftly in Afghanistan. But in two provinces - Kunduz and the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar - the Taleban elected to stand and fight.

Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces are right next to each other. But the situation in each could not be more different. In Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taleban movement, the hardline Islamic militia has chosen to make a bitter last stand against the opposition Northern Alliance.

But in Uruzgan, home province of Taleban leader Mullah Omar, the Taleban have already surrendered to tribal leaders. And according to opposition leader Hamid Karzai, it was accomplished with a minimum of bloodshed and a magnanimous attitude towards Afghan Taleban.

Mr. Karzai, who is trying to organize support for a grand council to choose the next national government arrived Saturday in Uruzgan at the invitation of tribal leaders. In an interview from the provincial capital Tirin Kot, Mr. Karzai said the province was taken over in an uprising by tribal fighters Wednesday.

He says hardline Taleban elements sent a convoy of 80 vehicles filled with arms and men to try to take back Tirin Kot. But the convoy was attacked by ground forces and also bombed by U.S. warplanes. When the victors examined the bodies, most, Mr. Karzai says, were found not to be Afghan.

"The absolute majority of them were foreigners - Arabs and Pakistanis and others. It looks, really, like the fighting in Afghanistan is done mainly by Arabs and not by Afghans," he said. The issue of foreign volunteers in the Taleban is sensitive among Afghans. Stories of reprisals against Taleban fighters in areas taken by the Northern Alliance have already emerged.

It is believed that it is the foreign volunteers who are blocking the surrender of Kunduz, for example, for fear of what fate awaits them at the hands of the victors.

Mr. Karzai has said there have been no reprisals against Afghan Taleban in Uruzgan. "We got two prisoners the first time when we were attacked by the Taleban. They were Afghans, they surrendered on their own, and we let them go back home, straightaway the same day. We did not even tie their hands. They were just walking free with us wherever we went. And we let them go. Here we have announced repeatedly that all the Taleban that are returning home are free to go home. And so far, there have really, really been very, very few incidents, maybe one or two in this whole region of the Taleb being roughed up or mishandled. The absolute majority have been allowed to go back to their homes," he said.

But the foreign Taleban volunteers, he said, have to leave.

"Well, the foreigners have no place in Afghanistan. These fighters have come and made so much trouble in Afghanistan, they must go and leave our country. There is no way that we can tolerate them. And if they fight, these foreigners, we will fight them," he said.

But Mr. Karzai says he hopes there will be no more clashes. Afghans, he says, are sick of fighting.