The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The Taliban (Pashtun and Persian: طالبان; "students of Islam"), also transliterated as Taleban, is an Islamist movement which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, despite having diplomatic recognition from only three countries: the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The most influential members, including Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the movement, were simple village ulema (Islamic religious scholars), whose limited education did not include exposure to modern Islamic thought.


Rise to power

After the fall of the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1992, Afghanistan was thrown into civil war between competing mujahideen warlords. The Taliban eventually emerged as a force able to bring order to the country. The rise of the Taliban helped the economy by eliminating the payments that warlords demanded from business people; it brought political benefits by reducing factional fighting (although the Taliban fought aggressively against its enemies, its relative hegemony reduced the number of factions); and it brought social benefits by imposing a set of norms on a chaotic society. The Taliban enjoyed considerable support from Pashtun Afghans and from Pakistan. The United States hoped that the Taliban might push the warlords to resolve their differences and chose a "hands-off" policy. Although the radical ideology of the Taliban would later alienate many, several observers initially considered its emergence as a positive development.

Mullah Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader, and Head of State
Mullah Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader, and Head of State

Taliban legend has it that in the spring of 1994, upon hearing of the abduction and rape of two girls at a mujahideen checkpoint in the village of Sang Hesar near Kandahar, local mullah Mohammed Omar, a veteran of the Harakat-i Inqilab-i Islami faction of the mujahideen, gathered thirty other taliban into a fighting force, rescued the girls and hanged the commander of the mujahideen. After this incident, Taliban legend goes, the services of these pious religious fighters were in much demand from villagers plagued by unruly mujahideen, and thus the Taliban were born.

Following this incident, Omar fled to the neighboring Balochistan province of Pakistan, from where he emerged in the fall of 1994, reportedly with a well-armed and well-funded militia of 1,500 followers, who would provide protection for a Pakistani trade convoy carrying goods overland to Turkmenistan. However, many reports suggest that the convoy was in fact full of Pakistani fighters posing as Taliban, and that the Taliban had gained considerable arms, military training, and economic aid from the Pakistanis. Some claim that support also came from the U.S., which would have preferred a Pakistan-installed government over the Russian-backed Northern Alliance.

After gaining power in and around Kandahar through a combination of military and diplomatic victories, the Taliban attacked, and eventually defeated, the forces of Ismail Khan in the west of the country, capturing Herat from him on September 5, 1995. That winter, the Taliban laid siege to the capital city Kabul, firing rockets into the city and blockading trade routes. In March, the Taliban's opponents, Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar ceased fighting one another and formed a new anti-Taliban alliance. But on September 26, 1996 they quit the city of Kabul and retreated north, allowing the Taliban to capture the seat of government and establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

On May 20, 1997, brother Generals Abdul Malik Pehlawan and Mohammed Pehlawan mutinied from under Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum's command and formed an alliance with the Taliban. Three days later, Dostum abandoned much of his army and fled from his base in Mazar-i-Sharif into Uzbekistan. On May 25, Taliban forces, along with those of the mutinous generals, entered the undefended Mazar-i-Sharif. That same day, Pakistan recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, followed by recognition from Saudi Arabia the following day. However, on May 27, fierce street battles broke out between the Taliban and Malik's forces. The Taliban, unused to urban warfare, were soundly defeated, with thousands losing their lives either in battle or in mass executions afterward.

On August 8, 1998, the Taliban re-captured Mazar-i-Sharif.

On August 20, US President Bill Clinton ordered the United States Navy to fire cruise missiles on four sites in Afghanistan all near Khost, (and one in Sudan) which the U.S. claimed were terrorist training camps. The sites included one run by Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, who allegedly directed the August 7 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. Three other villages, whose legitimacy as targets was strongly disputed by many sources, were also hit.

At its height, the Emirate was recognised by Pakistan, by the United Arab Emirates and by Saudi Arabia. It then controlled all of Afghanistan, apart from small regions in the northeast which were held by the Northern Alliance. Most of the rest of the world, and the United Nations continued to recognize Rabbani as Afghanistan's legal Head of State, although it was generally understood that he had no real influence in the country.

The Taliban received logistical and humanitarian support from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). An estimated $2 million came each year from Saudi Arabia's major charity, funding two universities and six health clinics and supporting 4,000 orphans. The Saudi King Fahd sent an annual shipment of dates as a gift. The relationship with Iran was very bad because of the Taliban's strong anti Shia policy.


In the languages spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Persian and Pushtu), Taliban (also Taleban) means those who study the book (meaning the Qur'an). It is derived from the Arabic word for seeker or student, talib. The Taliban belong to the Deobandi movement, a Sunni Islam movement which emphasizes piety and austerity and the family obligations of men. They emerged from the ethnically Pashtun areas of Afghanistan.

Life under Taliban rule

Main article: Life under Taliban rule

Islamist law

Once in power, the Taliban instituted Islamic law. The Taliban's reform of government, was in part directed by scholars on Islamic Law. The punishments, administered by a religious police force, included amputation of one or both hand(s) for theft and stoning for adultery.

The Taliban banned all forms of TV, imagery and music. Wearing white shoes - the color of the Taliban flag - was illegal as well as was the wearing of too short beards.


Although the Taliban reportedly banned opium poppy cultivation in late 1997, opium production in Afghanistan may have increased through the year 2000, accounting for 72% of the world's illicit opium supply, according to U.S. government sources. Most Afghan opium is sold in Europe and not the United States.

On July 27, 2000, the Taliban again issued a decree banning opium poppy cultivation. The announcement of the ban caused prices to rise from $30 per kilogram to $500 per kilogram.

There was comment from the international human rights community on the brutality of the Taliban's anti-drug interdictions, including violent punishment of offenders.

The State Department noted in 2001 that “Neither the Taliban nor the Northern Alliance has taken any significant action to seize stored opium, precursor chemicals or arrest and prosecute narcotics traffickers. On the contrary, authorities were said to continue to tax the opium poppy crop at about ten percent, and allow it to be sold in open bazaars, traded and transported”

However the Taliban had succeeded in cutting annual poppy production from a CIA-estimated 4042 tons per year to only 81.3 tons per year, and in 2001 the US also sent millions of dollars to Afghanistan to reward it for what the US said was an effective effort at reducing poppy production.

Poppy production increased with the fall of the Taliban government.


The Taliban prevented women from working and sharply restricted the education of girls. Women were also denied hospital treatment to prevent their exposure to male hospital staffers and doctors.

Taliban religion minister, Al-Haj Maulwi Qalamuddin, told the New York Times that "To a country on fire, the world wants to give a match. Why is there such concern about women? Bread costs too much. There is no work. Even boys are not going to school. And yet all I hear about are women. Where was the world when men here were violating any woman they wanted?" Although the Taliban claimed that the education of girls in rural Afghanistan was increasing, a UNESCO report stated that there was "a whopping 65 per cent drop in their enrollment. In schools run by the Directorate of Education, only 1 per cent of the pupils are girls. The percentage of female teachers, too, has slid from 59.2 per cent in 1990 to 13.5 per cent in 1999."

A Taliban spokesperson claimed that "Health facilities for women have increased 200% during Taliban administration. Prior to the Taliban Islamic Movement's taking control of Kabul, there were 350 beds in all hospitals in Kabul. Currently, there are more than 950 beds for women in exclusive women's hospitals."

Supporters of the Taliban suggest that the depression and the other problems plaguing Afghani women were the result of dire poverty, years of war, the bad economy, and the fact that many were left war widows, and could no longer provide food for their families without some sort of international aid.

Women were also banned from going in public unless wearing face-covering burqas, a cultural and religious taboo in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and certain other Islamic societies.

Buddhas of Bamiyan

Main article: Buddhas of Bamiyan

In March 2001, the Taliban ordered the destruction of two statues of Buddha carved into cliffsides at Bamiyan, one 38 metres tall and 1800 years old, the other 53 metres tall and 1500 years old. The act was condemned by UNESCO and many countries around the world, including Iran.

Relationship with Osama bin Laden

In 1996, the Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden moved to Afghanistan upon the invitation of the Northern Alliance leader Abdur Rabb ur Rasool Sayyaf. When the Taliban came to power, bin Laden was able to forge an alliance between the Taliban and his Al-Qaeda organization. It is understood that Al Qaeda trained fighters known as the 055 Brigade were integrated with the Taliban army between 1997 and 2001. The generally accepted view in the West is that the Taliban and bin Laden had very close connections.

U.S. invasion

Main article: U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

On September 22, 2001, with the U.S. blaming bin Laden and his hosts, the Taliban, for the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United Arab Emirates and later Saudi Arabia withdrew their recognition of the Taliban as the legal government of Afghanistan, leaving neighboring Pakistan as the only remaining country with diplomatic ties. When threatened with retributive attack by the US for harboring Al Qaeda, the Taliban government offered to turn over Osama bin Laden to a neutral country for war crimes trial, but was ignored by the United States. It offered again two weeks later, getting increasing coverage in the International media.

24 hours later the U.S., aided by the United Kingdom and supported by a coalition of other countries including the NATO alliance, initiated military action against the Taliban, in October 2001. The stated intent was to remove the Taliban from power because of the Taliban's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden for his alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks, and in retaliation for the Taliban's aid to him. The ground war was mainly fought by the Northern Alliance, the remaining elements of the anti-Taliban forces which the Taliban had routed over the previous years.

Mazar-i-Sharif fell to US-Northern Alliance forces on November 9, leading to a cascade of provinces falling with minimal resistance, and many local forces switching sides from the Taliban to the Northern Alliance. On the night of November 12, the Taliban retreated south in an orderly fashion from Kabul. On November 15, they released eight Western aid workers after three months in captivity (see Attacks on humanitarian workers).

The UN Security Council, on January 16, 2002, unanimously established an arms embargo and the freezing of identifiable assets belonging to bin Laden, Al-Qaida, and the remaining Taliban.

The Taliban later retreated from Kandahar, and regrouped in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most post-invasion Taliban fighters are new recruits, drawn again from Pakistan's madrassahs (madrassah means "school" in Arabic). The more traditional Quranic schools are thought to be the primary source of the new fighters. For more on Taliban activities following their fall from power, see U.S. invasion of Afghanistan#Operation Anaconda.

See also

External link

Further reading

  • Griffin, Michael. (2003). Reaping the Whirlwind: Afghanistan, Al Q'aida and the Holy War. London: Pluto Press. ISBN 0745319165
  • Jones, Owen Bennett (2002). Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd Ed.. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300097603. Note pp. 9-11.
  • Rashid, Ahmed (2000) Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, ISBN 0300089023
  • Matinuddun, Kamal (1999) Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994-1997 ISBN 0195779037

Last updated: 07-30-2005 00:53:14
Last updated: 08-19-2005 06:44:22