Source: The Knowledge News
Though they no longer rule Afghanistan, Taliban forces still cause plenty of trouble in that land. They regrouped along the border with Pakistan–their original base–and fight on. Some 300 people have been killed in the past week, in some of the heaviest fighting in years. And the U.S. military says the Taliban is gaining strength in some areas.
The Taliban is used to fighting. The group emerged from one of the bloodiest periods in Afghan history: the 1980s, when Afghanistan was ruled by communists propped up by Soviet troops. The government’s Marxism was anathema to Muslims in the countryside, and thousands of mujahedeen (“holy warriors”)–including Saudi Arabia’s Osama bin Laden–waged guerrilla war to force the Soviets out.
The mujahedeen were badly outgunned, but several countries came to their aid. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan sympathized with their religious cause. Others, like China and the United States, were happy to see the Soviets bogged down in a long, expensive war. In 1986, America started funneling shoulder-to-air missiles to the mujahedeen to help them deal with Soviet air power.
The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, and the communist government fell three years later. Yet the victorious mujahedeen were divided and soon fought among themselves. Outside its cities, Afghanistan was ruled by warlords, who extorted money and assessed arbitrary taxes.
In the midst of the mess, a group of students promised to bring law and order. The fight against the Soviets had drawn a huge number of student volunteers from ultra-conservative Islamic schools in Pakistan called madrasahs. Disgusted with the warlords, many rose up under a fighter named Mohammed Omar. Known as the Taliban (meaning “students”), they vowed to bring Islamic law to chaotic Afghanistan.
Taken by the Taliban
In 1996, the Taliban took Kabul and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Under Omar’s leadership, they revived traditional punishments like stoning and amputation. They put limits on girls’ education, refused to let women work, and more or less banned anything that might promote vice, including movies, cameras, television, and music.
In one highly publicized incident in 2001, Omar ordered the destruction of two massive sculptures of the Buddha, because they violated an Islamic injunction against religious images. These images, carved into a sandstone cliff more than 1,500 years ago, were priceless historical relics, and Omar’s decision drew protests even from Muslim nations. Yet the statues were blasted to pieces nonetheless.
Osama or Bust
Meanwhile, Afghanistan earned a reputation as a refuge for terrorists. Omar and bin Laden had forged a friendship during the fight with the Soviets, and under Taliban rule Afghanistan remained bin Laden’s home. In 1999 and 2001, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Afghanistan, to force his extradition. When the World Trade Center and Pentagon were struck by suicide attacks on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government again demanded bin Laden. Omar refused.
U.S. troops followed. America’s primary ally in the fight was the Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of mujahedeen militias that had been fighting the Taliban for years. In October 2001, U.S. forces began bombing Afghan targets. By early December, the Taliban had been removed from power. But Omar and other Taliban leaders remain at large.