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Archive for Saturday, August 19, 2000

Afghanistan celebrates its independence

August 19, 2000

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— Reviving national celebrations after a gap of eight years, Taliban soldiers marched through the Afghan capital on Friday, displaying heavy artillery guns and tanks to mark the country's independence day.

Many of the Taliban soldiers who participated in the 5 mile march through Kabul wore the Afghan national army's green and brown uniform. The others were wearing Afghanistan's traditional dress of shalwar kamiz -- a long shirt and baggy trousers. The cash-strapped Taliban government is unable to afford uniforms and long boots for all its soldiers.

Afghanistan gained independence from Britain on Aug. 18, 1919. The day was celebrated with fervor until 1992, when U.S.-backed mujahedeen, or holy warriors, toppled the former Soviet Union-backed Communist regime. Since then, a protracted civil war among mujahedeen groups has prevented the celebrations.

But the Taliban, who captured Kabul in 1996 by ousting the government of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, revived the national remembrance.

"The march of soldiers and the sight of our old army uniform reminds me of good old days when Kabul had not been destroyed by the civil war," said Ghulam Mohammed, a middle-aged taxi driver.

Taliban leaders, U.N. officials and international aid groups watched the march along with thousands of Kabul residents who thronged the road. Russian-built fighter planes and helicopters roared in the sky, flying low over the crowd.

In his independence day message from the southern city of Kandahar, reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar called for peace. The Taliban rule more than 90 percent of Afghanistan and are fighting a northern-based opposition alliance on several fronts to capture the entire country.

Wracked by almost two decades of civil war, war-devastated Afghanistan is one of the poorest and most backward countries of the world. The Taliban follow a harsh version of Islam that bars women from work and education, forces men to wear beards and outlaws most entertainment, including music and television.

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