When you hear the word “Taliban” your mind probably immediately flashes to Osama bin Laden and former President Bush’s repetitious use of “Al-Qaeda” and the rhetoric of terror.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, resulted in a misconstrued connection between the Taliban with Al-Qaeda, separate groups with unique histories, ideologies, and strategies of operation. The public fear of this confusing enemy partially led to the support for the invasion of Afghanistan less than a month after the attacks.
The public had been told that the Taliban were protecting Osama bin Laden when in reality the Taliban had simply requested proof of his guilt prior to handing him over. After this, the air strikes began and the Afghan government worked to put a diplomatic end to it.
The Guardian reported that Afghanistan’s deputy prime minister, Haji Abdul Kabir, told reporters, “If the Taliban is given evidence that Osama bin Laden is involved” and the bombing campaign stopped, “we would be ready to hand him over to a third country”.
Needless to say, this did not happen and the Afghan Civil War made way for Operation Enduring Freedom.
So, who exactly are the Taliban (“Students of Islamic Knowledge Movement”)? Why were they formed? What do they want? This list looks at the good, the bad, and the ugly of some of the lesser known facts about the Taliban.
15. It Was Formed To Fight Soviet Forces
While not initially known as the Taliban, the militant group was formed in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. They emerged as a resistance movement with the aim of ridding Afghanistan of Soviet troops and influence in their country’s government. The Afghan Mujahideen, or Jihadist group, were financed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, who also feared Soviet power and imperialism.
According to The New York Times, with much of their military support coming from the United States, the Afghan Mujahideen were responsible for the deaths of approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers. It has also been reported that 2 million civilians lost their lives in this Cold War battle.
The Afghan government that was backed by the Soviet Union, led by President Sayid Mohammed Najibullah, was consequently overthrown, and it’s the chaos that ensued that ultimately gave the Taliban their power.
14. Their Rise To Power
Even though Soviet troops left Afghanistan in 1989, financial backing for the President continued for a couple of years. Contrastingly, the U.S. continued financing the Mujahideen.
The militant group ultimately seized power from President Sayid Mohammed Najibullah in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the internal breakdown of the Afghan government.
Now, this Jihadist group, the Mujahideen, had a traditional idea of Jihad, unlike the version the Taliban ascribe to today. Basically, the traditional idea is that whoever wins the battle of military prowess is the legitimate victor. The soldiers, being unpaid contributors, were and are entitled to rape and pillage, and steal, for the sake of getting a reward. This is exactly what took place after the Mujahideen overthrew their country’s government, which merely added to the chaos that had plagued the nation since the early part of the 1970s.
In an attempt to institute order, ISI helped to facilitate a transitional government of former Mujahideen commanders. But the commanders quickly began fighting for power and control and a civil war ensued. The Mujahideen became warlords, ruling different areas of the country, setting up checkpoints, killing innocent people passing through, and forcing people into slavery. Thousands of people were dying and by 1994, the group known as “the Taliban” emerged to dismantle the control and tyranny of the warlords.
The Taliban gained momentum when Pakistan chose them to guard a convoy trying to open a trade route from Pakistan to Central Asia. Pakistan provided the weapons, military training, and financial support, and the Taliban gained control over key Afghan cities including Kandahar in 1994 and Kabul in 1996.
13. Other Countries Validated the Legitimacy of the Taliban Regime
Support for the Taliban within Afghanistan was strong. Many Afghans were tired of the warring and anarchy and were happy to see the brutal warlords replaced with devote Taliban members.
The Taliban had some success in restoring a sense of order and allowing commerce to resume, but the civil war waged on and the conditions of in the cities actually worsened—access to food, clean water, and employment declined and refugees continued to flee to neighboring Pakistan.
In 1997, the Taliban issued an edict renaming Afghanistan the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This country was legitimized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, who officially recognized it.
CNN reported that in the same year, Mullah Omar, the Commander of the Faithful or the Supreme Leader of the Muslims/ head of the Taliban, forged a relationship with Osama bin Laden, who moved his Al Qaeda base of operations to Kandahar.
12. Sharia Law
Under the direction of Mullah Omar, the Taliban brought about the institution of a very strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Sharia law, or Islamic law, has been employed in many countries in the middle east and Asia. Governments including Saudi Arabia, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and northern Nigeria, have all tried to implement “Islamic” doctrine as law. The Guardian has reported that Sharia law includes employing Stone Age punishments for disobeying “God’s ‘boundaries’, such as death for apostasy and stoning for adultery.”
The Taliban even outlawed frivolous activities like kite-flying, and non-Islamic television and music. The Internet was banned and men were required to grow beards—if they didn’t comply, they would be subjected to severe beatings.
In the Malakand region of Pakistan, the Taliban forced non-Muslims of the Sikh community to pay 15m rupees, approximately £130,000, in tax to live in peace—if they didn’t, the Taliban would seize their land.
11. The Taliban’s Treatment of Women
When the Taliban took Kabul, their first move was to immediately forbid girls to go to school. Women were barred from working outside the home. This, of course, had dire consequences for the communities as health care and education underwent a crisis. A woman was not permitted to see a male doctor, so you do the math.
It became mandatory for women to wear full burkas and to leave the home under the watchful eye of a male relative, or mahram. If a woman was seen alone, she risked being beaten or shot by officers of the “ministry for the protection of virtue and prevention of vice.”
A ban was placed on women being seen on balconies and it was compulsory to paint windows so that women could not be seen from outside their homes.
Things as small as taking pictures of women, or wearing makeup or nail polish became punishable offenses. If a woman was caught with colorful nails, a reasonable punishment, according to the Taliban, was chopping off her fingertips.
10. Rule #19
After the worst mass shooting in American history at a Florida nightclub, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the hatred that inspired the event.
The massacre was said to be an Islamic terrorist attack, carried out by Omar Mateen. But in a recent document that outlines the rules for members of the Islamic fundamentalist group, the Taliban, rule number nineteen sheds a rather hypocritical light on the notion that Islamic extremism is anti-homosexuality per se.
Rule number nineteen instructs Taliban fighters that they must not take young boys without facial hair to their private quarters. The rule insinuates that the molestation of young boys is a problem that they must set precedents against. Additionally, one is left wondering what acts the young men with facial hair will be forced to engage in.
In a society that functions based on gender apartheid and fear of female sexuality, homosexual behavior is perpetuated. John Racy, a psychiatrist with much experience in Arab societies notes that homosexuality is “extremely common” in many parts of the Arab world. The practice is officially prohibited and is punishable by imprisonment and/or death, but in practice, having sex with boys and effeminate men is actually a social norm—males function as substitutes in a culture where women are unavailable.
These interpretations are supported by Amnesty International reports that document sexual violence towards young boys by warlords.
9. Honour Killing
Honor killings, or shame killings, are the murder of a family member by another member of the family. The homicide is carried out with the belief that the victim has brought shame and dishonor upon themselves and the family by violating the principles of religion—like having sex outside of marriage or being the victim of rape.
The underlying value of honor killings is that men are the moral and intellectual superiors to women and are thus trusted to carry out the noble responsibility.
Both Sharia law and civil law condemn violence against women, but local customs have been legitimized, largely due to the role of the Taliban, and honor killings are quite prevalent. In 2012, Afghanistan recorded 240 honor killings. Of these murders, 21% were committed by the victims’ husbands, 7% by their brothers, 4% by their fathers, and the rest by other relatives.
Between 2011 and 2013, approximately 400 cases of rape and honor killings have been reported to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The total number, however, is believed to be much higher.
In 2017, a recent report revealed a couple was slain in an honor killing for eloping. They were being held at a police station for committing “immoral acts”. “The woman’s family believed she had damaged their honor. Together with armed villagers they attacked the police station, took the girl and boy outside and shot them in front of the public,” provincial governor Hafiz Abdul Qayyum told AFP.
8. Domestic Violence
Back in 2014, Afghanistan’s Parliament attempted to pass a new law that would prohibit the questioning of relatives of an accused perpetrator of a crime, effectively eliminating victim testimony in cases of domestic violence. The proposed change would have prohibited the testimony of husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, extended family including uncles and aunts and descendants of all of those relatives up to the second generation. Doctors and psychiatrists would also be added to the list.
Luckily, President Hamid Karzai, did not allow the law to pass, a move that was commended by Amnesty International.
But the law speaks to the reality faced by Afghan women. Global Rights found that 87% of Afghan women will experience some form of violence in their lifetime; and 62% experience multiple forms of violence, including forced marriage and sexual violence. Women for Afghan Women (WAW) states that over 90% of the nearly 10,000 women and girls they have served since 2007 have been victims of domestic violence.
A film on the subject of female suicide in Afghanistan has shed considerable light on the issue of domestic violence. Producers of Dark Flowers — The Story of Self-Immolation in Afghanistan state that more than 100 women in Afghanistan attempt suicide every year by setting themselves on fire, usually after suffering years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of their husbands and in-laws.
7. Public Mutilations and Executions
The death penalty is alive and well in Afghanistan. Even after the Taliban lost control over the government in 2001, death by hanging or firing squad can be employed against those who have committed crimes such as murder, the abandonment of the tenants of Islam, terrorism, rape, drug trafficking, and adultery. It can also be used under military law against those found guilty of treason or desertion.
But the Taliban employed the public displays of violence for crimes far more reaching, and the executions by stoning or firing squad were carried out in public arenas.
Floggings, amputations, and murders were held in the streets and in stadiums. A well-known case of a woman named Bibi Aisha made headlines after the girl fled the violence she was suffering under baad—a tribal method of solving disputes. When the Taliban found her, the commander ordered her punished as an example, “lest other girls in the village try to do the same thing”. Her ears and nose were hacked off and she was left for dead, but luckily survived.
In another instance, a mother of seven was executed for murder in front of 30,000 spectators who lined Kabul’s Ghazi Sports Stadium. She had been imprisoned and tortured for three years and never stated her innocence as a way to protect her daughter, the reported actual culprit.
The Taliban have continued to employ public executions as a way to instill fear. In 2016, Afghan people publically condemned the Taliban’s hanging of a Kabul Polytechnic University student.
According to a statement by the Taliban, the student, Faizul Rehman, was hanged after he admitted to his role in the killing of Dr. Mirwais, who had led Taliban intelligence operations in the area. The statement was cited by the pro-Taliban Nunn Asia website, but those that knew the student maintained his absolute innocence.
6. The Cultivation of Opium
Since 1992, Afghanistan has emerged on the world scene as a huge producer of opium. Opium is the dried latex collected from the poppy. This latex contains analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is chemically processed to produce heroin and other opioids for both medicinal use and illegal trafficking. It is said that Afghanistan’s poppy production goes into more than 90% of heroin worldwide.
At the beginning of the Taliban’s rule, many speculate that they profited hugely from the vast sums of money found in growing and smuggling the substance. In 2000, Mullah Omar collaborated with the United Nations in an attempt to eradicate heroin production in Afghanistan. The Mullah ran one of the most successful anti-drug campaigns ever, citing its production and usage as anti-Islamic. According to the International Journal of Drug Policy, there was a 99% reduction in opium poppy farming. Of course, the Afghan farmers took the brunt of this economic blow.
The Taliban were ousted in 2001. Since that time, opium production has regained its popularity and the growing seasons between 2004 to 2007 each resulted in greater production than in any one year during the Taliban’s official rule. The group’s remaining foothold in the region, however, may be financed by this increased production.
5. The Taliban Abused Any Culture Outside of Islam
Obviously, any group that imposes Sharia law is only interested in a narrow segment of the world’s cultures. The Taliban took issue with not only the cultural influence of the West but also had strict penalties for dealing with moderate Muslims and those outside of the Sunni fundamentalist sect.
Afghanistan is a culturally diverse country, which complicates its rulership by one specific ethnic and religious group. That being said, the Taliban took every conceivable measure to eliminate the influence of outside cultures.
In March 2001, the Taliban were harshly criticized for destroying the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan. The two 6th century monuments were blown to bits with dynamite to eradicate discourses and religious beliefs outside of Islam. The statues were huge and blowing them up was a task that had people suspended from ropes for days to lay the dynamite. The incident drew international attention and resulted in outrage against the Taliban who had already destroyed many of the relics housed in the national museum.
4. Negotiating with Terrorists
If you’re like me, you thought the United States refused to negotiate with terrorists. Well, this doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to the Taliban. In 2014, the U.S. negotiated the release of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. The detainees were transferred to Qatar, which agreed to monitor them and not let them travel.
Obama’s decision to engage in the negotiations has sparked huge controversy. In 2015, it was ordered that Bergdahl be prosecuted in a general court-martial for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy that endangered fellow soldiers. Bergdahl and his legal team moved to have him pardoned before Obama left the White House but to no avail. The new President-elect spoke of the officer on the campaign trail a reported 40 times, calling him a “dirty, rotten traitor” and pantomiming shooting him. Clearly, there is much concern over whether or not the Sergeant will be able to receive a fair trial and the case has begun its pretrial, presumably highlighting these charged statements made by President Trump.
3. The Resurgence of Their Popularity
Many believed the U.S. when they said that the Taliban had been overthrown back in 2001, but that’s not exactly the whole picture. In December of 2001, Hamid Karzai, an Afghan tribal leader, was sworn in as interim chairman of the government. Karzai had initially supported the Taliban as such was respected by former Taliban leaders, who recognized the interim government.
When the U.S. moved its focus to Iraq, many former Taliban members returned to their homes to continue working for the Taliban’s goals. By 2003, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were beginning to regroup and the interim government of Afghanistan was in a shaky position.
In 2004, the Taliban threatened to kill anyone who participated in the democratic vote, but tens of millions of Afghans took to the polls in spite of them.
Throughout the following years, the Taliban continued its resurgence, and 2006 was the deadliest year since the war of 2001. Military operations were launched against the group, but by September 2006, Pakistan signed a peace agreement with seven militant groups who call themselves the “Pakistan Taliban.”
To make a long story short, the fighting has continued and the Taliban continued its attacks on government targets and U.S. and NATO troops into 2013. By the end of that year, an important victory was won over the Taliban when Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, was assassinated. New leaders have been appointed and the group reached out to the newly elected President Donald Trump in 2017 with an open letter calling on him to remove forces from Afghanistan.
2. The Taliban’s Widespread Support Systems
While many countries have been responsible for the success of the Taliban over the years, none have been more influential than Pakistan. Human Rights Watch released the following statement in 2000:
Of all the foreign powers involved in efforts to sustain and manipulate the ongoing fighting [in Afghanistan], Pakistan is distinguished both by the sweep of its objectives and the scale of its efforts, which include soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban’s virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and … directly providing combat support.
Pakistan was largely responsible for the Taliban’s rise to power and served as a safe haven for many of its members during the U.S. invasion in 2001, but why keep supporting them once they become a security risk? WikiLeaks has increased our understanding of Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban, that includes contact between the militant group and high-ranking government officials, but it also shows that Pakistan is playing its own odds. First, it views India as its major threat, not Afghanistan. Second, it doesn’t believe the U.S. will successfully implement long-term change. And lastly, business interests, not just political ones help drive the relationship.
1. Continued Reign of Terror
The continued role of the Taliban in Pakistan has had particularly deadly consequences for the country. In an attempt to show that they are still relevant and demonstrate their prowess against the Pakistani army, The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has committed monstrosities beyond compare.
The militant group, who wants to overthrow the government of Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the killings of 132 schoolchildren. The students attended a military-run school in Peshawar and became the targets of the Taliban, who claimed they were looking for revenge for a military assault launch in June 2014 in North Waziristan.
Taliban commander Jihad YarWazir elaborated in an interview with The Daily Beast, that the attack was “perfect revenge” against the children’s parents since many of the victims were the children of military personnel, whom the Taliban blamed for the “the massive killing of our kids and indiscriminate bombing in North and South Waziristan.”
Many speculated that the attack was an attempt to show that the Taliban remained powerful after being weakened by drone attacks. Whatever their motivation, the blood-thirsty nature of these “psychopathic” militants was clearly displayed.