The Taliban (also transliterated as Taleban) is an Islamist movement which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, despite having diplomatic recognition from only three countries. The most influential members, including Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the movement, were simple village ulema—Islamic religious scholars, whose education was extremely limited and did not include exposure to most modern thought in the Islamic community. The Taliban is the Pashtun word for religious student.

Table of contents
1 Rise to Power
2 Culture
3 Life Under Taliban Rule
4 Relationship with Osama bin Laden
5 U.S. invasion
6 Further reading

Rise to Power

After the fall of the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1992, Afghanistan was thrown into a chaos of war between competing mujahideen warlords.

Taliban legend has it that in the spring of 1994, upon hearing of the abduction and rape of two girls at a mujahideen checkpoint in the village Sang Hesar near Kandahar, local mullah Mohammed Omar, a veteran of the Harakat-i Inqilab-i Islami faction of mujahideen, gathered thirty other taliban into a fighting force, rescued the girls and hung the commander of the mujahideen. After this incident, Taliban legend goes, the services of these pious religious fighters were in much demand from villagers plagued by unruly mujahideen, and thus the Taliban were born.

Following this incident, Omar fled to the neighboring Balochistan province of Pakistan, from where he emerged in the fall, reportedly with a well-armed and well-funded militia of 1,500 taliban, who would provide protection for a Pakistani trade convoy carrying goods overland to Turkmenistan. However, many reports suggest that the convoy was in fact full of Pakistani fighters posing as taliban, and that the Taliban had gained considerable arms, military training, and economic aid from the Pakistanis.

After gaining power in and around Kandahar through a combination of military and diplomatic victories, the Taliban attacked, and eventually defeated, the forces of Ismail Khan in the west of the country, capturing Herat from him on September 5, 1995. That winter, the Taliban laid siege to the capital city Kabul, firing rockets into the city and blockading trade routes. In March, the Taliban's opponents, Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar ceased fighting one another and formed a new anti-Taliban alliance. But on September 26, 1996 they quit the city of Kabul and retreated north, allowing the Taliban to capture the seat of government and establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

On May 20, 1997, brother Generals Abdul Malik Pehlawan and Mohammed Pehlawan mutinied from under Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum's command and formed an alliance with the Taliban. Three days later, Dostum abandoned much of his army and fled from his base in Mazar-i-Sharif into Uzbekistan. On May 25, Taliban forces, along with those of the mutinous generals, entered the undefended Mazar-i-Sharif. That same day, Pakistan recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, followed by recognition from Saudi Arabia the following day. However, on May 27, fierce street battles broke out between the Taliban and Malik's forces. The Taliban, unused to urban warfare, were defeated heavily, with thousands losing their lives either in battle or in mass executions afterward.

On August 8, 1998, the Taliban re-captured Mazar-i-Sharif. However, international attention on the Taliban shifted light considerably on August 20, when the United States fired cruise missiles on four sites in Afghanistan, all near Khost. The sites included one run by Osama bin Laden, who was fingered as the force behind the August 7 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

At its height, the Emirate was recognised by Pakistan, by the United Arab Emirates and by Saudi Arabia. It then controlled all of Afghanistan, apart from small regions in the northeast which were held by the Northern Alliance. Most of the rest of the world, and the United Nations continued to recognize Rabbani as Afghanistan's legal Head of State, although it was generally understood that he had no real influence in country.

The Taliban received aid from Saudi Arabia, including logistical and humanitarian support during its rise to power, and a continued commitment afterward. An estimated $2 million came each year from Saudi Arabia's major charity, funding two universities and six health clinics and supporting 4,000 orphans. The Saudi King Fahd sent an annual shipment of dates as a gift.


In the languages spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Taliban (also Taleban) means those who study the book (meaning the Qur'an). It is derived from the Arabic word for seeker or student, talib. The Taliban belong to the Deobandi movement, a Sunni Islam movement which emphasizes piety and austerity and the family obligations of men. They emerged from the ethnically Pashtun areas of Afghanistan.

Life Under Taliban Rule

Main article: Life under Taliban rule

Once in power, the Taliban instituted a particularly harsh and oppressive form of Islamic law, leading to loud complaints from the international community and from human rights organizations. While the Taliban did lead a reform of the government, the replacement they created had no governmental experience. Most appointed local leaders had little education by Western standards. Many had training only as ulema, some not even that.

The Clinton administration of the United States was criticized for overlooking Taliban human rights abuses, since they presented the appearance of greater willingness to cooperate in talks, and to take action against drugs, than their predecessors. The accusation against the Clinton administration was made in particular by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California, who said in 1999: "I believe the administration has maintained this covert goal and kept Congress in the dark about its policy of supporting the Taliban, the most anti-Western, anti-female, anti-human rights regime in the world. It doesn't take a genius to understand that this policy would outrage the American people, especially America's women." These charges were denied by the administration.

The Taliban forbade the cultivation of opium poppies in 2000, citing religious reasons. The production fell from 4000 tons in 2000 (about 70% of the world's supply) to 82 tons in 2001, most of which was harvested in parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance.

On May 17, 2001, the Bush administration announced an increase of $43 million in drought relief to the Taliban in reward for this achievement. After the Taliban lost power in late 2002, the opium cultivation increased dramatically.

Buddhas of Bamiyan

Main article: Buddhas of Bamiyan

In March 2001, the Taliban ordered the destruction of two statues of Buddha carved into cliffsides at Bamiyan, one 38m tall and 1800 years old, the other 53m tall and 1500 years old. The act was condemned by UNESCO and many countries around the world, including Iran.

Relationship with Osama bin Laden

In 1996, the Saudi alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden moved to Afghanistan upon the invitation of the Northern Alliance leader Abdur Rabb ur Rasool Sayyaf. When the Taliban came to power, he was able to forge an alliance between the Taliban and his Al-Qaeda organization. This led to rumors in the Western media that he exerted considerable influence on the Taliban leaders.

U.S. invasion

Main article: U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

On September 22, 2001, in the wake of growing international pressure following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the United Arab Emirates and later Saudi Arabia withdrew their recognition of the Taliban as the legal government of Afghanistan, leaving neighboring Pakistan as the only remaining country which recognized them.

The U.S., aided somewhat by the United Kingdom and supported by a broad coalition of other world governments, initiated military action against the Taliban in October 2001. The stated intent was to remove the Taliban from power because of the Taliban's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden for his alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks, and in retaliation for the Taliban's aid to him. The ground war was mainly fought by the Northern Alliance, the remaining elements of the anti-Taliban forces which the Taliban had routed over the previous years.

Mazar-i-Sharif fell to US-Northern Alliance forces on November 9, leading to a cascade of provinces falling with minimal resistance, and many local forces switching sides from the Taliban to the Northern Alliance. On the night of November 12, the Taliban retreated south in an orderly fashion from Kabul. On November 15, they released 8 Western aid workers after 3 months in captivity (see Attacks on humanitarian workers).

The UN Security Council, on January 16, 2002, unanimously established an arms embargo and the freezing of identifiable assets belonging to bin Laden, Al-Qaida, and the remaining Taliban.

The Taliban later retreated from Kandahar, and regrouped in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most post-invasion Taliban fighters are new recruits, drawn again from Pakistan's madrassahs.

On December 6 2003, Taliban abducted two Indian workers in southern Afghanistan. On December 20, 2003, the Taliban offered to release them in exchange for 50 militants. Later on December 24, Taliban released them unconditionally.

Further reading

Related Articles

External link


  • Reaping the Whirlwind: Afghanistan, Al Q'aida and the Holy War, Michael Griffin, 2003: Pluto Press, London. ISBN 0745319165