The Taliban emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops. A predominantly Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group, the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021.
Who are the Taliban?
After a twenty-year war, the Taliban, a mostly Pashtun Islamic fundamentalist party, retook control in Afghanistan in 2021.
The Taliban regrouped across the border in Pakistan following the US-led assault that ousted the initial administration in 2001, and began reclaiming territory less than 10 years later. By August 2021, the Taliban had taken control of most major cities, including Kabul, the Afghan capital. The Taliban’s quick attack came as the US evacuated its remaining soldiers from Afghanistan in accordance with a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban.
Despite their promises to safeguard the rights of women and minority communities and to grant amnesty to anyone who backed US operations, experts believe the Taliban would impose severe control. Meanwhile, the group confronts significant obstacles in delivering security, health care, and economic opportunity to Afghans.
What does taliban mean?
The Taliban, which refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, is a Deobandi Pashtun Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization in Afghanistan.
The Taliban flag
The Taliban’s white-and-black banner has replaced the former Afghan national flag above most government buildings, police stations, and military installations since their return to power in Afghanistan last month.
However, this has triggered a number of protests around the country, with three Afghans killed and numerous others injured in one such rally in Jalalabad in August.
Same inscription as old flag
The Taliban flag is white and features a black writing in the centre. In truth, the inscription is the same as on the old black-red-green flag, but more clearly displayed: ‘La ilah illallah, Muhammadur rasoul Allah,’ which means “There is no deity but Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.”
The Shahada is a Muslim confession of faith and an Islamic oath, and it is the first of the Five Pillars of Islam mentioned in the Quran. Prayers, alms, fasting, and pilgrimage are the other four.
The white flag also bears the words ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,’ which is the country’s new official name, as proclaimed by the Taliban after installing a caretaker government Tuesday.
The flag has been in use for two decades, since the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s.
When the militant Islamist group first took power in 1996, the flag was plain white, symbolising “the purity of their faith and government”. The group added the Shahada in black a year later.
What does the Taliban flag symbolize?
The black hue depicts the country’s tumultuous history as a protected state in the nineteenth century, the red colour signifies the blood of those who battled for independence (particularly, the 1919 Anglo-Afghan Treaty), and the green colour indicates optimism and prosperity for the future.
How many Taliban fighters are there?
The Taliban’s strength is even more difficult to assess. Estimates predict a core strength of 60,000 fighters, according to the US Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. That figure might rise to 200,000 if other militia organisations and supporters are included.
Do the Taliban pose a threat?
Experts say the Taliban represent an imminent threat to Afghans’ civil and political rights, which are codified in the US-backed government’s constitution. Foreign nations have warned that if the Taliban do not defend Afghans’ rights, help will be cut off, perhaps resulting in a humanitarian crisis. Observers are also concerned that the Taliban may allow terrorists to operate within Afghanistan, posing a regional and global security threat.
Rise to power
Following the withdrawal of Soviet soldiers from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, the Taliban, or “students” in Pashto, arose in northern Pakistan. The primarily Pashtun movement is thought to have begun at religious seminaries preaching a fundamentalist brand of Sunni Islam, which were mostly funded by Saudi Arabia.
Once in power, the Taliban promised to restore peace and security in Pashtun territories bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as to apply their own strict form of Sharia, or Islamic law.
Al Qaeda vs Taliban
Although the Taliban and al-Qaeda are both militant jihadist organisations, they are not the same.
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are radical jihadist organisations dedicated to ridding the world of the threat that Western civilization poses to Islam, as they see it.
However, while they share a similar worldview in general, their viewpoints are vastly different, to the point where the two factions have frequently clashed.
And, while there’s no denying that IS has dominated the news in recent months, both al-Qaeda and the Taliban are still on the loose.
But what are the distinctions between these two well-known terrorist groups?
Wahhabism, an extreme strain of Sunni Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran, is followed by Al-Qaeda.
Osama Bin Laden and Mohammad Atif created the organisation in Pakistan in 1988, shortly before Soviet soldiers left from neighbouring Afghanistan.
In Arabic, Al-Qaeda means “foundation,” and they think that Jihad is the only way to mobilise their kind of Islam.
They believe in the concept of ‘defensive jihad,’ which states that it is every Muslim’s duty to combat those who are perceived to be hostile to Islam.
The terrorist group was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001, which resulted in the deaths of 2,977 individuals.
The West and its culture were seen as a danger to Islam by the organisation, and its main goal was to establish an Islamic state based on Sharia law.
However, experts argue that al-Qaeda has fragmented over the years into a variety of regional movements that have little connection with one another.
- The Taliban
Although both practise Sunni Islam, the Taliban vary from al-Qaeda in that much of its ideals are based on the traditional Pashtun tribal way of life in Afghanistan.
In the autumn of 1994, the party rose to prominence in Afghanistan, where it ruled for five years, from 1996 to 2001.
Taliban is an Arabic word that means’student,’ and it is usually assumed that the group arose from theological institutions that advocated a rigorous version of Sunni Islam.
They vowed to restore peace and security in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Pashtun districts by enforcing Sharia rule.
The group, on the other hand, imposes highly harsh regulations on its citizens.
Women beyond the age of ten are not allowed to attend school, and television and social media are prohibited.
Contrary to popular assumption, there are multiple separate groups that make up the ‘Taliban.’
The TTP is Pakistan’s largest and most effective terrorist organisation. This was the organisation that attempted to assassinate Malala Yousafzai for attending school under their control.
Surprisingly, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are rivals as well as allies; their ideals are slightly at odds, which has resulted in confrontations in the past.
Origin and first regime
In the aftermath of the Afghan War (1978–92), the Taliban arose. Outside of Kabul, Afghanistan’s new government failed to maintain civil order, and much of the country has been subjected to extortion and assault by local militias and warlords.
Faced with huge displacement throughout the conflict, many Afghans found solace in the mujahideen resistance’s religious rhetoric and opportunity in Islamic schools (known as madrasahs) in southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. In 1994, a group of ex-fighters affiliated with a madrasa in Kandahar province effectively subjugated a local warlord and began pacifying the surrounding territory.
With its promise of security and religious fervour, the faction swiftly expanded into the Taliban movement, which is now known as the Taliban.
By late 1996, the Taliban had taken control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well as roughly two-thirds of the country.
The Taliban met with fierce opposition, particularly after asserting its own understanding of law and order.
It created a brutally authoritarian administration by combining a rigid religious ideology—a blend of Deobandi traditionalism and Wahhab puritanism—with a traditionalist Pashtun social code (Pashtunwali). The near-total exclusion of women from public life (including employment and education) was one of its objectives.
Non-Pashtun ethnic groups in the north, west, and central sections of the country—namely, the Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara—were particularly vocal in their opposition, seeing the Taliban’s dominance as a continuation of the country’s traditional Pashtun hegemony.
Only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates recognised the Taliban administration in 2001, when they controlled all but a small part of northern Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan war and removal from power
Apart from the Taliban’s disturbing disrespect for human rights, many countries were afraid that Osama bin Laden, who had helped establish a network of foreign-born Muslim militants during the Afghan War, might be granted asylum by the Taliban. Al-Qaeda had grown into a network of Islamist militants seeking a violent war to free the Islamic world from non-Muslim influence, and it had staged multiple assaults against the US. Even after bin Laden and al-Qaeda were proved to be responsible for the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York City.
How has the world responded to the Taliban?
Governments and international entities have helped US-led efforts to evict the Taliban and strengthen Afghanistan’s government, democratic institutions, and civil society in the following ways over the last two decades:
1. Military might
After invading Afghanistan in October 2001, US troops quickly ousted the Taliban. The Taliban then fought an insurgency against the Afghan government, which was backed by the United States. Over the course of a conflict that killed over 6,000 US personnel and contractors and over 1,100 NATO troops, the group withstood counterinsurgency efforts from the world’s most powerful security alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and three US administrations.
Between 2007 and 2021, an estimated 73,000 Afghan army and police officers were killed, including 47,000 civilians. Thousands of Taliban fighters are also thought to have perished. In 2011, the number of US forces in Afghanistan reached a high of over 100,000. In 2003, NATO took command of foreign forces for the first time, marking the alliance’s first operational commitment outside of Europe.
NATO has about 130,000 troops from fifty countries stationed in Afghanistan at its peak. The United States agreed to withdraw all U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2020 if the Taliban kept their promises, which included breaking links with terrorist groups. The United States of America completed its troop withdrawal in August 2021.
In 1999, the UN Security Council slapped sanctions on the regime for harbouring al-Qaeda, and after 9/11, the penalties were expanded. Taliban commanders’ financial holdings are being targeted, and they are being barred from most travel. The Taliban were also subjected to an arms embargo by the UN Security Council. Additional penalties have been imposed by the United States and the European Union.
3. Democratic reforms and aid
According to a 2019 World Bank report, Afghanistan has received aid from dozens of countries, with international funding covering 75% of the government’s public spending. In the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover, many Western countries have halted aid and the World Bank has barred the Taliban from accessing millions of dollars, putting the country’s economy in further jeopardy.
Since 2003, the International Criminal Court has been investigating the Taliban for alleged abuses of Afghan civilians, including crimes against humanity. War crimes allegations have also been levelled against US and Afghan forces.
Do Afghans support the Taliban?
The Taliban enjoyed widespread popularity for many years following their overthrow. In 2009, the Asia Foundation, a non-profit organisation located in the United States, discovered that half of Afghans, largely Pashtuns and rural Afghans, sympathised with armed opposition groups, primarily the Taliban. Afghan support for the Taliban and affiliated forces was fueled in part by resentment of government institutions.
In 2019, however, only 13.4 percent of Afghans had sympathy for the Taliban, according to a response to the same study. As intra-Afghan peace talks stalled in early 2021, an overwhelming majority of those polled thought protecting women’s rights, freedom of speech, and the current constitution was critical. Surveillance data shows that 44% of Afghans said they believed that Afghanistan could achieve peace in the next two years.
Following the takeover in 2021, tens of thousands of Afghans attempted to evacuate the country, with the UN refugee agency estimating that more than half a million Afghans may emigrate by the end of the year. In addition, in the remote and hilly Panjshir Province, a resistance movement known as the National Resistance Front was founded by former officials, local militia members, and Afghan security officers. After more than a week of warfare, the Taliban grabbed control of the province, but the resistance group has promised to continue battling the Taliban.
Why did the US fight a war in Afghanistan and why did it last so long?
Following the takeover in 2021, tens of thousands of Afghans attempted to flee the country, with the UN refugee agency anticipating that over half a million Afghans may flee by the end of the year. In addition, a resistance movement known as the National Resistance Front was created by former politicians, local militia members, and Afghan security officers in the remote and rocky Panjshir Province. The Taliban took control of the province after more than a week of fighting, but the resistance group has sworn to keep fighting.
In 2004, a new Afghan government took over when Nato allies joined the US, but deadly Taliban attacks persisted. In 2009, President Barack Obama’s “troop surge” helped push the Taliban back, although it was short-lived.
Nato’s multinational soldiers terminated their combat operation in 2014, at the end of the bloodiest year since 2001, handing security over to the Afghan army.
The Taliban gained momentum as a result, and they conquered additional land.
Peace talks between the US and the Taliban began tentatively, with the Afghan government largely absent, until an agreement on a pullout was reached in Qatar in February 2020.
The US-Taliban deal did not stop the Taliban attacks – they switched their focus instead to Afghan security forces and civilians, and targeted assassinations. Their areas of control grew.
The Taliban has swept to victory in Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting.
On August 15, the group concluded their astonishingly quick assault across the country by taking Kabul.
After a settlement between the US and the Taliban, foreign soldiers withdrew from Afghanistan, two decades after US forces ousted the extremists from power in 2001.
Thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced as a result of the violence.
Taliban troops have vowed to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists posing a threat to the West.
However, doubts have already been raised about how the group intends to administer the country, as well as what their control will imply for women, human rights, and political liberties.
The state of the Taliban’s finances and international support
According to the UN monitoring group, the Taliban made the majority of their money from criminal operations including opium poppy farming, drug trafficking, extortion of local companies, and kidnapping prior to their takeover. Their yearly revenue is estimated to be between $300 million and $1.6 billion.
In 2020, they are expected to generate roughly $460 million from opium poppy production, according to one estimate. Despite UN sanctions, they have supplemented their finances with illegal mining and foreign donations. Under the new administration, it is unclear how the Taliban’s revenue sources would evolve.
Many experts believe that in order to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s security apparatus continues to provide financial and logistical support to the Taliban, including providing safe haven for Taliban terrorists. Islamabad denies the allegations. (At the same time, Pakistan has been fighting its own insurgency group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, also known as the Pakistani Taliban and distinct from the Afghan Taliban.)
What could happen next?
It’s still unclear how the Taliban intend to administer Afghanistan.
Women have a bleak future ahead of them. Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, says the group will respect women’s and minorities’ rights “as per Afghan customs and Islamic values.”
The insurgents had declared an amnesty across Afghanistan and stated that women should be allowed to join their administration.
However, under Taliban rule, women’s ability to work, dress as they choose, and even leave home alone is a source of concern.
Another significant concern is that the country will once again be used as a terrorist training ground.
Officials from the Taliban stress that they will follow the US arrangement to the letter and would not allow any group to use Afghan soil as a base for strikes against the US.
They claim that their primary goal is to establish an “Islamic government” and that they will not constitute a threat to other countries.
However, many observers believe the Taliban and al-Qaeda are inextricably linked, with al-Qaeda fighters actively integrated and engaged in training.
It’s also worth remembering that the Taliban isn’t a centralised, cohesive force. Some authorities may wish to keep the West at bay by avoiding causing trouble, but hardliners may be hesitant to terminate ties with al-Qaeda.
It’s also uncertain how powerful al-Qaeda is and whether it can now reestablish its global network.
Then there’s the ISKP (Khorasan Province), a regional affiliate of the Islamic State that the Taliban opposes.
ISKP, like al-Qaeda, has been weakened by the US and Nato, but it may be able to regroup in the post-withdrawal era.
Its fighters may number only a few hundred to 2,000, but it may try to establish bases in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and parts of Tajikistan, posing a severe regional threat.