Before the Taliban ever existed, Afghanistan practiced a conservative form of Islam. However this form was very tolerant due to a popularity of Sufism (a mystical branch of Islam) in the area.1 Until 1992, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews lived in the region, being a major part of the bazaar economy in the country.2 Once the Cold War began, that all changed.
Soviets and the British leered at Afghanistan with hungry eyes. The country is a crossroad between Iran, Central Asia, the Arabian Sea and India.3 Getting this land would allow a way to bypass the violence going on in revolutionary Iran. In 1979, the Russian Soviets invaded. The Afghani’s declared jihad against their invaders.
In 1988, the Soviets withdrew. And by year later, so did the Americans, leaving Afghanistan devastated after the ten year engagement.4 With no stable government, civil war broke out. The mujahideen fought for power, pushing the Pashtun population to the south and east against the ethnic minorities to the north. The minorities of the north called themselves the Northern Alliance.5
A student led organization rose from the madrasahs (seminaries) within Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.6 Led by Mullah Umar, the primarily Pashtun student (taliban) group promised peace, order and law in the war weary country. This promise made the community quickly accept the organization, it becoming popular and was very successful. The Taliban at first had no urge to run the country, until 1996, when they captured the capital, Kabul.7 Assisted by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan supporters hoping for political gain, the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
Illegal activity funded the Taliban, bringing the organization immense wealth. One of the Taliban’s major assets is opium. Afghanistan is the world’s largest heroin producer in the world. In 1999, the country produced 46,000 metric tons of opium, ninety-six percent of it belonging to the Taliban.8 Drug dealers operate the only banking system in the country and rural farmers were given credit in advance for their opium crop.9
Smuggling is another huge money maker for the extremist group. The smuggling between Afghanistan and Pakistan has become a multimillion dollar operation. Due to local factories who are unable to compete with the smugglers, the local economy is a disaster.10 To make matters worse, the government had turned a blind eye to the criminal activity, the government wanting a cut of the money gained from the prohibited acts.
The Taliban ruled over Afghanistan for nearly seven years. In 1999, the repressive government started to loose it’s handle over the country. The Northern Alliance began to fight back, capturing Taliban territory and pushing towards Kabul. The Pashtun youth no longer volunteered to join and fighters started to return home.11 People within the Taliban itself questioned their leader’s motives. With huge amounts of wealth coming in through their illegal smuggling and opium, supporters started to believe that the Taliban had lost its spirituality in favor for personal and financial gain.12
2001 marked the end of the Taliban. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan, taking the group out of power. In their place, the U.S. positioned Hamid Kazari. During the Soviet War, Kazari worked as an advisor and diplomat for the mujahideen. Offered a job with the Taliban, Kazari refused when the fundamentalist organization presumably gunned down his father. As a result, Kazari worked against the Taliban with the Northern Alliance.13 Working along side Americans in 2001 during Operation Enduring Freedom, Kazari and his allies helped take the Taliban out of power.14 In 2002, Kazari became the president of Afghanistan and is still currently in office.
The philosophy of the Taliban comes from a fundamentalist branch of Islam known as Deobandism. This branch grew out of British India as a reform movement against the colonial invaders.15 Originally, Deobandism wanted to bring back classical text but apply them to modern times. The Taliban ignores this. The Deobandi ideas were taught at Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, it being very popular in the country.
The Pakistani Deobandis set up a political party with strong anti-American beliefs called Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The JUI setup madrasahs, funded by Saudi Arabia, around the Pushtan belt of Pakistan. They offered Afghan refugees free education, food, shelter, and military training.16 However, these seminary school were being taught by mullahs with no real knowledge of Deobandism. Because the schools were funded by Saudis, the beliefs taught within them were more Wahhabism based.
Focusing around morality, war, and commerce , the Taliban created their own version of Deobandism. It has a very strict moral code, there even being a Vice and Virtue Police. This secret police force goes around and makes sure that every one is dressed, speaks, and acts morally good. There is a ban on art, there being no radio, photos or television. As a result of this people didn’t know who their leaders even looked like.17 Men are required to grow beards and daily prayers are enforced.
Taliban and Women
Out of all the people who have suffered from the Taliban, Afghan women have suffered the most. On December 6, 1996, the Vice and Virtue police said they had punished ( this involving beating, raping, torture, or murder) 225 women for violating clothing rules.18
In order to keep lust out of men’s mind, women are forced to wear the burqa. This garment is a head to toe veil that contains a small mesh hole for the woman to see.19 Cosmetics and brightly colored clothing are not allowed. Women may not wear high heeled shoes, or any shoe that makes a noise. Some woman who have painted their finger nails have had their fingers cut off.20
To continue the extremes enforced on women, Afghan women may not go to school or work. Women may not laugh or speak loudly. Windows must be painted over so that no one may see a woman within it. They may not be treated by a male doctor. Women may not gather in any public gathering or festivity. If going out in public, women must be escorted by a mahram (close male relative). Even a place that gives reference to women in their name, the name must be changed.21 Sadly, it used to not be like this.
During the reign of King Amanullah (1919-1929) women were close equals to men. He feared that his country would become out of date if he did not accept Western ideas.22 As a result, he created many reforms for women. Child marriages were banned and polygamy was outlawed. Women even had a choice to not wear the veil. In 1978, the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan pushed for making it mandatory for women to get an education.23 Women had a place in the work force. But after the Soviet war, and the Taliban took over, this all ended.
Even though the Taliban was removed from government in 2001, Taliban groups arose from the Pakistan mountains after the Americans of Operation Enduring Freedom left for Iraq.24 Though not as strong as before, the Taliban still has a grasp around Afghanistan. The group uses their wealth and terrain to support other terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
Women have seen little change in their deadly repression, even today. The nearly 400 women in prison, for “moral crimes” that include running away from an abusive home or for having sex outside of marriage due to forced prostitution.25 A report from Oxfam in 2011 informs that eighty-seven percent of women experienced physical, sexual, or psychological abuse or forced marriage.26 If you would like to help the women of Afghanistan, visit the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan’s (RAWA) website at rawa.org (does contain graphic content).
1. Ahmed Rashid, “The Taliban: Exporting Extremism” Foreign Affairs Vol.78, No.6 (1999): 24.
2. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 24.
3. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 24.
4. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 23.
5. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 23.
6. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 24.
7. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 24.
8. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 33.
9. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 33.
10. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 34.
11. Peter Tomsen, “A Chance for Peace in Afghanistan: the Taliban’s Days are Numbered,” Foreign Affairs Vol. 79, No.1 (2000): 180.
12. Tomsen, “Taliban’s Days are Numbered,” 180.
13. “Hamid Kazari Biography,” last modified November 2009, http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/kar0bio-1.
14. “The United States Army in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom,” last modified March 2006, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/Afghanistan/Operation%20Enduring%20Freedom.htm.
15. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 26.
16. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 26.
17. Rashid, “Exporting Extremism”, 24.
18. Mary Ann Franks, “Obscene Undersides: Women and Evil Between the Taliban and the United States,” Hypatia Vol. 18 No.1 (2003): 140.
19. Joanne Stato and Karla Mantilla, “Afghan Women Protest Taliban in Washington,“ Off our Backs: A Women’s News Journal Vol. 31 No. 4 (2001): 1.
20. Franks, “Obscene Undersides,” 140.
21. Franks, “Obscene Undersides,” 139-140.
22. Franks, “Obscene Undersides,” 138.
23. Franks, “Obscene Undersides,” 139.
24. “Hamid Kazari Biography”.
25. “Afghanistan: the Quagmire of US Occupation,” Nicole Colson, last modified April 2012, http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2012/04/11/afghanistan-the-quagmire-of-u-s-occupation.html.
26. “Afghanistan: the Quagmire of US Occupation”.
Academy of Achievement. “Hamid Kazari Biography.” Last modified November 2009, http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/kar0bio-1.
Franks, Mary Anne. “Obscene Undersides: Women and Evil Between the Taliban and the United States.” Hypatia Vol. 18 No.1 (2003):135-156 .
Rashid, Ahmed. “The Taliban: Exporting Extremism.” Foreign Affairs Vol. 78, No.6 (1999): 25-25.
Revolutionary Association of the Rights of the Women of Afghanistan. “Afghanistan: the Quagmire of US Occupation.” Nicole Colson. Last modified April 2012. http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2012/04/11/afghanistan-the-quagmire-of-u-s- occupation.html.
Stato and Mantilla. “Afghan Women Protest Taliban in Washington.“ Off our Backs: A Women’s News Journal Vol. 31 No. 4 (2001): 1
Tomsen, Peter. “A Chance for Peace in Afghanistan: the Taliban’s Days are Numbered.” Foreign Affairs Vol. 79, No.1 (2000): 179-182.
U.S. Army Center of Military History. “The United States Army in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom.” Last modified March 2006. http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/Afghanistan/Operation%20Enduring%20F reedom.htm.