The Taliban Emerge
In 1994, the Taliban emerged as a major force in the fight for control of war-torn Afghanistan. The country was in turmoil and rife with factional fighting among tribal leaders after the long war between the Soviets and the U.S.-backed mujahedeen. The Taliban wanted to wrest control from the many entrenched warlords and to establish a religious society based around a strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law.
The Fall of Kandahar and Kabul
The Taliban had a reputation for discipline and effective fighting, and had won support from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which viewed them as a worthy ally - or a useful asset - in stabilizing Afghanistan. With assistance from the ISI in the form of guns, money and fuel, the Taliban captured the city of Kandahar and marched on the Afghan capital, Kabul, which fell in September 1996.
New Order Under Sharia Law
1996 to 1998
Afghan woman in burka
The Taliban initially proved popular among Afghan Pashtuns tired of strife among the country's Tajik and Uzbek tribal leaders. Many Pashtuns, both Afghani and Pakistani, wished to be united under one Pashtun flag. The new leadership restored order and commerce and shunned corrupt warlords. They also implemented an unforgiving brand of Islamic law. The Taliban government banned most forms of entertainment, from music to television to kite flying, and dealt with crime via public executions, stonings and amputations. Government officials in the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice monitored the streets. Women were forced to wear full-body burqas in public and were prohibited from working, attending school past the age of eight or visiting male doctors without a male chaperone. These restrictions stirred resentment in some Afghans.
1999 to 2001 - Sanctions, Atrocities and Reprisals
1999 to 2001
World Trade Center after the initial impact
In 1999, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Afghanistan to force the Taliban to hand over Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, who stood accused of orchestrating the deadly 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The Taliban refused, calling Bin Laden "a guest" in Afghanistan. International outrage grew in 2001 when the Taliban obliterated two treasured 1,500 year-old statues of Buddha carved into the Afghan cliffs at Bamiyan. Idol-worship was forbidden under the group's medieval version of Islam. This brazen act earned notable disgust in the international community, and was a capstone on their terrible human rights record.
In October 2001, following the September 11th terrorist attacks, United States and international coalition forces invaded Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden. The government fell quickly and the Taliban retreated to the south and east, toward Pakistan. Coalition troops gave pursuit, but lost the trail in the mountainous terrain near the border. Neither Taliban leader Mullah Muhammed Omar nor Osama bin Laden was captured. Taliban fighters knew the area well and made their way across the border to the Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan.
Taliban In Retreat, Karzai on the Rise
2002 to 2005
Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Photo Credit: AP
Back in Kabul in 2002 and 2003, the Taliban and Al Qaeda threats had receded and Afghan and coalition officials focused on reconstruction. The country convened a constitutional council, ratified a new constitution and elected Hamid Karzai as President in late 2004. In 2005, the first freely elected legislature in more than three decades came to power, and included women as members. An ABC News poll from December 2005 showed 77 percent of Afghans felt their country was headed in the right direction.
Only three nations granted diplomatic recognition to Afghanistan under the Taliban: the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, America's most important ally in the war on terror.
The Taliban Are Back
Taliban soldiers crossing the Khyber Pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Pakistan has always maintained a close relationship with its northern neighbor, and no factor has been more essential to the resurgence of the Taliban in recent years than the passivity - or perhaps even complicity - of Pakistan. Since fleeing Afghanistan into Pakistan's tribal areas in 2002, the Taliban have regrouped. Largely beyond the reach of Islamabad, the tribal lands make an ideal rear base from which to organize and recruit new fighters. In many ways, the region is recapitulating its past; today the Taliban and other militants use the lawless zone to fortify for the fight against NATO and Afghan troops in much the same way the mujahedeen once did for war against the Soviets. The militant mix today consists of Taliban leaders and Afghan insurgents, Uzbek and other Central Asian militants, and Arab terrorists, including possibly Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. "It is the lesson from Afghanistan in the '90s," noted a Western ambassador in Pakistan. "Ungoverned spaces are a problem. The whole tribal area is a problem."
A clear indicator of the perils of these lawless areas is the spate of suicide bombings that recently have rattled Afghanistan and Pakistan. Suicide attacks were unheard of before 2001, and experts believe they are a hallmark of the influence of Al Qaeda on the Taliban. The bombings have rendered much of southern Afghanistan unsafe for foreigners. In February, a suicide bomber killed 23 people outside the U.S. base at Bagram during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, who was unharmed. The Taliban later said Cheney was the target.
Afghanistan: A New Iraq?
Close to 100 suicide bombings have occurred in the last year in Afghanistan. A newspaper account described a willing suicide bomber who was turned away because there were too many recruits in line ahead of him. Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah recently boasted to Reuters that he had suicide bombers in every Afghan city. He also claimed the Taliban cooperate closely with Al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents, and that Osama bin Laden plays an active management role. But there is also evidence of internecine strife - insurgents with links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighting on both sides of militant-on-militant conflicts, and local tribes pitted against one another. Recently, a council of elders in the Wana region of Waziristan declared jihad against foreign militants, accusing them of killing tribesmen.
The Poppy Rises
2006 to 2007
The re-emergence of the Taliban has hinged on money, and that has meant control of Afghan poppy production. The Taliban today deal with drug lords to manage a crop they once banned as un-Islamic. Many Afghanis are sorely dependent on the plant for income. Women have been seen openly planting poppy in front of their homes to attract buyers. The Taliban uses coercion and threats to keep farmers away from coalition reconstruction jobs and in the drug business. "Night letters" appear on doorsteps, warning that cooperation with the United States is punishable by death. In 2006, more than 100 accused "American spies" were killed. Opium and heroin production in Afghanistan - the source of 90 percent of the world market - has spiked during the recent "Talibanization."
A New Offensive
Soldier on an Afghan street
Photo Credit: AP
The Pakistan government has struck several peace accords with tribal leaders in South Waziristan, and it agreed to terms with militants controlling North Waziristan in September of last year. But since the detente, cross-border attacks have not declined, and Taliban influence is on the rise. Pakistani newspapers have published reports on barbershops that refuse to shave beards; schools that have begun to ban girls; and televisions set ablaze in the streets. In Afghanistan, the population remains mostly pro-American, but frustration with President Karzai is running high, as reconstruction has stalled in the face of the resistance. There is general agreement that today the United States and NATO are fighting the Taliban on a scale not seen since 2001, and that 2007 will be a bloody year. There is also agreement that any solution will be economic or political, not military. Karzai recently acknowledged that he has met with Taliban militants in attempts to foster peace; and many observers admit that reconstruction and violence as inextricably linked. As American Lt. General Karl Eikenberry put it, "Wherever the roads end, that's where the Taliban starts."