In Afghanistan, the Taleban is vowing to fight on. But its authority has now crumbled across much of the country in the face of a relentless bombing campaign by the United States and a fresh onslaught from opposition forces.

Hamid Karzai, the foreign minister in the pre-Taleban government and an ethnic Pashtun leader, sums up the Taleban legacy succinctly: "Disaster. Bad legacy. Unfortunately, something bad and that should be scrapped away, that should be forgotten," he said.

But whether the five years of Taleban rule will ever be forgotten is questionable. Ahmed Rashid, author of a bestselling book about the Taleban, says the memory will not be easily erased, especially in their stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

"There's a very important legacy, which is this kind of Talebanized culture in southern Afghanistan - that is, the interpretation of Islam in this very extremist way. That culture is going to stay with a lot of the young people. And that can only be eradicated if there is going to be long-term development, reconstruction, education, jobs, you know, and a different lifestyle for people. So, I think that the remnants of this culture are going to be very unsettling in the south for many years to come," Mr. Rashid explained.

The Taleban came to power in 1996. At first, its rule was welcomed by a populace weary of more than 20 years of war, factional fighting and lawlessness. But the Taleban moved quickly to impose an exceptionally harsh code of Islamic-based law that soon made Afghanistan an international pariah.

Most Taleban are Pashtuns from the south. Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. But the Northern Alliance, made up primarily of Tajiks and Uzbeks, has always viewed the Taleban movement as an alien creation. As Mr. Rashid points out, many Taleban leaders received their Islamic education in religious schools called madrassas outside Afghanistan.

"Well, the Taleban were, if you like, an aberration in the sense, this was a very strange movement, which was more stimulated from outside and outside ideology, mainly, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia," he said.

Indeed, many Taleban fighters, as well as their allies in the al-Qaida terrorist network, are foreign volunteers from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Chechnya.

At a news conference in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Taleban spokesman Syed Tayyab Agha said the Taleban relies on faith to help it vanquish its enemies. "We were not proud of our weapons and we were not proud of our money. But the only thing that we were satisfied, and we are satisfied, that is our faith and our religion and assistance from almighty Allah's side. And, right now, we are sure that almighty Allah will help us to push these forces back," he said.

The crucial question now is whether the Taleban will have any role to play in a future Afghan government. The Northern Alliance adamantly says no. But some Afghan leaders, such as Mr. Karzai, say some former Taleban, at least lower level figures, may have to be accommodated, if there is to be a truly broad-based government - the kind of stable administration needed to prevent any return to fighting and bloodshed in Afghanistan.