Seven months after they were routed by government troops in their bid to take the capital of Afghanistan, fighters for the Islamic fundamentalist force known as the Taliban have mounted a fresh attack, regaining all their lost ground and pushing government fighters back to the outskirts of the capital, Kabul.
For Kabul’s 750,000 people, the offensive raises the prospect of a return to the 15 months of siege warfare beginning in January 1994 that destroyed wide areas of the city.
President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Islamic government, considered moderate by the standards of Afghanistan’s warring Islamic groups, has counterattacked and vowed to hang onto Kabul at all costs.
The surging fortunes of the rebels, beginning with their capture of the western city of Herat in early September, has set off a diplomatic confrontation between Pakistan, widely believed to be backing the Taliban, and three other countries with a traditional interest in Afghanistan - India, Iran and Russia.
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