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The modern Taliban (طالبان; from the Farsi plural of Arabic طالب, meaning "student"; also spelt Taleban) movement, or the Taliban Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (TIMA), took control of Afghanistan in 1994, imposing a strict Salafist rule, more conservative than the Wahhabi movement of Saudi Arabia. Both featured a "Department for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice," but the Taliban were opposed to modernism far more than the Saudi practice of Wahhabism. The Taliban argued they were creating a stable Islamic state that the leaders of the jihad against the Soviets could not create. [1] There is little question, indeed, that some of the warlords remaining after the Soviets left were committing human rights violations, and there was general lawlessness; some of the first incidents involving the Taliban involved stopping rapes.

At the present time, the modern Taliban forms a substantial part of the insurgency in the Afghanistan War (2001-2021), as well as an active insurgency in Pakistan. The Taliban historically had a strong presence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areass near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. After continuing fighting in areas along the Afghan border, Pakistan negotiated with Taliban fighters. [2] Fighting continued, and, on May 7, 2009, Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani of Pakistan formally revoked a peace agreement with the Taliban, accusing the Taliban of repeated violations. Taliban forces had fought to within 60 miles of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. [3] The thrust of this main article deals with activities between its formation and the overthrow of the Taliban government and the immediate military pursuit; continuing articles deal with attempts to bring Taliban elements back into a unified Afghan government, and with Taliban activities in Pakistan and border areas.

The modern Taliban movement unquestionably abrogated the human rights of citizens, especially women, and also provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. They were ousted from power in the Afghanistan War (2001-2021), but continued to fight as guerrillas even after the formation of an interim Afghan government. The question remains open if having a Taliban faction in a new coalition would increase stability. Many also question if there are moderate Taliban elements that could and would participate in a government of national unity.

In Afghanistan, two approaches are being used to reintegrate elements of the Taliban into the government:[4]

  • "Reintegration" is the process of weaning low-level Taliban fighters and relatively junior faction leaders to switch sides and come in out of the cold.
  • Reconciliation is the more political process of negotiating with high-level leaders on the Taliban side, many of whom are based in Pakistan."

Tribal loyalties

Afghanistan is a tribal, not national, society. One must understand ethnic and cultural divisions to understand any of its social dynamics. Most powerful of the tribal groups in Afghanistan and adjoining Pakistan is the Pashtun people. The modern Taliban movement, rising in the chaos following the withdrawal of the Soviets in the Afghanistan War (1978-1992), connected a current Islamist trend with traditions of the Durrani Pashtun, whose traditional stronghold was Kandahar. President Hamid Karzai is a Durrani. Until the overthrow of King Zahir Shah in 1973, Pashtun, and especially Durrani Pashtun, made up the khan class, Afghanistan's equivalent to aristocracy. Under the pro-Soviet Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, and then under Soviet occupation, a new sort of legitimacy arose: commanders of mujahideen resistance movements. When the Soviet military withdrew, however, neither dynastic nor leadership provided consensus legitimacy.[5]

Over time, there were rivalries within Pashtun clans and tribes within the Pashtun.

(PD) Drawing: Shahid Afsar, Chris Samples and Thomas Wood, Military Review
Pashtun tribal structure[6]

Not all Afghans who fought the Soviets were Pashtun; the Northern Alliance military commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was a Tajik. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a regional warlord whose alliances have often changed, is an Uzbek. Iran supported Shi'a Afghans, who are primarily Hazara.

Traditional taliban and Afghan leadership

"Taliban" can be translated as "seekers" or "students" of Islam, so "Lower-case" taliban were not new to Afghanistan. After sufficient study, a talib might become a mullah. Traditional taliban joined the Pashtunwali warrior ethos with piety, selflessness, which created a different approach to leadership. Few mujahideen bands did not have taliban members, who were young, unmarried, and with a high tolerance for shahadat (martyrdom). The talibs were part of the band, but kept their identity, often eating and sleeping apart from the other fighters. [7]

The traditional Taliban go back at least two centuries in Afghan history, to Ahmad Shah Durrani, a king who died in 1773 and established an Islamic identity. The classic Taliban had been a "loose Islamic civil service", returning to villages as teachers and religious leaders.[8] Traditional opponents of the Durrani are the Galzai tribe, centered in Gardez, which has two branches: Ahmed Zai and Soloman Khail. They speak Pashtun, as opposed to Dari, the other major language of Afghanistan. [9]

Another type of legitimacy was religious, even in spite of Afghan Islam not being monolithic. Prior to the Taliban movement, authority came from three lineages; the mullah was a simple preacher with relatively little status.

  • syed, or descent from the family of the Prophet,
  • pir, or strong personal relationship to Allah, distinct from the communal Muslim tradition;[10] especially important in Sufism
  • ulama, religious scholarship

Mullahs had not been local leaders, in contrast to khan, or to maliks, or tribal leaders. Indeed, there were many jokes about greedy or ignorant mullahs. [11] The Taliban gave authority to mullahs, filling a vacuum. Syed had become less important with detribalization and urbanization. Islamic knowledge had also been undermined by kings and Communists. Traditional mullahs were community servants. [12]

The typical Taliban leader is young, with little formal education or administrative experience beyond the madrassa. This often offended Pashtuns who felt they should have more influence. [13]

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the symbol of the Taliban, belongs to the Galzai tribe, an exception among the mostly-Durrani Taliban leadership. The Ghalzai, however, were prominent in the Communist government and the mujahideen. Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, who commanded the Taliban military in 1991, is of the Zadran tribe, part of the Soloman Khail.

Changing theological and social roles

The resurgent TIMA was made up principally of graduates of the Haqqania madrassa near Peshawar, Pakistan. That religious school's teachings drew from a 19th century Indian Salafist Muslim movement called Deobandism, which argued against modernization and believed that Muslims needed to live in the same way as the Prophet and his Companions. It was influenced by Wahhabi thinking.

The Taliban both draw on their interpretation of Deoband Islam, but also a strong Pashtun concept of tradition and patriarchy, at odds with other tribes such as the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. [14] The students making up the core of the Taliban, however, had grown up in a radical Islamic environment outside Afghanistan; their religion was more central than their tribal identity [15]

Current Indian Deobands, however, do not preach holy war, but an Afghan and Pakistani branch does. "Everybody thinks of Islam as Arab, but you have to pay attention to Islam in South Asia," said Vali Nasr, a political scientist at the University of San Diego. "If you don't, you confront something like the Taliban and everyone says, 'Where did these guys come from?' To understand that, you have to understand Deoband." Current Deobandis say they teach "a socially conservative vision of Islam purified of folk and Hindu customs and concerned with teaching individuals how to practice their faith properly."[16]

Deobandi understanding of Islam is derived largely from the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Islam‎ (JUI) movement in Pakistan, which had built hundreds of madrassas in Pakistan's Baluchistan province and Federally Administered Tribal Areass. JUI had many factions, the most prominent of which was that led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, also known as Maulana Sami ul-Haq. [17] Haqq's principal madrassa is the Darul Uloom Haqqania, in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Haqqania trained eight cabinet ministers of the previous Taliban regime, and also recruited Pakistani students to fight for the Taliban. During one Taliban military campaign in 1997, the entire student body was sent to join the militia. The Taliban 
has maintained ties with other militant Pakistani Islamist groups, including the Sipah-e Sahaba, a virulently anti-Shi'a organization, which joined the assault on Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998. [14]

Interviewed in 2007, ul-Haq did not speak of a traditional Taliban role in Afghanistan.

Well, the Taliban were busy in their studies when the factional wars in Afghanistan reached their climax. Naturally, when the leaders could not make it, the students had to come to the rescue of the war-torn country. Thus, the Taliban rushed back to rescue their country from the factional fighting. [i.e., after the Soviet withdrawal] Similarly, when America attacked Afghanistan in late 2001, the same event happened—it is understandable that when infidels attack a Muslim country, then it is the duty of every Muslim to defend it. Maulana Sufi Muhammad of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) also took thousands of people for jihad, which was a commendable action.[17]

The rise of the Taliban

There appears to be a mixture of reality and legend in how the modern Taliban first gained local popularity. Many of the groups that fought the Soviets were run by warlords, and, after victory, ruled as bandits in their localities. Mullah Omar is generally said to have come to prominence by stopping the rapes of Afghan children. [18]

While there is no single cause that brought the TIMA into prominence, several factors have been cited:[19]

  1. Pashtun identity; many of the warlords were from northern ethnic groups
  2. The combination of their visible, although not fully understood, piety, coupled with resentment against warlords perceived as Islamic
  3. Financing, both having sources of it, and being able to bribe difficult opponents
  4. Support from Pakistan, especially Inter-Services Intelligence

It is not at all clear, however, that Omar's local movement was able to grow rapidly from local resources. The most common assumption is that it did so with Pakistani support. Another theory is that smugglers may have provided the initial funding, followed by Pakistani government involvement.[20]

Hamid Karzai told Ahmed Rashid that, at first, he believed in the Taliban as a force that would bring order and end warlordism, and then call a loya jirga. He initially gave them money, and met Mullah Omar, who offered to make him their envoy to the UN. "They were good people initially, but the tragedy was that very soon after they were taken over by the ISI and became a proxy...I realized what was happening when I was called into the Pakistan Foreign Office to discuss the modalities for my becoming the Taliban envoy at the UN."[21]

Their goals were even more obscure. One of the most important, probably clarified by recent violence in Pakistan, if they were truly indigenous, or a proxy for Pakistan. Indeed, some may argue that they are a proxy, or at least share objectives, with some indigenous Pakistani groups. They appealed to Pashtuns and conservative Muslims that felt minimized.

Pakistani objectives

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Pakistani foreign and economic policy set great value on having a land route to the former Soviet Central Asian Republics. Any such route would go through Afghanistan. Pakistan saw its best chance with a Pashtun government, and the ISI first supported Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Benazir Bhutto, in 1993, favored an alternative route to Turkmenistan, going through Kandahar in south Afghanistan rather than the route from Peshawar to Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif in the north. [22] Bhutto may have directed ISI to find an ally. Alternatively, she and her interior minister, Naseerullah Babar, may have started the dealings with the Taliban. The latter theory also involves participation from Fazal-ur Rehman of the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Islam.

Retired Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar worked with Benazir Bhutto, in her 1993-1996 term, promoted the Taliban while simultaneously trying to separate Afghan policy from those of the ISI. At that point, the ISI still preferred Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to the Taliban. Babar publicized, in October 1994, Pakistan's regional goals, by sending a shipment of Pakistani textiles from Quetta to Turkmenistan, crossing Afghanistan. The trucks were stopped, but he gave the Taliban permission to use them to take supplies from an ISI weapons dump near Spin Boldak, even giving them fire support for attacking the depot.[23] The munitions made available made possible the Taliban capture of Kandahar in November. [24]

Pakistan had supported insurgency in Kashmir, and avoided being branded by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism, with intense Indian pressure on the U.S., by moving some of the Kashmiri militants to Afghanistan and putting them under the protection of the Jalalabad shura.[25]

Once the Taliban took Herat in 1995, Pakistani aid intensified, but the Taliban were not puppets. While in the 1980s, the mujahideen were dependent on the ISI and Jamaat-e-Islami, the relationships had become much more complex. In those days, the ISI received much of its finding from Saudi Arabia and the U.S. By the nineties, however, the Taliban had a mesh of connections not just to the ISI, but to the madrassas, drug and transport mafias, Islamic parties, and state institutions. The Taliban would even play one Pakistani group against another, such as the NWFP versus the federal government.

At one level, Pakistan saw Afghanistan as giving it strategic depth against India. On another level, it was concerned about a separatist Greater Pashtunistan that might join the Pashtun areas of Pakistan to Afghanistan, or create a new nation. [26]

In June 1998, Pakistan provided 300 million rupees (USD $6 million) to the Taliban; the funds were hidden in the Pakistan government. It provided an estimated $30 million in 1997/1998. The funds went primarily into the war effort.[27]

Hekmatyar had not succeeded by 1994, and Pakistan looked elsewhere. Pakistan's Interior Minister Naseerullah Baber, a retired general, was offering to reconstruct roads in Afghanistan. Bhutto met non-Taliban warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ismail Khan. Babar sent out a convoy on October 29, 1994, which was stopped by the southern warlords. On November 3, Taliban forces broke the hostage situation, and then moved to take Kandahar, making them a credible factor. Babar told newsmen the Taliban were "our boys", although they insisted they were independent. Nevertheless, the Taliban set up a road route and accepted assistance, as well as JUI volunteers from the Pakistani madrassas. Bhutto denied formal support of any faction in Afghanistan, saying she could not stop recruits from crossing the border. [28]

Issues with the Taliban are not limited to Afghanistan. During the Afghanistan War (1978-1992), Pakistan supported various Islamic fighters against the Soviet Union, both as part of its geopolitical balancing act with China and India, and also to be responsive to internal Islamist groups. Those groups were especially strong in Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI); Baber also had a major role in developing the Taliban. [29]

Both government factions and tribal elements may have continued to support the Taliban, but, as the Taliban have become more of a military threat inside Pakistan, and Pakistan's government evolves, it is in Pakistan's interest to stop Taliban insurgency. There is a growing recognition of a need for more trust among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. [30]

Afghan factional politics

More important, perhaps, were the views of opponents. Some that did not see them as Pakistani proxies saw them as proxies for the former King or for the Americans, the latter to counterbalance Iran. The Russians and former Soviet republic were concerned with a spread of fundamentalism to the north. Yet others saw them as a proxy for international oil interests who wanted to build pipelines across the country.

Another faction came from Amadzai's brother Ashraf, who has served as Finance Minister in the interim administration. Some Dari-speaking factions saw him, and his Afghan Mellat party, as an authoritarian who wants to "Pashtunize" the other ethnic groups: Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmen, etc. See government evolution below. [31]

At first, the Taliban were welcomed by President Rabbani and northern leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Haji Qadeer, chairman of the Eastern Council (Shura-e-Mashreqi) and governor of Nangarhar Province,[32] fled to Peshawar,[33] as the Taliban captured his capital, Jalalabad on September 11. When Hekmatyar's base fell on February 14, 1995, he moved out of the south.

Massoud, a Tajik, first counterattacked, on March 6, 1995, against Hazara Shia leader Abdul Ali Mazari in south Kabul. Mazari made a temporary alliance with the Taliban, but died in Taliban custody; this was to become a permanent wound between the Shias and Taliban. [34] Massoud pushed back the Taliban.

Taliban representatives also visited the government of interim president , discussing fighting Hekmatyar, whose forces were shelling Kabul. Rabbani was open to anyone who would oppose Hekmatyar. In the many-sided relationships of the region, Hekmatyar was arguably put into power by the ISI. [35] He was an indirect recipient, through ISI, of U.S. and Saudi funds.


Both Saudi Arabia and Iran supported the mujahideen, although in different ways and with different factions. Tehran, for example, never broke diplomatic relations with the Communist governments. They funded Shi'a groups, but often considered the loyalty of the group to Iran more important than its contribution to the resistance. They provided financial support to new Hazara leaders in 1982, not trying to unite them. By 1988, however, they worked to form the unified Hizb-e-Wahadat party, and demanded a disproportionate share for the Hazaras in any mujahideen government. The Iranian position also was affected by rivalry with Saudi Arabi, regarding the anti-mujahideen government as the only bar to a Sunni takeover. [36]

Certainly by 1996, Osama bin Laden was contributing financially; it is not clear how early he started to do so.

By the time of the Gulf War, when Saudi Arabia asked from their proteges, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abul Rasul Sayyaf, Hekmatyar supported Saddam Hussein. Only one of the more moderate Afghan groups, the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan led by Pir Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, who had not received Wahhabi support, helped Saudi Arabia. [37]

Taking control

In August, Ismail Khan struck at the Taliban from his base in Herat in the west, threatening Kandahar but being thrown back in September. He fled to Iran, and a mob destroyed the Pakistani embassy in Kabul. The loss of Kabul permanently shifted the initiative to the Taliban. Mullah Omar, on April 4, 1996, achieved a spiritual dominance when he wrapped himself in the Cloak of the Prophet, took the oath of bayat from his followers, and declared jihad.

Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in May 1996.[38] According to Time', it was his $3 million contribution that gave the Taliban the margin of victory in September 1996.[39]

Taking Kabul on 27 September 1996, they ousted the government and killed former President Najibullah and his brother. By June 1997, they were in effective control of most of the country.

Under Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban advocated an Islamic revolution, under Sharia and without the foreign mujahideen. Most of their members were Pashtun that had fought the Soviets. Taliban spokesman Ma'soum Afghani said, in 1997, "Arabs fulfilled their role in Jihad in Afghanistan against Communism. We have relationships with some of them but not all of them are under our control or on our land. They live in Afghanistan as guests, but the land of Afghanistan will not be used against any other Islamic country."[1] Tension between Afghans and Arabs has continued even into the present situation.

Rule under the Taliban

The Taliban, even after capturing Kabul, were vague about their plans and structure. Mullah Wakil said

The Sharia does not allow politics or political parties. That is why we give no salaries to officials or soldiers, just food, clothes, shoes and weapons. We want to live a life like the Prophet lived 1,400 years ago and jihad is our right. We want to recreate the time of the Prophet and we are only carrying out what the Afghan people have wanted for the last 14 years.[40]


At first, 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. In October 1997 the Taliban changed the name of the country to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, with Mullah Muhammad Omar, who had previously assumed the religious title of Emir of the Faithful, as Head of State.[41]

The inner Shura was predominantly Durrani Pashtun, which caused resentment among other ethnic groups. The core called themselves Kandahari, although they could be from Uruzgan or Helmand as well as Kandahar Province. Mullah Omar was Ghilzai, but Kandahari. It had a core of 10 members, but up to 50 could be at a given meeting. [42]

Two other councils reported to the inner Kandahar shura: the Kabul Shura, or acting national cabinet, and the military council. Some individuals were members of both. others might be on the inner Shura as well as the military Shura. [43] Provincial governors, police chiefs, mayors and other officials also exerted power; the Taliban had replaced all but some governors with Kandahari Pashtuns. They either spoke no Dari or spoke it poorly.[44]


Rashid wrote that Mullah Omar remains the ultimate authority, although he had a subordinate chief of general staff. "There is no clear...hierarchy of officers and commanders, while unit commanders are constantly being shifted around...The military Shura is a loose body which plans strategy and can implement tactical decisions, but has no decision-making authority." Local commanders recruit ordinary fighters, in the Pashtun tradition of lashkar or Afghan and Pakistani tribal militias; they are paid only by the local authority if at all. Specialists, who gained skills under the Communists such as tank and aircraft crews, are more mercenaries. [45]

A succession of individuals have been identified as military chief; some died and some simply seem to left the role. Jalaluddin Haqqani‎ was named commander of military forces in September 2001.

Civil administration

While it gave the Taliban flexibility to have had most senior leaders both as fighters and ministers, it also caused chaos when the Taliban ran a government. Mullah Mohammed Abbas, for example, was the Health Minister, but was sent to be the second-in-command of the north after the 1997 Mazar-e-Sharif losses to the Northern Alliance. During that time, the UN had no point of contact.

The role of nonmilitary leaders still can be confusing. Wakil Muttawakil was clearly the gatekeeper to Mullah Omar before 9/11. There are spokesmen in contact with the media, but their authority, or degree of contact with the senior Shura, is not always clear. [46] Dr. Muhammad Hanif, captured in January 2007, had been speaking for the Taliban since 2005, as had Qari Mohammad Yousuf in the south. They were appointed, according to the BBC, when former spokesman Latifullah Hakimi was arrested, in Quetta, in October 2005.

International engagement

While the Taliban had a foreign ministry, it only established diplomatic relations with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Still, there was interaction with other governments, as well as international organizations. Mullah Muhammad Gaus was Foreign Minister, and Mullah Mohammad Qasim Halimi, who is now part of the current Supreme Court staff, was chief of protocol.

Early U.S. involvement with the Taliban reflected both a desire to broaden the government, but also to encourage oil-related economic development in Central Asia. The U.S. also had a strategic interest in denying Russia the oil in its former Central Asian republics, especially Tajikistan. While Afghanistan was not known to have oil reserves, it was in a key geographic position if Caspian area oil was to move away from Russia.

Turkey had given limited support to the mujahideen in the 1980s. Turkey and Israel had allied, and initially saw the Taliban as a restraint on Iran. [47] By 2000, however, Turkey saw the Taliban as a threat, having united, in antiterrorism, the United States, Russia, China, India, Iran, Israel, Belarus, Armenia and all Central Asian republics except Turkmenistan. Only Afghanistan and Pakistan stood alone. [48]

While Tajikistan had a civil war between 1992 and 1997, both sides cooperated with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan Tajik leader. Both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were opposed to Pashtun expansion. The Taliban had accused Massoud of trying to create a "greater Tajikistan", which was of great concern to the other Central Asian republics before the Taliban victory.[49]

Turkmenistan wanted to export oil, but had no good export route: Russia wanted to limit exports to the West, Iran was unacceptable to the U.S., and Afghanistan was in civil war.

Eventually, a pipeline under the Caspian Sea to Turkey was started, which also appealed to Turkey's interest in a pan-Turkic region including Turkmenistan.

Afghanistan and oil

In October 1996, Zalmay Khalilzad wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post, saying "The Taliban does not practice the anti-US style of fundamentalism practiced in Iran." He had been a consultant for the Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and had done an analysis, for Unocal, of a pipeline from new oil fields in Turkmenistan, which would cross Afghanistan to Pakistan. [50]

Two oil companies, Unocal and Bridas, the latter which was 60 percent owned by U.S. Amoco, wanted to build a pipeline from new oil fields in Turkmenistan, across Afghanistan, into Pakistan.

Human rights

Economic and geopolitical factors, however, soon clashed with the Taliban's style of government; Khalizad may have been correct about Taliban fundamentalism being different from that of Iran only in that Iran was less stringent.

Taliban searched everywhere for acts and practices they deemed inconsistent with the Qur'an and Sunna. In an interview with Mullah Muhammad Hassan, "We cannot say this or that is permitted because it is allowed in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Iran. We have studied many religious books and in all of them, the things we have prohibited are prohibited. So while we may say that what these countries do are their business, just as what we do is ours, we also say nothing they say or do allow them to escape from the basic fact: They are permitting things that are prohibited in Islam."[51] It is worth noting that only three countries, all Islamic, ever gave the Taliban diplomatic recognition: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE); the UAE later withdrew it. [39]

On a personal basis, they required all men to grow beards of specified characteristics, and banned women from working outside the home, requiring them to wear the face and body cover of the chador.

Outside observers considered them especially hard on women, although Human Rights Watch also condemned the treatment of women by the former Northern Alliance, renamed the United Front. [52] The Taliban, specifically, required women to wear head-to-foot covering and be acccompanied by a male relative in public. Women could not work outside the home except in health care, girls over 8 were not allowed to attend school, and the most rigorous enforcement, in 2000-2001, were against educated women. "Before the Taliban took power, accounted for 70 percent of all teachers, about 50 percent of civil servants, and 40 percent of medical doctors in the country."

The Clinton Administration never recognized the Taliban. After a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning Taliban treatment of women, the U.S. closed its embassy in Kabul in August 1997.

Continuing oil interest

In November 1997, Unocal invited a Taliban delegation to Texas and opened a training center for Afghans. According to Unocal CEO John Imle the company spent between $15 and $20 million on its Central Asia oil pipeline (CentGas) project, including preliminary feasibility studies, humanitarian projects and lobbying the Taliban. At that dinner, Khalizad challenged the Taliban minister of culture and information, Amir Khan Muttaqi, over Qur'anic language of the treatment of women. [53]

The Taliban moved to official contact on December 15, with talks, in Washington, with Undersecretary of State for South Asia Karl Inderforth, arranged by Unocal. Speaking with anonymity, a State Department spokesman said ""We made our position clear, namely that the pipeline could be useful for Afghanistan's rehabilitation, but only if the situation was settled there by political means...a broadly-based government together with their rivals before the ambitious project to build an oil and gas pipeline is launched" [54]

Unocal's vice president of international relations, in 1998, testified "the proposed Central Asia Oil Pipeline (CentGas) cannot begin construction until an internationally recognized Afghanistan government is in place," he urged the administration and the Congress "to give strong support to the United Nations-led peace process in Afghanistan."

Civil war

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. Non-Pashtun, in general, formed the Northern Alliance opposing the Taliban. Ahmad Shah Massoud, military leader of the Northern Alliance, was Tajik. organizations controlled the areas bordering on the Central Asian republics whose populations are ethnically non-Pashtun, such as Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazara. In addition to ethnic conflict, the Hazara, who are Shia, distrusted the Taliban . [55]

The Taliban also received support from Pakistan, especially Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, which tended, at the time, to contain some of the more extreme Islamist members of the Pakistani government. There was a confluence of interests among the Taliban, ISI, and bin Laden, all being anti-Soviet and strongly Islamic. ISI could also hide training, in Afghanistan, for missions in Kashmir. [56] This relationship caused distrust from Iran, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Russia. [57]

After the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa, Massoud wrote to the U.S. Senate, asking him to help against the Taliban, bin Laden, and ISI. The Clinton Administration, however, continued to focus on attempting to use diplomatic engagement with Mullah Omar, to get him to break with bin Laden. [58]

9-11, demands, and overthrow

Osama bin Laden had helped fund the Taliban take power, and turning him over to the West, in Mullah Omar's belief, would violate the tradition of protecting guests with no guarantees of western protection for his regime. According to a Time reporter, Omar said "Did we invite him in?" said Omar of bin Laden. "He was already here. But we don't know how to get rid of him or where to send him." Eventually, Omar decided to deny the recommendation of a 600-man body of senior clerics last Thursday to "encourage" bin Laden to leave Afghanistan "in his own free will" at a time and to a place of his choosing. Now, said the Taliban, Afghanistan is ready for a "showdown of might." Not all the foreign fighters in Afghanistan, on 9/11, were loyal to bin Laden, but to the Taliban idea of a strict Islam through the Muslim world. According to Time, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates showed there had been thousands of graduates from Afghan terrorist training camps, but only 3,000 are loyal to al-Qaeda. At the time,Taliban was seen by the west as supporting al-Qaeda and in need of destruction. [39]

In September 2001, Omar named Jalaluddin Haqqani‎ commander of the Taliban armed forces. Haqqani, a Ghilzai Pashtun, came from a clan outside the Durrani Pashtuns from whom most Taliban had come. He has independent and strong links to ISI.

There is no strong evidence the Taliban leadership knew of the planned 9-11 attack and none that they participated in it. While the Taliban are sympathetic to Salafist movements worldwide, their focus is on the Afghan-Pakistan region. From a geostrategic perspective, rather than a humanitarian one, the Western interest is that they simply do not provide sanctuary to transnational terrorists. [59]

Initial combat operations

Beginning on October 7, conventional combat operations against Afghanistan did not target the bulk of the Taliban, to encourage defections. The first stage was against critical command & control, air defense, and other direct barriers to Western operations. The second was against daylight raids carried out by jet fighters against ‘targets of opportunity’ such as military vehicles, and by bombers against defence emplacements, but not against troop concentrations. appeared to have been delayed in the hope that elements of the Taliban could be persuaded to defect. [60]

Ground drive against the Taliban

At the beginning of November 2001, the U.S. military prepared for a ground offensive by Alliance forces, by intensifying bombing of Taliban and al-Qaeda ground forces on the frontlines around Mazar-e-Sharif and north of Kabul. Heavy bombing by AC-130 and B-52 bombers increased to 100 sorties per day in November, coupled with efforts to encourage defection. This would leave hard-core Taliban units unprotected when the Northern Alliane advance began. CIA Special Activities Division personnel preceded United States Army Special Forces teams that joined Northern Alliance units to advise and to guide in air strikes. GEN Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that the US was supplying the Northern Alliance with munitions and facilitating the delivery of weapons supplied by other states, including Russia.

A U.S. Army Ranger unit raided an airfield near Kandahar, coded Objective Rhino, on the night of 19-20 October, while Special Operations Forces (SOF) soldiers attacked Taliban headquarters in Kandahar.[61] Later in November, a U.S. Marine ground unit would make Rhino its base for conventional attacks against Kandahar.

Military collapse

Four main factors contributed to the fairly sudden loss of Taliban control.

  1. Overdependence on local forces without strong loyalty
  2. Resentment of bin Laden's foreign fighters
  3. Attempting to defend all their territory
  4. Withdrawal of Pakistani support

The Taliban had become "highly dependent on manpower drawn from a variety of local militia and mujaheddin groups, which had tenuous loyalty to the Taliban. The extensive efforts made by anti-Taliban forces and US special forces to encourage defections from these groups proved beneficial once the Northern Alliance advance began, leaving core Taliban units exposed and unable to mount an effective defence.

"In the eyes of many Afghans, the foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda are seen as the cause of many of their country’s ills. The decision to deploy al-Qaeda fighters and leaders to bolster ‘suspect’ Afghan Taliban units also served to increase resentment and create the impression that Afghan independence was under threat.

An apparent Taliban decision to "occupy all the territory under its control, rather than fall back to its core areas in the south and east." They committed to the northern front around Mazar-e-Sharif and Taloqan, rather than moving to more defensible line. To support this front, their supply lines went through Herat in anti-Pashtun areas. While the anti-Soviet mujaheddin had fought effective guerrilla warfare, using their knowledge of the terrain to avoid contact, the Taliban put themselves into the reach of airpower. "Once the Northern Alliance had broken through the frontline, large numbers of men – including several thousand Pakistani and al-Qaeda fighters – were cut off in a pocket around Taloqan and Kunduz, resulting in the loss of a significant part of the Taliban’s combat strength.[62]

Pakistan hesitantly withdrew support, but, when it did, according to a Western diplomat interviewed by the New York Times, "We did not fully understand the significance of Pakistan's role in propping up the Taliban until their guys withdrew and things went to hell fast for the Talibs,"[63]

Fall of Kandahar

When the Taliban evacuated Kabul, they called for guerrilla resistance, but still put on a static defense at Kandahar. Not only were they attacked there by the Northern Alliance and U.S. aircraft, as well as U.S. special operations forces operating from at least November 13, a U.S. Marine unit arrived on the ground on November 25. On 25 November US Marines, airlifted in from ships in the Arabian Sea, established a forward operating base at Dolangi airfield and began ground attacks.

On December 6, Northern Alliance leaders, including Karzai, met with Taliban leaders and negotiated a surrender of the city. Some Taliban put down their weapons, while others moved into guerrilla warfare.

Current operations against the Taliban

While political resolution remains a goal, there is little question that some Taliban will never accept anything other than total victory. Many of the lethal operations against the Taliban must now take place in Pakistan, but there are still conflicts in Afghanistan. The nature of power in the Taliban, however, may have changed. While Mullah Omar is still seen as the leader of the core group associated with the Quetta Shura, it is not clear that totally neutralizing that group would stop the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Omar, historically, has been more of a conceptual than operational leader. His operational deputies have been Mullah Dadullah Akhund, killed in May 2007, and more recently Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar was captured by a joint ISI-CIA operation in February 2010, marking a new level of cooperation between Pakistan and the U.S.[64]

Baradar had responded to questions sent to him by Newsweek in July 2009.[65] He insisted they operated completely inside Afghanistan, and were not in Quetta. Explaining he welcomed additional U.S. troops, he said "In fact, Americans are demoralized in Afghanistan, and they don't know what to do. [The Taliban] want to inflict maximum losses on the Americans, which is possible only when the Americans are present here in large numbers and come out of their fortified places."

The "new Taliban" is more involved with drugs, and also has taken on tactics not traditionally Afghan, such as suicide bombings and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. [66]. The Haqqani Network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar also appears to be affiliated with the Quetta faction, although not as strictly on a theocratic model.

In Pakistan, the late Baitullah Mehsud and his succesors a distinctly different style than the Quetta group. The Pakistani government is trying to split other Taliban from Mehsud. [67]

Drug trade

In December 2006, the most senior Taliban leader killed since the 2001 combat was Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, who was both the treasurer of the Taliban and the commander of Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. He was detected by a British communications intelligence aircraft, confirmed by U.S. Special Operations signals intelligence on the ground and hit by U.S. aircraft. Osmani, and a subordinate Taliban commander, were with Haji Massooq, considered one of the most important drug traders in Helmand Province. In other words, the strike was not specifically against Taliban insurgency, but a consequence of drug dealing. [68]

The U.S. priority has been al-Qaeda, and Britain has been more focused on the Taliban-associated drug trade. There has also been a reluctance, by the U.S. military, to become involved in counternarcotics operations that are not narrowly focused on Taliban or al-Qaeda military targets. [16]

Iran has offered to train Afghan police in counter-drug operations, although this was not presented to ISAF. [69]

Haji Juma Khan, who was described as the largest drug trafficker in South Asia and significantly involved with the Taliban, [70], was captured in Indonesia and turned over to the United States. In April 2009, he was charged, in a New York court, with narcotics trafficking in support of terrorism. [71]

Military strikes

Since then, Mullah Dadullah Akhund was killed in Helmand Province in May 2007. He was variously described as the overall military commander or the commander of Taliban forces in the south; he was one of the original Taliban but had been sidelined over excesses, and was reactivated in 2001. [72]

On July 23, 2007, Qari Faiz Mohammad, the chairman of the Military Shura also was killed in a raid in Helmand Province; he was also a financier and close to Omar. As seems typical for the loose structure, Mohammad was also a close associate of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and a chief financier for the Taliban.[43]

A 2008 interview with a regional commander, Qari Bashir Haqqani in the Kunduz area, indicated that military decisionmaking has become decentralized, although this is in the context of guerrilla warfare rather than the large-scale operations against the Northern Alliance. "Every local commander is responsible for his own areas. The area commander is accountable to the district commander who is in turn accountable to the provincial governor. The governor is then accountable to the provincial executive council, which deals with Taliban military shura." He denied any orders came from outside Afghanistan, such as from Mullah Omar's reported location in Quetta, Pakistan. [73]

Joint ISI-CIA operations

The U.S. had long been suspicious of continuing cooperation between ISI and the Taliban, which certainly was the case before 9/11. Capturing Mullah Abdul Baradar, however, may signal a significant shift by ISI, which may have decided that the Taliban now represents too much of a threat to the stability of Pakistan. Omar and others of the Quetta group may have moved to Karachi.[64]


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