For generations, the Taliban has returned and taken over the entire country. They have been a part of Kandahar’s ‘Quran Belt,’ literally meaning “students of Islam’ or seekers of knowledge.’ They were educators, conflict mediators, and bereavement counselors. They would also study in madrasas and rely on charitable donations to survive. They may become mullahs or knowledge givers after completing their education. In the absence of a state, this provided a type of Islamic civil service.
The Saur Revolution, which started a Marxist campaign against religious leaders, gave the Soviet Union and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan power in 1978. In the meantime, the Iranian Revolution was spreading militant Islamism from the country next door through underground networks.
Its supporters began spreading their views across the desert, particularly in the easily accessible city of Herat, which, like Iran, had a large Shia Muslim population. Despite this, the communist authorities continued to oppose traditional and Islamic traditions. The Herat rebellion started in March 1979 after it was said that girls had to learn to read and write. As a result, a rebellion erupted in the western countryside.
The mujahideen eventually launched a bigger uprising. After the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan in 1979, Islamic rebels called mujahideen fought against the Soviets. Soon after, the Central Intelligence Agency began supporting the insurgency in Pakistan.
Even though there is no official proof that the CIA directly helped the Taliban or Al Qaeda, it has been said that the CIA indirectly gave military support to the Taliban because in the 1980s, the CIA and the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency) gave weapons to Afghans fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the ISI helped gather racial intelligence.
In Afghanistan, Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq pursued a religious and political agenda. Zia said that political Islam should be supported because religion and ideology were the country’s main sources of power. He saw jihad as a political tool as well. All CIA support for the mujahideen must flow through Pakistani hands, according to Zia. The Inter-Services Intelligence oversaw Pakistani backing for them.
Pakistan’s ISI has a lot of clouts.
Zia and ISI head Akhtar Abdur Rahman encouraged the building of madrassas, which are Islamic religious schools, along the border to teach young Afghans. In Pakistan, the number of madrassas went from 900 in 1971 to almost 33,000 in 1988. Many of these were supported by donors from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab governments.
Many prominent Taliban officials in Afghanistan, including Mullah Omar, were intimately affiliated with and had attended the Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary in Akora Khattak, Pakistan, and recognized its importance in Taliban support. Maulana Sami-ul-Haq of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, known as the “Father of the Taliban,” was in charge of the seminary.
During the political void that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, mujahideen groups that were at war tore the country apart. “Afghanistan will be turned into a center for terrorism,” President Mohammad Najibullah threatened. Pakistani intelligence, which first helped Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s forces, had direct control over former Afghan military officers. However, when Ahmad Shah Massoud took Kabul in 1992, he failed. The new head of the ISI, Javed Nasir, was Pakistan’s most religious intelligence chief in a generation.
He was also a strong supporter of Islamic values.  Benazir Bhutto wants to improve Pakistan’s economy through overland trade in Central Asia as Prime Minister. Nasrullah Babar, who was her minister of the interior, was a Pashtun who helped train Afghan guerrillas in the 1970s. He advocated for the use of Pashtunistan to get access to Central Asian markets.
In October 1994, Babar set up a test shipment of Pakistani goods to be sent to Turkmenistan. When the convoy got to the Pakistani border, the Taliban had just started to do business in the area. By creating a Kandahari student movement that didn’t exist before, the ISI took the chance to gain power in the province. In the 1990s, they kept helping the Taliban as Pakistani allies in their plan to take over Afghanistan.
Kandahar was once the center of Pashtun power and culture and one of the most important places in the country, but by 1994, it was in a mess. Hekmatyar’s army, trucking mafias, and local warlords like Mullah Naqib had bases all over the city, and there were hundreds of roadblocks on the main roads and a lot of sexual and violent crime. The Taliban’s ascendancy was thereafter characterized as establishing Islamic order in the face of crime and disarray. This linked popular Islamic principles to the restoration of the Durrani Pashtuns’ glory. This happened in Kandahar when affluent Pashtun chiefs were looking for a single cause.
The Taliban’s first major military operation was in October–November 1994, when they marched from Maiwand in southern Afghanistan to Kandahar City and the neighbouring regions, losing only a few dozen fighters in the process.
After taking a border crossing and a large ammunition stockpile from warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, they released “a convoy intending to build a trade route from Pakistan to Central Asia” from another group of warlords attempting to extort money a few weeks later. In the following three months, this hitherto “unknown force” seized control of twelve of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, with Mujahideen warlords frequently resigning without a fight and the “heavily armed population” handing over their guns. They had taken Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, by September 1996.
The Taliban were mostly ethnic Pashtuns, mostly Durrani Pashtuns, and were based in Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan provinces. Afghans were initially sympathetic to the Taliban, who were tired of Mujahideen warlords’ greed, violence, and ceaseless combat. According to one storey, the rape and murder of boys and girls from a family heading to Kandahar by Mujahideen bandits, or a similar outrage, prompted Mohammed Omar (Mullah Omar) and his followers to swear to rid Afghanistan of these criminals. [
Another rationale was that the “Afghanistan Transit Trade,” a Pakistan-based truck shipping syndicate, and its Pakistani government collaborators had trained, armed, and supported the Taliban in order to clear the southern road across Afghanistan to the Central Asian Republics of extortionate bandit gangs.
Accusations of a link to the United States
At the time, Robin Raphel was the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. He was a strong backer of early efforts to talk with the Taliban. On trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in April and August 1996, she also supported a pipeline project managed by Unocal and backed by the Taliban. She was one of the first high-level American diplomats to talk personally with Taliban leaders. Raphael urged the international community to intervene as soon as the Taliban took control of Kabul. She praised their “good start” in capturing Kabul in September 1996. In the Indian press, she was dubbed “Lady Taliban” for her unwavering support for the Taliban since its inception.
Sharia law was interpreted by the Taliban regime to prohibit a wide range of previously legal activities in Afghanistan, including women’s employment, education, and sports, as well as movies, television, videos, music, dancing, hanging pictures in homes, clapping during sporting events, kite flying, and beard trimming. The Taliban issued a list of prohibitions that included the following:
Pork, Pig, pig oil, anything made of human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography, and equipment that produces the joy of music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, television, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogues, pictures, and Christmas cards
A beard that was longer than a fist clenched at the base of the chin was necessary for men. On the other hand, they were required to keep their hair short. Men were also compelled to cover their heads. Possession of drawings, paintings, pictures, stuffed animals, and dolls depicting living beings was prohibited. Amputation of a hand, rape and public execution were all used as punishments for theft. Adulterers who were married were stoned to death. Punishments were administered in front of large crowds in Kabul’s former soccer stadium.
The Taliban’s restrictions were particularly harsh on women. They were forbidden from working, wearing “stimulating and attractive” clothing, such as the “Iranian chador,” which was deemed insufficiently complete in its covering, taking a taxi without a “close male relative” (mahram), washing their clothes in streams, and having their measurements taken by tailors.
Because male medical staff were not allowed to examine women, women’s employment was limited to the medical field. Because practically all of the teachers were women, the Taliban’s restriction on women’s work resulted in the closure of many primary schools, not only for girls but also for boys, in areas like Kabul. Women were also barred from attending co-educational schools, preventing the great majority of Afghan young women and girls from acquiring even primary education.
Women were forced to wear the burqa, traditional clothing that covers the entire body but allows the wearer to see through a small screen on the face. Following the Taliban’s takeover of the capital, the restrictions grew much tighter. In February 1998, religious police took all women off the streets of Kabul. They also put out new rules that said “households should cover their windows so that women can’t be seen from the outside.” Home schools for girls, which had previously been permitted, are now prohibited. The Taliban banned all women from attending general hospitals in June 1998, leaving only one all-women hospital in Kabul. There were numerous instances of Taliban beatings of Muslim women who disobeyed the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law.
The Taliban ordered the demolition of two Buddha sculptures carved into cliffsides at Bamiyan in March 2001, one measuring 38 meters (125 feet) tall and carved in 507 CE, and the other measuring 53 meters (174 feet) tall and carved in 554 CE. UNESCO and several countries around the world denounced the incident.
Music was prohibited, and movie theaters were closed. Hundreds of polytheistic cultural items were also burned, including a major museum and many private art collections.
The “General Presidency of Amr Bil Maruf and Nahi Anil Munkar” (or Religious Police) issued a decree in December 1996 banning a variety of things and activities, including music, shaving beards, keeping pigeons, flying kites, displaying pictures or portraits, western hairstyles, music and dancing at weddings, gambling, “sorcery,” and not wearing western clothing. The Taliban destroyed realistic works of art at the National Museum of Afghanistan using sledgehammers in February 2001.
Prohibitions did not apply to local celebrations. “For a period, they also prohibited [Ashura], the Shia Islamic month of mourning, and even restricted any sign of festivity at Eid,” according to the Taliban. If women were present, no cultural events were permitted for the Afghans. It would be permissible if only men attended the celebration, as long as it finished by 7:00 p.m., a fixed hour.
Certain Taliban leaders were sceptical of the idea of no entertainment, but they also wanted it to adhere to many Islamic rules.
Genocide and persecution of ethnic minorities
The biggest attack on civilians occurred in the summer of 1998 when the Taliban swept north from Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif, the largest city in the north, which is largely Hazara and Uzbek. The Taliban drove their pickup trucks “up and down the narrow streets of Mazar-i-Sharif shooting to the left and right and killing everything that moved — shop owners, cart pullers, women and children shoppers, and even goats and donkeys” for the next two days after entering at 10 a.m. on August 8, 1998.
In Mazar-i-Sharif and later in Bamyan, around 8000 noncombatants were reported slain. Despite the fact that Islam requires quick burial, the Taliban banned anybody from burying the bodies for the first six days, allowing them to fester in the summer heat and be eaten by dogs. In addition to this indiscriminate carnage, when in possession of Mazar-i-Sharif, the Taliban targeted and massacred members of the Hazara ethnic minority, which is predominantly Shia.
While several factors may have contributed to the slaughter – ethnic differences, suspicion of Shia Hazara loyalty to their Iranian co-religionists, outrage over the loss of life in an earlier unsuccessful Taliban takeover of Mazar – the Sunni Taliban’s takfir (accusation of apostasy) of the Shia Hazaras may have been the primary motivation, as apostasy in Islam is punishable by death. Mullah Niazi, the attack’s commander and the governor of Mazar afterwards, stated it in a statement from Mazar’s central mosque:
You rebelled against us and assassinated us last year. You fired at us from all of your dwellings. We’ve arrived to deal with you. We now have to kill Hazaras because they are not Muslims. Either accept Islam or you leave Afghanistan. We’ll track you down no matter where you go. We’ll pull you down by your feet if you go up; if you hide below, we’ll pull you up by your hair.
Hazara also faced a Taliban siege on their Hazarajat homeland in central Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban’s unwillingness to allow the UN to provide food to Hazara in Bamiyan, Ghor, Wardak, and Ghazni provinces.
Taliban pushed through Hazar defences and took over Hazarajat a month after the Mazar massacre. Although the number of civilians slain was not as high as in Mazar, it nevertheless happened.
According to testimony given before their Combatant Status Review Tribunals by Guantanamo detainees, the Taliban not only forced men to serve as combatants but also conscripted men to work in its civil service.
Invasion and insurgency by the United States
The Taliban was destroyed after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and many Taliban fighters deserted the cause or sought refuge in Pakistani sanctuaries. High Taliban officials declared in May and June 2003 that the Taliban had regrouped and were ready to wage a guerrilla battle to drive US soldiers out of Afghanistan. Taliban leaders like Dadullah were assigned five operational zones by Omar. Dadullah was appointed governor of Zabul province.
Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s then-hidden leader, declared an uprising against “America and its puppets” (transitional Afghan government forces) in late 2004 to “regain the sovereignty of our country.” In 2006, the Taliban began a re-escalation of the insurgency campaign after several years of regrouping.
Taking back control
The US and the Taliban signed a peace accord in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020, formally dubbed the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan. The agreement calls for the removal of all US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, as well as a Taliban vow to prevent al-Qaeda from functioning in regions controlled by the Taliban and discussions between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The US committed to reducing its force from 13,000 to 8,600 troops by July 2020, followed by a full pullout within 14 months if the Taliban meets its promises. China, Russia, and Pakistan were all in favour of the deal, which did not include the Afghan government. As part of the Doha Agreement between the US and the Taliban, the Afghan government freed approximately 5,000 Taliban inmates in September 2020, including 400 who were accused and convicted of grave offences such as murder. Many of the released “experts” returned to the battlefield, strengthening the Taliban’s power, according to Afghanistan’s National Security Council.
Both the Pentagon and Afghan authorities believed in continued US support for Kabul in early 2021. President Biden, on the other hand, echoed President Trump’s determination to wean the US from an interminable foreign conflict, even as Afghan leadership remained to rely on US men and support. In April 2021, the Biden administration announced that the withdrawal will be extended beyond the original deadline, with a projected completion date of September 11, 2021. Biden announced on July 8 that the US exit deadline would be pushed up to August 31. On May 1, 2021, the Taliban and affiliated militant organisations launched a massive onslaught, coinciding with the withdrawal of most US soldiers from Afghanistan.
Flying in the face of dire warnings that the agreement “will not only not be honoured by the Taliban, it will also not bring peace”. An instrument of American surrender was packaged as a withdrawal agreement. But even more ominously, it had bound the Afghan government to terms and timeframe of a shoddy deal that it had had no say in.
The Taliban, on its part, had no reason to conclude the peace negotiations with the Afghan government, and predictably pressed ahead with its charge to seize it all by force. While the Taliban’s stealth and speed were surprising, its strategy was not unexpected. Instead of going for Kabul’s jugular, it went for its rump and flanks first. Fighting, terrorising, buying off, and coopting its opponents, the Taliban ensured that it first contains the country’s north and west, which had denied its 1990s emirate a sway over all of Afghanistan. This also served to stricture Kabul’s potential supply lines from the country’s north and potentially from Central Asian Republics.
But the US embrace of the Taliban had also signalled to the erstwhile anti-Taliban Northern Alliance’s regional backers that the US is about to leave its Kabul allies in a lurch. Weary of the Taliban but keen to see the US leave Afghanistan completely humiliated, powers like Russia and Iran cozied up to the Taliban and became indifferent to the Kabul government, and the anti-Taliban warlords whom they had previously backed.
President Biden has no regrets over his withdrawal decision, just as Afghanistan unravelled. But there sure will be costs in terms of America’s prestige as a superpower to deliver on both its promises and warnings as well as its reliability as an ally. Biden’s abandonment of Afghanistan would be taken as a betrayal by the allies but also seen as the lack of America’s capacity and will to stay as a superpower in prolonged conflicts, especially with the transnational jihadism and its patrons.
The Pakistan army, which had essentially sired the Taliban and helped it regroup after the latter’s 2001 defeat, had, for example, bet on the American fickleness. The jihadists invoke the US exit from Lebanon after the Beirut barracks attack to claim that “the Americans will not stay the course”. Along with that heinous bombing, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the dastardly 9/11 terror attack, the fall of Kabul will certainly become another red-letter day on the world jihadist calendar.
The Taliban’s relative restraint in Kabul notwithstanding, the return of the Taliban’s brutal medieval emirate would inevitably turn Afghanistan into an ungoverned wasteland ready to receive more transnational jihadists and also embolden their cohorts elsewhere. The Taliban has already freed tens of thousands of prisoners, including al-Qaeda, Daesh, and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan operatives, from the government prisons. What their return to the terror world could entail, is anybody’s guess.
Afghanistan has descended into abject chaos, which could have been averted. The ousted Kabul government was responsible and accountable for its dysfunction, corruption, and micromanagement, the Afghan political leadership was responsible for its paralyzing ethnolinguistic bickering, and the ANDSF was responsible for its failures. But as the sole superpower directly involved in the Afghan conflict and as the senior partner in the alliance with the Afghan government over which it exercised a near-colonial control, the Biden administration is answerable to the American people whom it represents, the Afghans whose fate it is has sealed, and the democratic world it seeks to lead.
Bidens Biggest Folly and Mismanagement
Whatever else might be the consequences of the US debacle, Biden has virtually thrown Afghans to the wolves. The mass internal displacement of Afghans, mostly women and children from the provincial regions captured by the Taliban, and run on the banks and Kabul airport speaks volumes about what they fear lies in store for them. A humanitarian catastrophe of the Hindukush proportions looms in the land that has gone from disaster to disaster, generation after generation. In Biden’s mind, he may have ended America’s endless war, but for Afghans, the mayhem, misery, and migrations have just started. The buck for the blood-soaked blunder and betrayal in Afghanistan and its inevitably disastrous fallout stops at President Biden’s desk.
Despite dire warnings that the pact “would not only not be honoured by the Taliban, but will also not bring peace,” the accord was signed. As a withdrawal agreement, a document of American surrender was packaged. Worse, it had tied the Afghan government to the terms and timelines of a substandard pact over which it had had no say.
The Taliban, on the other hand, saw no reason to end the peace talks with the Afghan government and proceeded with its plan to conquer the country by force. While the Taliban’s secrecy and quickness were unexpected, their approach was not. It attacked Kabul’s rump and flanks first, rather than its jugular. The Taliban guaranteed that it first contained the country’s north and west, which had denied its 1990s emirate authority over the entire country, by fighting, terrorizing, buying off, and coopting its opponents. This also stifled Kabul’s prospective supply lines from the country’s north, as well as from Central Asian republics.
However, the US acceptance of the Taliban has signaled to the regional sponsors of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance that the US is poised to abandon its Kabul partners. Weary of the Taliban but eager to see the US humiliated in Afghanistan, Russia, and Iran allied with the Taliban and became unconcerned about the Kabul government and anti-Taliban warlords they had previously supported.
President Biden had no remorse about pulling out of Afghanistan just as the country was falling apart. However, there will be a price to pay in terms of America’s reputation as a powerhouse if it fails to deliver on both its promises and warnings, as well as its ally’s dependability. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan would be perceived as a betrayal by the allies, but it would also demonstrate America’s inability and unwillingness to remain a superpower in long-term battles, particularly with transnational jihadism and its backers.
For example, the Pakistan army, which had effectively bred the Taliban and assisted them in regrouping after their loss in 2001, had gambled on American inconstancy. The jihadists argue that “the Americans will not stay the course” because of the US withdrawal from Lebanon following the Beirut barracks attack. The fall of Kabul will become another important date for jihadists around the world, just like the bombing, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the 9/11 terror attacks. Despite the Taliban’s relative restraint in Kabul, the Taliban’s ruthless medieval emirate’s return will inevitably turn Afghanistan into an ungoverned wasteland, ready to welcome more transnational jihadists and strengthen their allies elsewhere. The Taliban have already let out of government jails tens of thousands of people, including members of al-Qaeda, Daesh, and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Nobody knows what their return to the terror world will bring.
Afghanistan has fallen into anarchy that could have been avoided.
The Afghan political leadership for its paralyzing ethnolinguistic bickering and the ANDSF for its shortcomings were all to blame for the deposed Kabul government’s ineptitude, corruption, and micromanagement. The Biden administration, however, is accountable to the American people it represents, the Afghans whose fate it has sealed, and the democratic world it seeks to lead as the only superpower directly involved in the Afghan conflict and as the senior partner in the alliance with the Afghan government over which it exercised near-colonial control.
Whatever else may come as a result of the US blunder, Biden has effectively thrown Afghans to the wolves. The vast internal exodus of Afghans, especially women and children, from Taliban-controlled provinces and their rush to the banks and Kabul airport says eloquently about what they fear will happen to them. In a land that has gone from disaster to disaster, generation after generation, a humanitarian catastrophe of Hindukush proportions looms. In Biden’s opinion, he may have put an end to America’s never-ending conflict, but the mayhem, agony, and migrations have only just begun for Afghans. President Biden bears responsibility for the bloody folly and betrayal in Afghanistan, as well as its unavoidably terrible consequences.
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