In 1979, when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan to support its communist government, they had to fight a resistance – known as the Mujahideen – supported by the US, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, among other countries. The Taliban, or “students” in the Afghani language, emerged in northern Pakistan post the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the early 1990s from Afghanistan, when the civil war was still going on.
It is believed that the promise made by the Taliban – in areas extending to both Pakistan and Afghanistan – was to restore peace and foster security and enforce their own code and conduct of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.
The Taliban quickly extended their influence. In September 1995 they captured Herat, a province bordering Iran. Exactly one year later, they overthrew the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani – one of the founding fathers of the Afghan mujahideen by capturing the Afghan capital, Kabul. And by 1998, the Taliban controlled almost 90% of Afghanistan.
Afghans generally welcomed the Taliban initially when they first appeared on the scene. Their popularity in the prime part was largely due to their endeavours in removing corruption, curbing the system, especially the judiciary, and making the roads and the areas under their control safe for trade and business activities to flourish.
But on the other hand, the Taliban also introduced or supported public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers and amputations for those found guilty of theft among other Islamic punishments. Women had to wear the all-covering burka and even the men were required to grow beards. The Taliban banned major sources of entertainment like television, music and cinema, and were against girls aged 10 or more going to a school. There were also accusations of various human rights and cultural abuses. One example was in 2001, when the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan was destructed by the Taliban.
However, it was the attacks on the World Trade Centre in September 2001 that brought Taliban to the limelight to global terrorism. The Taliban were also accused of providing a sanctuary to the one who were blamed for the attacks, Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda militants. As an aftermath, On October 7, 2001, a US-led military coalition invaded Afghanistan and by early December, the Taliban regime had collapsed.
Despite ever increased presence of the foreign troops, the Taliban gradually regained and then extended their influence again. At an unmatched level, they rendered vast tracts of Afghanistan insecure, and ignited violence in the country. In September 2012, the group also carried out a raid on NATO’s Camp Bastion base.
Peace was expected when in 2013, Taliban announced its plan to open an office in Qatar. Despite, the chaos never ended and the violence continued. Around August 2015, when the Taliban admitted they had covered up Mullah Omar’s death for more than two years and declared Mullah Mansour, the then deputy of Mullah Omar as their new leader, they seized control of Kunduz, a provincial capital. In May 2016, Mullah Mansour was killed in a US drone strike and was replaced by his deputy, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.
It has been decades since the war and it seems to continue for decades to come, noticed or unnoticed. The powerful, unified and fierce Taliban resistance, the intervention of world superpowers and the poor governance and control of the Afghan forces keep the war going. A lack of political clarity since the invasion began only poses questions about the effectiveness of the US strategy over the past 18 years. The grave situation has reached a stalemate with each side just simply trying to break it by maximising their leverage during the negotiations. It has also been reported that the Taliban have their roots in Pakistan as well, which is why they were able to recoup and come back stronger post the US Invasion.
The group is believed to be making as much as $1.5B a year, which is obviously a huge increase with respect to the past. Some of this is through drugs as Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer, and the opium poppies that are used for heroin, are grown majorly in Taliban-held areas. They also make money by taxing people who travel through these areas and anyone who is engaged in the business of telecommunications, electricity and minerals. Even though foreign countries like Pakistan & Iran have denied funding them, their private citizens are believed to do so.
Just like in any other war, here too, it is difficult to say how many Afghan soldiers have died since the number is not published anymore but in January 2019, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had said that since 2014, 45,000 members of the security forces had been killed. Since the 2001 invasion, nearly 3,500 members of the international coalition forces have died, including more than 2,300 Americans. 32000 civilians have died, quoted another report by the UN in February 2019.
Even though earlier this year, the US and the Taliban agreed to a peace deal in the Qatari capital of Doha, and the radical group did commit to reducing violence paving way for intra-Afghan talks, that began in Doha on September 12, indicating a withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, the air strikes continues with the US Military conducting retaliatory Air Strike against Taliban In Kandahar on December 10 this year.
Unfortunately, what is left is just a little hope!