It is perhaps the most extraordinary political movement in the modern world: dedicated in all seriousness to a literal return to the requirements of the Koran. 'Taliban' means ' disciples', or 'religious students', and in the early 1990s I would visit the madrasahs along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and see some of these Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and see some of these unworldly, exiled students preparing for the day when they would return to the country of their parents and return it to full Islam. It never occurred to me then — nor, I think, did it occur to any other Westerners who knew Afghanistan — that the polite young acolytes, with their uncut combed beards and their white robes, might, within a few years, take over the country.
I was last in Afghanistan in December. The road to Jalalabad and Kabul from the Pakistani border- crossing at the Khyber Pass is worse than ever; yet the journey can be made in only six hours, and the traveller's sole anxiety is for the tyres of his vehicle. The old