Video: Afghanistan violence

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/18/2006 8:27:07 PM ET 2006-05-19T00:27:07

Four years after its defeat, the Taliban struck hard across Afghanistan in attacks including a car bombing that killed an American contractor — one of 105 people who died in Thursday's clashes.

The Taliban's comeback is not only on the battlefield, but, increasingly, in the hearts and minds of Afghans. Why?

Analysts say the democratic values embodied by Afghan President Hamid Karzai haven't caught on.

"In a lot of parts of the country, nothing really has changed from a few years ago," says Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

Poverty here is still inescapable. So is religious intolerance. It shocked the West in March when Afghans called for the death of Abdul Rahman, a Muslim who dared convert to Christianity. In the end, Italy granted him asylum. That angered fiery clerics who said Rahman should be beheaded. Many Afghans agree.

"Freedom of religious may apply to other religions, but not to Islam," says one Afghan man.

It's why the 2,000 to 3,000 Afghan Christians, like Sahar — not his real name — worship in cellars, always fearing the knock on the door might be the police.

"Democracy is just talk here," he says. "There is no freedom. The Islamic extremists control the government."

Despite some $12 billion in aid and the loss of more than 220 U.S. soldiers, many Afghan men in the street want the Taliban back.

Increasingly, the Taliban is seen here as a protector of Islamic values against the invasion of Western ways.

Kabul is now dotted with luxury hotels and malls, and Afghans say they like their higher salaries, but not the crime and prostitution that are also on the rise.

"We need the Taliban," one Afghan man says. "Otherwise Westerners and foreigners will corrupt our religion."

Some Afghans are enjoying a new prosperity, but amid signs of a resurgent Taliban, that wasn't supposed to happen.

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