The Taliban: Who They Are and What They Do

The Taliban: Who They Are and What They Do

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In 2021, the Taliban is still alive and well and in control of large parts of Afghanistan.

The Taliban is a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan. The word “Taliban” means “students.” It was founded by students from the University of Afghanistan fighting against Soviet forces and their Afghan Marxist allies in the 1980s.

The group later turned to fight other Afghans, particularly in the most powerful rural areas, and have taken over some provinces near Kabul. They want to impose an extreme interpretation of Sharia law on society. In doing so, they have imposed harsh punishments for what they call moral crimes like adultery or possessing alcohol. They also want to create their own government under Shariah law, replacing secular democracy with a strict form of Islamic rule that excludes women’s rights and freedom of speech.

The Taliban’s background and roots

In Afghanistan, there are two types of students: the “city-students” (Taliban) and the “village-students” (Pashtunwali warriors). The difference between them is that city students study primary education in local schools or madrassas; then they continue their studies at high school. Village students never go to school; instead, they follow a long path of Islamic teaching by village mullahs.

One cannot separate Pashtunwali warriors from all kinds of people who have been fighting in Afghanistan since the 1970s… … with a variety of ideologies and aims. They can be divided into three groups:

1) Traditionalists,

2) Socialists, and

3) Militants

The first group was the “traditionalist Afghans,” who had roots in Sufism and the royal Afghan family. They were concentrated mostly in rural areas, particularly in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost provinces. This group came into being against a backdrop of difficult economic and political conditions; it is for this reason that they were influenced by religious movements such as Daawa (Islamic Call), Hizb-i Islami (Islamic Party), or Hezb-i Wahdat-i Islami (Islamic Unity Party). The main aim of traditionalists was to preserve village traditions, culture, and Islamic values. Traditionalist Afghans did not have a great deal of contact with Kabul while fighting against local governors (Khaliq and Parcham) between 1970-80.

The traditionalists welcomed the arrival of the Taliban in 1994, as they were confronting local officials corrupted by their power.

The second group was composed of Afghan intellectuals who were opposed to religion. They had been influenced by Communism; this is why they produced a lot of literature criticizing Islam. Most of them came from Kabul or towns that are close to it. People like Sayyed Abul Hassan Nuri, Malalai Kakar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Ismail Khan belong to this group. They became powerful after the Saur Revolt when thousands joined their Marxist mujahideen movement. After Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, they were defeated by the Taliban movement. …the militants

The third group is the “militants.” They took up arms against foreigners, including Soviet forces and then their Afghan Marxist allies. But after they achieved victory over them with the help of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, this group became more extreme… …why did rural areas oppose the government?

In 1992, thousands of mujahideen who had previously fought against Soviet forces started returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan. Many of them were being supported by Pakistani Generals under US pressure to stamp out Islamic fundamentalism. President Najibullah’s government was overthrown, and Ahmad Shah Massoud formed a new government, which the Taliban supported. However, Massoud’s government was fragile, and the Afghan people accepted his government because they were given few choices; still, he could not gain support outside Kabul. Villagers had already known that whatever previous governments might have claimed about fighting corruption, their own lives had remained the same as ever: poor and harsh. They did not want warlords to come into power again, so they welcomed the Taliban’s arrival in their areas… … funding of militants.

The United States could not justify openly supporting such fundamentalists with religious claims. Therefore US intelligence agencies started to channel money through Pakistan using Iran as a middleman country (the agreement between Iran and the USA). The US special representative in charge of Afghanistan at that time said: “We have to be concerned about the Taliban movement… …Taliban stance on education.

The Taliban’s attitude towards women embodied their general position against anything that smacked modernity. They dismissed co-education as un-Islamic, closed down girls’ schools, and denied permits for women to work or receive an education. They banned shaving of beards and clamped dowry payments. They were opposed to any representation in government for women — including elections– because there was no example in Islamic history of a woman becoming ruler –– because men would not listen to them. All forms of entertainment, such as music and television, were also banned by the Taliban regime… … how did they come into power?

… When Pakistani cities had already started to suffer from violence by the Taliban and their supporters, many Afghans who support other ideologies felt that they were being oppressed and driven out of Afghanistan. They decided to make a stand on behalf of Afghan society against the Taliban movement; this is what we call “the second struggle between the Taliban and traditionalists” during 1994-96. Extremist factions were defeated in most areas where such struggles broke out, but they killed many people and destroyed private property. This was one of the reasons for forming an armed opposition army under Ahmad Shah Massoud, which fought against both Islamic sects (Hezbe Wahdat) and other political parties.

What are Islamists?

The term ‘Islamist’ is used to describe those Muslims who want to restore Islam in its original form. They do not necessarily belong to one specific movement or group; they are usually individuals with different views and backgrounds… …what do Islamists want?

Islamist ideas play an important role in many Islamic countries’ political life and media, especially among urban-based groups, including students, journalists, writers, teachers, and professionals. Many Islamists advocate participation in politics and elections as a way forward for achieving their agenda… …how did the Taliban develop?

By 1994, at the end of three years of fighting between mujahideen factions over the Kabul government’s power, militias loyal to Sayyaf had taken control of large parts of western Afghanistan. The creation of the Islamic State of D was proclaimed in the same year, and its supporters announced that they wanted to impose “Islamic values.” In 1995, Sayyaf called for a meeting with all warlord factions in Kabul to reunite them under a single political organization. Still, the other groups against gaining power through force refused his proposal… …Taliban’s plan.

The Taliban planned to gain control over large parts of Afghanistan, where most of its population resided. They used two groups of people as shields: one group lived an easy life sitting at home while the other witnessed daily crimes by these factions. The Taliban believed that if they could persuade these two groups to join together and back their ideas, it would be easier for them to achieve their goal of occupying power. Therefore, they started to use violence against the government, foreign aid workers, and anyone who objected to their ideology… …Is Afghanistan under Islamic rule?

An Islamic movement is an intellectual current that was initiated over 100 years ago in Egypt. When this intellectual movement spread from Egypt to other countries, it was influenced by local conditions and gained popularity among different groups of people each time it arrived. In general, Islamists are usually tolerant of opposing views, but once they gain power, they try to impose their beliefs on others… …but how did the Taliban come into power?

Every day thousands of Afghan families leave their homeland and take refuge in neighboring countries or further afield. Many have been forced out by war and poverty; others are at threat because of their work with UN agencies or other international organizations, often being bombed or attacked by the Taliban. Thousands more are fleeing forced conscription into the Taliban’s army. Most refugees take a dangerous route through Pakistan to reach Iran or the borders of former Soviet Central Asian States… …what about the Islamic State of D?

Islamic State in Afghanistan was established during the jihad in Afghanistan, and it spread from Kandahar to other parts of Afghanistan. Still, it never gained popular support as the Taliban movement has done nowadays… To read more, click here: The author is Ghulam Mohammad Farhadani, a journalist and Member of the National Assembly (Afghanistan).


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