The words, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain . . . ‘ ring all too true for the Taliban uprising in Afghanistan. In 1996, this young fundamentalist group built on harsh regulations and strict implementation of Islamic Sharia law took over the country. The rise of the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan would create the formula for future radical organizations to follow and set the stage for the Taliban’s resurgence in late 2001. The people of Afghanistan turned to the Taliban to restore order after a Soviet invasion and decades of internal conflict only to find an even more repressive regime.
Decimated by the effects of Soviet invasion, the Afghani people prayed for a miracle. Following World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union competed for global hegemony in what would become the Cold War. Afghanistan increasingly turned to the Soviet Union for support after the United States established military ties with Pakistan. Like his predecessors, King Zahir Shah, leader of Afghanistan’s crumbling and vulnerable government, could not merge the existing indigenous societies with a central government. This created a separation of classes, which led to the Saur Revolution of April 1978 in which the Afghan communist party, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, seized power in a coup d’état and killed the country’s prime minister. Afghanistan became a country that lacked a legitimate government, allowing Soviet forces to overtake the broken nation. The Soviets used the strategic location of Afghanistan to create a military base to challenge the United States’ alliance with Pakistan and the surrounding Middle Eastern nations. In December 1979, teenage Soviet soldiers drove tanks into Kandahar on their way to the capital to support the pro-communist party of Afghanistan. They had driven for two days from the Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan to Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Soviets had entered Afghanistan with the intention of making it an economic base with trade possibilities and access to the Middle Eastern oil supply. According to “A History Covering the Time Span between Alexander the Great and the Collapse of the Taliban,” some one million Afghans died during this period, and more than 8,000 people were executed after being put on trial between 1980 and 1988. The Soviets imposed military and social reforms that caused the indigenous population to resent them. The Soviets, “…initiated reforms that troubled tribal leaders, implemented economic measures that worsened conditions for the poor, and tried to curb ethnic uprisings by mass arrests, torture, executions of dissidents and aerial bombardments.” These strict government regulations caused backlash from the U.S.-backed Mujahedeen or Afghan freedom fighters. Amin Tarzi and Robert Crew’s chapter in Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan details the resolution of the Soviet conflict. In 1986, the U.N. General Assembly called for the withdrawal of Soviet forces. This call to action led to The Geneva Accords, signed by the United Nations, United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia in April 1988, which effectively ended the war. The treaty outlined a policy of non-interference and contained a timeline for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in May 1988.
Despite the withdrawal of Soviet forces, civil war continued in Afghanistan. The Mujahedeen refused to resolve their disputes with the Soviet-backed government of President Mohammad Najibullah. The Mujahedeen ousted Najibullah in 1992 and then helped the Taliban take control of the government. The Taliban’s strict regulations, combined with support from the Afghan citizens, ended the fighting.
The Taliban rose to political and social power by taking advantage of the weakened state of Afghanistan. In 1978, following a series of coup d’états, a civil war began in Afghanistan between its pro and anti-communist parties. The Soviet Union sent military forces to support the Communist party; however, this invasion was met with extreme resistance and led to the deaths of over one million Afghan people. After fighting the Soviets, Afghanistan saw various warlords and extremist groups —such as Mullah Dadullah, Al Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Taiba—vie for control of the country. In 1996, a fundamentalist group that believed in harsh regulations and strict Islamic Sharia law took over the country. They called themselves the Taliban. The people of Afghanistan turned to the Taliban to restore order after a Soviet invasion and decades of internal conflict only to find an even more repressive regime.
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Enigma surrounds how Mullah Omar organized the Taliban. Amir Manzar explores the most credible theory of how the Taliban started in Taliban in Pakistan: A Chronicle of Resurgence. In Kandahar, 1994, people from the neighboring village of Singesar came to Omar saying that a warlord had abducted two teenage girls. The warlord had shaved their heads, taken them to a military base, and repeatedly raped them. This crime disgusted Omar and drove him to immediately mobilize thirty college students. With only sixteen rifles among them, they attacked the base, freed the girls, and hung the commander’s body from the barrel of a tank. A few months later, two commanders confronted each other in Kandahar after fighting over a young boy both men wanted to sodomize. As they fought, shrapnel, bombs, and stray bullets hit civilians. The group of college students re-formed when they heard about these innocent people dying and freed the boy, which caused people to ask them to settle other disputes. When asked about this, Omar said, “How could we remain quiet when we could see crimes being committed against women and the poor?” These good deeds created an environment that allowed the Taliban to easily win over the Afghan people. The exhausted, war-weary population saw them as saviors and peacemakers. The students chose the name Taliban, from the plural of talib, meaning an Islamic student; this name separated them from the power-hungry warlords and showed that they were a movement cleansing society made up of common university students and children of Allah. Although the Taliban’s members all believed in jihad, they became deeply disillusioned with factionalism and the criminal activities of the once idolized but now corrupt leaders. They saw themselves as, “…cleansers and purifiers of a guerrilla war gone astray, corrupt social system, and corrupt Islamic way of life.” The Taliban soon began tripling in numbers. This momentum and social hype allowed them to swiftly take over Afghanistan. People readily surrendered to the Taliban. In areas under their rule, they disarmed the population, enforced law and order, imposed strict Sharia law, and opened the road to traffic. The long-suffering population welcomed the new measures.
The Taliban’s thirst for power caused them to sink deeper into corruption as time progressed. In 1998, the Taliban denied emergency food from the UN’s World Food Programme “for political and military reasons” which left over 160,000 people with no food for the upcoming winter in an attempt to make them surrender to Taliban rule. In “Taking Tea with the Taliban,” Michael Rubin delves into one of the most controversial injustices of the Taliban, women’s healthcare. The Taliban’s decree that women could only attend hospitals completely staffed by women gained them national attention. Under the Taliban’s rule, women could not go to school, work, or walk outside the house without a male family member. These laws made the existence of a hospital staffed by women both impossible and illegal. Maternal mortality rates soon reached the highest in the world, with nearly 6,500 deaths per 100,000 live births. The rape-culture of Afghanistan caused many women to contract horrible diseases with no access to treatment or pain reducing drugs, which led the desperate women to quickly turn to Opium to ease the pain from inadequate health care. Coincidentally, the Taliban’s major source of income came from the Opium trade.
Beatings, mutilations, and arbitrary executions became routine under the Taliban’s rule. When a Taliban raid discovered a woman running an informal school in her apartment, they beat the children, threw her down a flight of stairs, and then imprisoned her. The Taliban threatened to publicly stone her family if she didn’t sign a declaration of loyalty to the Taliban. During this time, soldiers often savagely beat toddlers and infants, to the point of death or deformity, for the alleged crimes of their parents. A Taliban official said in an interview with Amid Rashid, ‘At night when it was quiet and dark, we took about 150 Taliban prisoners, blindfolded them, tied their hands behind their back and drove them in truck containers out to the desert. When we pulled the bodies out of the containers, and their skin was burned black from the heat and the lack of oxygen. We lined them up, ten at a time, in front of holes in the ground and opened fire. It took about six nights….” Over 1,400 people died at every ethnic cleansing.
The Taliban’s reign left lasting scars on Afghanistan. The Taliban records some of the effects the Taliban have had on modern day Afghans. Nearly 79% of Afghan women cannot read nor write. College enrollment remains at less than 9% due to the Taliban’s assassinations of teachers that drifted from strict Islamic teachings. Taliban soldiers arrest men without beards for treason if they are not shot on the spot. According to Princeton writer Thomas Barfield, many prisons contain majority children detainees. On one occasion, The Taliban kidnapped the nephews of an escaped political prisoner – aged 10, 13 and 19 – and tortured the subjected them to torture and a mock execution.
The Afghan people followed the Taliban in the hopes that they would stabilize the government of Afghanistan after the turmoil the nation had endured in previous years; however the Taliban’s rule became stricter and more violent than the people ever could have anticipated. After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion of the 1940s, they quickly put an end to the country’s internal conflict and began constructing a real government. The Taliban declared aims to restore peace, disarm the population, enforce Sharia law and defend the Islamic character of Afghanistan, but never carried them out. The Taliban tricked the Afghan people into trusting them by offering the villages protection from the warlords and stimulating a better economy. Once they took control of a majority of the country, they began enforcing rigorous Islamic rules on the people and abusing their power. This blatant abuse of power caused the U.S. to ally with Afghan forces and launch a large-scale attack on the Taliban on October 7, 2001. This attack led to the Taliban’s dissipation in late 2001 after abandoning their last stronghold in Kandahar. The Taliban may have brought temporary hope to the people of Afghanistan, but their tyrannical rule thrust the nation into an era of unrest and conflict with lasting consequences.