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Taliban - Early Developments

The Taliban ("the Seekers") was formed in September of 1994 in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar by a group of graduates of Pakistani Islamic colleges (madrassas) on the border with Afghanistan, run by the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema. The members of the Taleban Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (TIMA) are mostly Pashtuns from Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan and are led by a mullah (a village-level religious leader), Mohammad Omar. The Taleban advocated an 'Islamic Revolution' in Afghanistan, proclaiming that the unity of Afghanistan should be re-established in the framework of Sharia (Islamic law) and without the mujahedin. Their fighting ranks were mostly filled with former veterans of the war against Soviet forces.

On 11 September 1996 the Taleban captured Jalalabad, the eastern city bordering Pakistan and on 27 September 1996 they captured Kabul, ousting the government. They took former President Najibullah and his brother from a UN compound where they had taken refuge since the fall of his Soviet-backed governmentin April 1992, beat them severely and then hanged them from lamposts in the city center. As of the beginning of June 1997, the Taleban effectively controled two-thirds of the country.

The Taleban applied a strict interpretation of Sharia, enforcement of which is administered by the "Department for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice" [patterned after an agency of the same name in Saudi Arabia]. In Kabul soldiers searched homes for evidence of cooperation with the former authorities or for violations of Taleban religious-based decrees, including depictions of living things (photographs, stuffed toys, etc.) Individuals were beaten on the streets by Taleban militia for what were deemed infractions of Taliban rules concerning dress, hair length, and facial hair, as well as for restriction on women being in the company of men. The Taleban required women to wear strict Islamic garb in public, and Taleban gender restrictions interfered with the delivery of humanitarian and medical assistance to women and girls. According to regulations, a man who has shaved or cut his beard may be imprisoned until his beard grows back. Beards must protrude farther than would a fist clamped at the base of the chin.

The country was effectively partitioned between areas controlled by Pashtun and non-Pashtun forces, as the Taleban now controlled all the predominantly Pashtun areas of the country (as well as Herat and Kabul), while non-Pashtun organizations controlled the areas bordering on the Central Asian republics whose populations are ethnically non-Pashtun, such as Uzbeks and Tajiks. Reconstruction continued in Herat, Kandahar, and Ghazni, areas which were under firm Taliban control.

In October 1997 the Taliban changed the name of the country to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, with Mullah Omar, who had previously assumed the religious title of Emir of the Faithful, as head of state. There was a six-member ruling council in Kabul but ultimate authority for Taliban rule rested in the Taliban's inner Shura (Council), located in the southern city of Kandahar, and in Mullah Omar.

External Support

Pakistan had long sought to gain some influence over a neighbor with whom it shared a long and exceedingly porous border. The Taleban were initially trained by the Frontier Constabulary, a para-military force of the Interior Ministry of Pakistan, which at the time was headed by Gen. Nasrullah Babar. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were not involved in the earlier stages of Taleban development, continuing to support the Hizb-i-Islami under Hikmatyar to dislodge the Rabbani government. Pakistan feared that an exclusively non-Pashtun government of President B. Rabbani would lead Afghanistan's Pashtuns to revive the demand for Pashtunistan. Eventually, the remarkable success of the Taleban, and economic considerations, led to Pakistan's policy change in 1994-95 towards its support for the Taleban.

As Iran started signing joint ventures with Central Asian countries, Pakistan hoped that the Taleban would restore order and reopen roads, and provide it with the opportunity to expand markets to Central Asia. Even before the Taleban's victorious drive on Kabul, the ousted Afghan government had long insisted that the Taleban were actively backed by Pakistan's ISI and by some members of the Pakistan's powerful military. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has denied any involvement, but in late September 1996, Naseerullah Babar, Pakistan's Interior Minister, flew to Afghanistan to work out a settlement between the Taleban and the most powerful of the Afghan warlords. The ISI, for years the agent of Pakistan's Afghan policy, also was believed to have helped the Taleban logistically and advised them on strategy. ISI has links with Pakistani religious parties that provide volunteers for jihad in both Kashmir and Afghanistan.

Post 9/11

In October 2001, in response to the Taliban regime's protection of al Qaeda terrorists who attacked the United States, coalition forces forcibly removed the regime from Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban's ouster in late 2001, remnants of the regime have sheltered in remote reaches of Afghanistan's mountains, mainly in the south. While they stood little chance of retaking power while the US-led coalition remains in Afghanistan, rogue Taliban members appeared to be regrouping.

Evidence mounted by early 2003 in the southern regions of Afghanistan that the Taliban was reorganizing and has found an ally in rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, labeled a terrorist and hunted by US troops," the Associated Press reported in early April. The evidence included the discovery by coalition forces of around 60 Taliban fighters holed up near the village of Sikai Lashki, 25 miles north of the southeastern village of Spinboldak. Further indication came from the killings in southern Afghanistan of a Red Cross worker and, separately, of two U.S. troops in an ambush, as well as allegations that Taliban leaders had found safe havens in private homes in neighboring Pakistan's Quetta province.

While no reliable estimates existed of the number of Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, the Associated Press said in late March that it is believed that "many" Taliban are holed up in the southern mountains.

While a multinational force helped keep the peace in Kabul and surrounding areas, contributing countries have declined to extend the force's mandate to other parts of the country. Remnants of the Taliban and rogue warlords sometimes threatened, robbed, attacked, and occasionally killed local villagers, political opponents, and prisoners.




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