America Responds
Rescue workers raising the flag
Grieving man
Rescue workers
President and Mrs. Bush
Classroom Resources
Afghanistan Today: Civil War and Human Rights
Grade Level: High (9-12)
Estimated Time: Three one-hour sessions

Lesson Overview:
Your students may be hearing a lot in the news about Afghanistan and the Taliban. Help students understand the Taliban's position within Afghanistan, how the Taliban's practices have raised concerns about human rights, and the economic and cultural climate in Afghanistan today. Students may use this knowledge to postulate about what a war would mean for the Afghan people, short- and long-term.

Related National Standards from McREL:

  • Understands the impact of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War (e.g., the effects of United States and Soviet competition for influence or dominance upon such countries as Egypt, Iran, the Congo, Vietnam, Chile, and Guatemala)
  • Understands the strategic role of the Muslim countries during the Cold War (e.g., the importance of geography, economy, and population) and the change in the region's role since the breakup of the Soviet Union
  • Understands the role of political ideology, religion, and ethnicity in shaping modern governments
  • Understands the role of ethnicity, cultural identity, and religious beliefs in shaping economic and political conflicts across the globe (e.g., why terrorist movements have proliferated and the extent of their impact on politics and society in various countries; the tensions and contradictions between globalizing trends of the world economy and assertions of traditional cultural identity and distinctiveness, including the challenges to the role of religion in contemporary society; the meaning of jihad and other Islamic beliefs that are relevant to military activity, how these compare to the Geneva Accords, and how such laws and principles apply to terrorist acts)
  • Understands the influence of American constitutional values and principles on American foreign policy (e.g., a commitment to the self-determination of nations), and understands the tensions that might arise among American values, principles, and interests as the nation deals with the practical requirements of international politics (e.g., a commitment to human rights and the requirements of national security)


  • Computer(s) with Internet connection
  • Paper, pen


  1. Afghanistan is under the microscope in the wake of the terrorist attacks on America, because it is where the prime suspect, Osama bin Laden, makes his home. However, Afghanistan was also on many people's minds before the attacks because of the Taliban.

  2. Ask students what they know about the Taliban. What or who is it? Why have people been concerned about it, even before the terrorist attacks?

  3. Share this quotation with students:
    When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps.
    -Tamim Ansary, "An Afghan-American Speaks"

  4. What does this quotation imply about the relatinship between Osama bin Laden and the Taliban? What does it tell you about the relationship between the Taliban and the rest of Afghanistan? What does it imply is happening in Afghanistan?

  5. Explain to students that while this author's information isn't entirely correct--bin Laden does not head the Taliban as Hitler headed the Nazi party--it captures through analogy many of the concerns of those who oppose the Taliban.

  6. Understanding the Taliban is essential to understanding America's official response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. To help students with this, ask them to research the following questions, in groups or individually:

  7. Explain to students that the Afghan people have been devastated not only by the Taliban, but by years of civil war and a ten year war with the former Soviet Union when it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The U.S. response during this time was a) to arm and train Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets, many of these rebels now Taliban members, and b) to bomb suspected terrorist camps on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 1998.

  8. Ask students what else they think the United States should have done in Afghanistan following the Soviet-Afghan War and during the rise of the Taliban. Could we have prevented or improved the present state of affairs in Afghanistan?

  9. Ask students to write about contemporary life in Afghanistan from one of the following perspectives. What would this person want for the future? What would this person fear? How might he or she feel about a ground war with America?
    • Taliban military leader
    • Afghan woman, former teacher
    • Afghan soldier in the Northern Alliance
    • Citizen in northern border country Uzbekistan

  10. Based upon everything students have learned in this lesson, ask them what they think some of the outcomes might be if the United States were to launch a ground war against Afghanistan. Compare their reaction to the opinion of Tamim Ansary ("An Afghan-American Speaks") whose quotation opened the lesson.

Student understanding should be assessed through:

  • contribution to class discussion
  • research on the Taliban (quality and accuracy of information gathered, five facts presented to the class)
  • first person writing from Afghan point of view

PBS Primetime Coverage
PBS provided nightly coverage and analysis of the terrorist attacks on the United States with "America Responds."

Key PBS Resources:

Online NewsHour
Ongoing coverage and analysis.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
Helping children cope.