Who are the Taliban and what do they want?

In the winter of 1995, a New York Times correspondent visiting Afghanistan reported that after years of brutal civil war, a big change s...


In the winter of 1995, a New York Times correspondent visiting Afghanistan reported that after years of brutal civil war, a big change seemed to be happening.

A “new force of avowed Islamic purists and afghan patriots”Had quickly gained military control of more than 40% of the country.

This was surprising, because until they took up arms a year earlier, many fighters had only been religious students.

Their very name meant “students”. the Taliban, they called each other.

A quarter of a century later, having survived an international military coalition in a war that claimed tens of thousands of lives, former students are now masters of the country. Still.

Here’s a look at where the Taliban came from; how they managed to capture Afghanistan not once, but twice; what they did when they first took control – and what that might say about their plans this time around.

The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. The group was rooted in rural areas of Kandahar province, the heart of the Pashtun ethnic group in the south of the country. .

The Soviet Union had invaded in 1979 to support the Communist government in Afghanistan, and finally met the fate of great powers past and present who tried to impose their will on the country: she was driven out.

The Soviets were defeated by Islamic fighters known as the Mujahedin, a patchwork of insurgent factions backed by a US government too happy to wage a proxy war against its Cold War rival.

But the joy of this victory was short-lived, as the different factions quarreled and began to fight for control. The country has fallen into the warlord and into a brutal civil war.

Against this backdrop, the Taliban, with their promise to prioritize Islamic values ​​and tackle the corruption that drove the warlords’ battles, quickly gained an audience. During months of intense fighting, they took control of most of the country.

In 1996, the Taliban declared an Islamic emirate, imposing a harsh interpretation of the Qur’an and enforcing it with brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputations and mass executions. And they have strictly reduced the role of women, preventing them from going to school.

They also clarified that rival religious practices would not be tolerated: in early 2001, the Taliban destroyed imposing 800 year old statues known as the Great Bamiyan Buddhas, objects of admiration the world over. The Taliban regarded them as blasphemous and boasted that their destruction was holy. “It is easier to destroy than to build,” observed the Minister of Information and Culture of the activists.

There was a modern government framework, comprising ministries and bureaucracy. But at street level, it was a religious decree and the whim of individual commanders that dictated the daily lives of Afghans.

However, they did not control the whole country. The north, where many Mujahedin commanders had taken possession, remained a stronghold of resistance.

The Taliban were founded in an ideology that dictated that women should only play the most limited roles in society.

The last time they ruled, they banned women and girls from holding most jobs or even going to school. And women taken outside the house with their faces uncovered faced severe punishment. Unmarried women and men seen together were also punished.

After the overthrow of the Taliban government by a US-led coalition, women made great strides in Afghanistan. But two decades later, as the The United States negotiated a troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, many Afghan women feared that all this ground would be lost.

And as activists take power, there have been many signs that these fears are well founded.

In one example, Taliban fighters entered a bank in Kandahar during fighting in July and ordered nine women who worked there to leave and said male parents should take their place, Reuters reported. And in the northern city of Kunduz this month, the city’s new Taliban rulers ordered women who had worked for the government to quit their jobs and never come back.

“It’s really weird not being allowed to go to work, but now it is,” said one of the bank workers in Kandahar.

When in power, the Taliban made Afghanistan a safe haven for Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born former Mujahedin fighter, as he created a terrorist group with global ambitions: Al-Qaeda.

On September 11, 2001, the group struck a blow that rocked the world, toppling the World Trade Center towers in New York City and damaging the Pentagon in Washington. Thousands have been killed.

President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. When the Taliban hesitated, the United States invaded. Unleashing a heavy campaign of airstrikes and joined by former Mujahedin groups in the Northern Alliance anti-Taliban coalition, the United States and its allies quickly overthrew the Taliban government. Most of the Qaida and Taliban officials who survived fled to Pakistan.

Twenty years later, some of those same Taliban officials were part of the delegation that struck a deal for the United States to leave Afghanistan, and they will be among the country’s new rulers.

With shelter and help from the Pakistani military – the same force receiving significant financial aid from the United States to help hunt down Al Qaeda – the Taliban reformed into a guerrilla insurgency.

The United States has begun to invest resources in a new war in Iraq, and American officials have told the world that Afghanistan is on its way to becoming a Western-style democracy with modern institutions. But many Afghans were starting to think of these foreign institutions as just another way for corrupt rulers to steal money.

In the countryside, the Taliban have started to gain ground and support, especially in rural areas. Their numbers have grown – some fighters have been intimidated to join, others happy to volunteer, almost all better paid than the local police. And the group found a rich vein of recruitment among the Afghan diaspora in Pakistan, among families who had fled previous violence as refugees and had been raised in religious schools.

“Six years after being ousted from power, the Taliban are showing resilience and ferocity that sound the alarm,” The Times reported in 2008, noting that “a relatively motley insurgency has managed to keep the world’s most powerful armies at bay.”

The Taliban weathered the storm when President Barack Obama dramatically expanded the US military presence in Afghanistan, to around 100,000 troops in 2010. And when the Americans began to withdraw a few years later, the insurgents started to withdraw again. gain ground. It was a campaign of persistence, with the Taliban betting that the United States would lose patience and go.

They were right. More than 2,400 American lives later, 2,000 billion dollars later, tens of thousands of deaths among civilians and Afghan security forces later, President Donald J. Trump struck a deal with the Taliban and a said US forces would leave Afghanistan by mid-2021. President Biden endorsed the approach and presided over an uncompromising troop withdrawal even as the Taliban began to engulf entire neighborhoods, then towns.

This week, just nine days later the Taliban seized their first provincial capital, the insurgents entered the capital, Kabul. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has resumed.

Taliban leaders have so far appeared to avoid inflammatory rhetoric and called on commanders to govern fairly and avoid retaliation and abuse. They gave assurances that people would be safe.

The early days of Taliban control did, in fact, seem restricted in some places. But enough reports of brutality and intimidation surfaced to send waves of refugees into Kabul before the group advanced. And now the capital’s airport has become a scene of desperation and chaos, as thousands of Afghans try to flee the country at all costs.

In Kunduz, the first major provincial capital to fall into the hands of the Taliban, residents were not convinced by the promises of peace from their new rulers.

“I’m scared because I don’t know what’s going to happen and what they are going to do,” said one resident. “We must smile at them, because we are afraid, but deeply we are unhappy. “

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Christina Goldbaum and Najim Rahim contributed reporting.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Who are the Taliban and what do they want?
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