By Mark Wilkinson,
PA News

The hardline Taliban, hailed as liberators after the endless Afghanistan civil war, have taken the country back to the Dark Ages.

There is little to bomb in Afghanistan that has not already been destroyed, aid workers have warned.

There is little electricity, no money, no television and no music. Illiteracy is rife and the road system is virtually non-existent. About a quarter of the nation's 23 million inhabitants are on the verge of starvation.

UN aid worker Tahir Mohammed, 31, said: "It is a brutal place. One of the Taliban leaders said there was nothing in Afghanistan worth the price of a single American missile and he was right.

"The only thing that will be damaged by a bombing campaign will be the innocent Afghan people."

The fundamentalists who now rule Afghanistan have cut the country off from the outside world and banned anything they view as un-Islamic.

Men must grow beards and women must wear a veil at all times or face a lashing.

So-called criminals face being shot in the back of the head in Kabul's football stadiums. Thieves have their hands cut off. Women can be stoned to death for adultery.

Girls are forbidden to attend school and the only jobs available to women are in the country's health sector.

Hindus, who make up just 1% of the country's population, must wear a yellow badge on their clothing.

Dominic Nutt, an emergency worker for Christian Aid, said for most people life was desperate.

"Ten years of Soviet occupation and four years of drought have crippled Afghanistan.

"Millions of people are reliant on handouts from charity organisations for their survival.

"Now that Western aid workers have moved out and the borders have shut, preventing the Afghan people from fleeing, I fear the death toll will soar - and that is before a single bomb has been dropped on the country."

Mr Nutt, who returned from Afghanistan on the day of the atrocities in New York and Washington, said the vast majority of Afghans lived in villages in the countryside and would have no idea of last week's events.

"The first most people will know of any problems is when the missiles start hitting their homes.

"Their main goal is survival. People in the cities will know more about what is going on and they will be just as desperately upset as the rest of the world.

"The Taliban has imposed an almost-medieval society. People in the villages are not fanatics but it is these people who I fear will suffer most."

He said the vast majority of Afghan people were friendly and regarded Western visitors as their guests.

"I went to one of the mountain villages which was in the grip of the drought and met two boys whose parents had been killed by cholera.

"I was so moved by their generosity. They walked five miles across mountainous terrain to fetch me some water for a drink of green tea."

It is reckoned that 85% of people in Afghanistan earn a living from the land.

But four years of drought have driven many across the borders or to the refugee camps near the country's major cities.

Mr Nutt said: "Malnutrition and disease are rife in the camps. At one camp, whose name in the local language means `slaughter', it was estimated 40 children a day were dying.

"Before at least some food was getting through to these camps, but with the closure of the borders and the threat of air strikes, this food is now drying up.

"The winter snows will be with us in November and we were hoping to stockpile food before then - that won't now happen."

Life in the major cities, like the capital, Kabul, or Kandahar, is not easy.

The buildings bear the scars of two decades of strife and the few vehicles make their way slowly along the potholed streets, which are patrolled by Taliban soldiers armed with Kalashnikov machine guns.

Children in the countryside are almost all illiterate. Boys in the cities receive some education, being taught hardline Islamic fundamentalism, while girls are virtually forced to remain behind doors.

Mr Nutt added: "Women have to wear full veils, with a grid across their faces to hide their eyes. The situation in the villages is not as strict for women, but even so they are encouraged to remain out of sight.

"Women can technically work as nurses but it is far from easy. They are not being educated any more so that will be an avenue closed to them in the future.

"A country without education is storing up even more trouble for itself. To develop an economy you need children being educated now so you can reap the benefits in the future.

"Life was already intolerable. War will make the situation a thousand times worse."

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