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Afghanistan's Taliban rulers

Taliban soldiers
The Taliban rule a country wracked by years of conflict  

(CNN) -- The international community first became aware of the Taliban as a growing force in Afghanistan in the mid 1990s.

Emerging from the disparate bands of anti-communist Islamic militia known as the Mujahideen they rapidly took control of most of the country, including the capital Kabul, which was taken in September 1996.

At the outset the Taliban provided stability in a country wracked by decades of civil war and Soviet occupation.

Restoring peace and stamping out corruption were seen as major victories for the ruling militia.

However, the introduction of strict Islamic Sharia law bought the group massive international condemnation, especially for its suppression of women. Asia
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Despite the control of lawlessness and the outlawing of opium cultivation the Taliban have yet to achieve the international recognition they hunger for.

The exiled former President, Burhanuddin Rabanni, continues to hold Afghanistan's Afghan seat at the United Nations.

The Taliban militia are made up of ethnic Pashtun's -- the country second largest ethnic group and the one from whom they derive most support.

Resistance from rival groups continues, the most notable being from ethnic Tajiks under the leadership of warlord Ahmad Shad Masud in the northern Panjshir valley.

Under the Taliban's rigid interpretation of Sharia law women can neither work or attend school -- a regulation that has bought a flurry of condemnation from the international community.

Forms of entertainment are severely restricted and television banned outright.

Religious police

A wide range of crimes from theft to adultery are punishable by amputation, stoning or lashing to death, or public execution.

The Taliban's religious police are the most feared organization within the militia.

Their heavy-handedness has been blamed for forcing many international aid agencies to leave the country, depriving many desperately poor Afghans of their only source of subsistence.

Moreover the decision by the Taliban leadership to allow exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden to base himself in the country has attracted particular international attention -- not least from the United States, which accuses him of masterminding the bombing of two of it's African embassies.

In 1998 the U.S. launched cruise missile strikes on suspected terrorist training camps operated by bin Laden in the south of the country.

Later that year the U.N Security Council approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution imposing sanctions on the Taliban until it hands bin Laden over to face trial.

The sanctions show no sign of easing as long as the Taliban stick to their line that bin Laden is a guest in their country and will not take action against him.

At present, despite the fact that they control over 95 percent of the country, only three states recognize the Taliban's rule over Afghanistan -- Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Under Taliban rule the future for Afghanistan and its people is uncertain.

Foreign investment is almost non-existent, technical know-how and a trained work force is severely lacking and the country's infrastructure has been shattered by years of war.

Despite massive international media attention the UN-led sanctions have had little effect in weakening the militia's hold on the country or influencing its policies.

The Taliban have also not responded well to international pressure especially when it has challenged both their religion and national sovereignty.

The most pointed illustration of this came earlier this year when, despite a massive international outcry, the Taliban went ahead and demolished two ancient stone Buddhas carved into the cliffs above the central town of Bamiyan.

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