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The Taliban (طالبان, ṭālibān, which is Pashto for "students") are a politico-religious group of fundamentalist Sunni Muslims. It won its insurgency against the former government of Afghanistan along with its NATO and United States backers.
The Taliban rose to power after the dreadful Soviet-Afghanistan War, and many of its followers had been radicalized in Pakistani religious schools during and after the struggle. From 1996 to 2001, they ruled Afghanistan as an Islamist theocracy. Their regime's strict interpretation of Sharia led them to brutalize the people of Afghanistan, especially the women. The Taliban was responsible for massacres, deliberate starvation, and the destruction of villages and farmland.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Afghanistan War, the Taliban was cast out of power by the US-led coalition and their Afghani allies. The Taliban still claims to be the legitimate government of Afghanistan, although it is now considered a terrorist organization. It fought alongside Al-Qaeda.
Most analysts see Taliban doctrines as being closely related to those of the Muslim sect of Wahhabism.
The Taliban was created in the early 1990s by Afghan mujahideen, Islamist insurgents who had fought against the Soviet invasion of their country. The war left 1.5 million dead, leaving many of Afghanistan's children as orphans. These angry and bitter youths were sent to Saudi-financed religious schools in Pakistan to learn to fight in the spirit of jihad. An entire generation of Afghans were transformed into fertile stock for an Islamic terrorist group.
In its early days, the Taliban received covert support from Pakistan and the Central Intelligence Agency because clearly that brilliant plan was never going to backfire. In the ruins of postwar Afghanistan, the Taliban gained popular support by promising to bring peace and prosperity. After the collapse of the Soviet-backed communist government, Afghanistan formed a new government called the "Islamic State of Afghanistan" (not that one). The religiously fervent Taliban rose up against the new government, leading to a civil war that lasted between 1992 and 1996 and caused thousands of deaths. The Taliban, of course, won, and that leads into the rest of the story.
The Taliban's power and ideology also has a racial component. The Taliban is primarily comprised of and supported by the Pashtun ethnic group, who are generally ultraconservative and deeply tribalistic. Pashtuns consider themselves to be the rightful rulers of Afghanistan, as they are the largest ethnic group, but the Soviet war and the US invasion saw them struggle against foreigners and ethnic Tajiks (most notably among the US' allies on the ground, the Northern Alliance).
It's also worth noting that Bill Clinton's presidential administration supported the Taliban's victory in the civil war due to oil interests as well as the desire to contain the influence of Iran.
Life of Brian meets Der Untergang
Governing as the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", the Taliban's rule was relentlessly totalitarian. Their assumption of power was quickly followed by a slew of morality regulations in line with the strictest interpretations of Islamic law. These regulations range from the terrifying to the ridiculous.
Women suffered the most under the Taliban. They were not allowed to leave the house unless covered from head to toe under threat of punishment by the Taliban's religious police. Female patients were also only allowed to see a male physician if accompanied by a close male relative. These restrictions also extended to foreigners. The Taliban demanded that female humanitarian aid workers not be permitted to drive, as such a thing was "against Afghan tradition and has a negative impact on the society."
Men were also subjected to harsh lifestyle restrictions. They could be jailed for up to ten days by the religious police for trimming or cutting their beards, a "crime" which was easily detected because the Taliban regularly had its fighters patrol Afghanistan's cities and countryside. The Taliban also banned music, kite-flying, photographs, television, feeding pigeons, dancing, and "sorcery." It's the kind of thing that would almost be funny if it didn't happen in real life. The Taliban also required non-Muslims to wear yellow badges identifying them as such because it's not like that would raise any red flags.
In a fine example of the suffering which often follows from extremism, the ban on women working caused considerable hardship for many families as they lost a source of income, affecting especially those with only a female parent. Families often had no choice but to flee the country, beg their communities for support, or resort to prostitution. This was only worsened by the Taliban's complete neglect for social services.
In what was either a petulant snit fit at the international community's lack of support for their top-quality government, or boggle-eyed insecurity about another faith's ancient gods, the Taliban were also responsible for the total destruction of massive Sixth Century works of art representing the Buddha, carved into the mountains of the Bamyan Valley. It was an act of cultural genocide, or the deliberate destruction of a group's heritage. This event alone was enough to result in international solidarity of support when the U.S. offered to seek out and destroy the Taliban after 9/11, in retaliation for harboring Osama bin Laden.
Post US and NATO withdrawal
Following the withdrawal of western forces the Taliban rapidly retook control of the country.
The interim government leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan indicates that there will be no room for non-Taliban in the government, and that crackdowns on human rights will continue. The leadership includes members of the terrorist Haqqani network, including several cabinet members who are on the United Nations sanctions list.
- Taliban. Britannica.
- Who are the Taliban and how did they take control of Afghanistan so swiftly?, CNN, August 16, 2021
- The Taliban In Afghanistan. CBS News.
- Rashid, Ahmed (2002). Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia. I.B.Tauris. p. 253. ISBN 978-1-86064-830-4.
- The Taliban in Afghanistan. by Zachary Laub. Council on Foreign Relations.
- History of the Taliban. ThoughtCo.
- See the Wikipedia article on Islamic State of Afghanistan.
- See the Wikipedia article on Afghan Civil War (1992–1996).
- The Taliban and the Changing Nature of Pashtun Nationalism. National Interest.
- History of the Taliban. ThoughtCo.
- See the Wikipedia article on Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
- Taliban Rules, Decrees, Laws and Prohibitions. ThoughtCo.
- Taliban bars women aid drivers. CNN.
- Taliban religious police jail beard-trimmers for 10 days. Rawa News.
- Taliban Defends Plan for Labeling Non-Muslims. PBS.
- See the Wikipedia article on Buddhas of Bamiyan.
- See the Wikipedia article on Cultural genocide.
- Who leads Afghanistan’s new government? Here’s what we know about the Taliban’s top officials. by Rachel Pannett (September 8, 2021).