Taliban's rise to power
This is a timeline of the background of the Taliban's rise to power. It details the Taliban movement's origins in Pashtun nationalism, and briefly relates its ideological underpinnings with that of broader Afghan society. It details the Taliban's consolidation of power, listing persecutions by the Taliban officials during its five years in power in Afghanistan and during its war with the Northern Alliance.
Contact with Pakistan's ISI
During the power vacuum created by the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the country was torn apart by warring mujahideen groups and the ISI of Pakistan grasped the chance to wield power in the region by fostering a previously unknown Kandahari student movement. They continued to support the Taliban, as Pakistani allies, in their push to conquer Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Taliban initially enjoyed enormous good will from Afghans weary of the corruption, brutality, and the incessant fighting of Mujahideen warlords. One story is that the rape and murder of boys and girls from a family traveling to Kandahar or a similar outrage by Mujahideen bandits sparked Mohammed Omar (Mullah Omar) and his students to vow to rid Afghanistan of these criminals. Another motivation was that the Pakistan-based truck shipping mafia known as the "Afghanistan Transit Trade" and their allies in the Pakistan government, trained, armed, and financed the Taliban to clear the southern road across Afghanistan to the Central Asian Republics of extortionate bandit gangs.
Many senior leaders of the Afghanistan Taliban were closely associated with and had attended the Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary in Akora Khattak in Pakistan, including Mullah Omar, and its role in supporting the Taliban. The seminary is run by Maulana Sami ul Haq of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam who is often referred to as the "Father of the Taliban".
Allegations of connection to 'The West' or to the United States (CIA)
After the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan in 1979, Islamic mujahideen fighters engaged in war with those Soviet forces. Some of those Islamic fighters would later transform into the Taliban according to Professor Carole Hillenbrand who stated: "The West helped the Taliban to fight the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan".
Although no documentation has officially surfaced that the CIA directly supported the Taliban or Al Qaeda, some basis for military support of the Taliban was provided when, in the early 1980s, the CIA and the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency) provided arms to Afghans resisting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the ISI assisted the process of gathering radical Muslims from around the world to fight against the Soviets. Osama bin Laden was one of the key players in organizing training camps for the foreign Arab volunteers, although his organization, Maktab al-Khidamat, was exclusively Saudi funded.
Ahmed Rashid states that the US indirectly supported the Taliban through its ally in Pakistan between 1994 and 1996 because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. For example, it made no comment when the Taliban captured Herat in 1995, and expelled thousands of girls from schools.
At this early stage, the then Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robin Raphel, strongly supported efforts to engage with the Taliban. She also supported a Unocal-led, Taliban-supported pipeline project on trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in April and August 1996. She was one of the first senior American officials to meet personally with Taliban, including its leader, Mohammed Omar. She called on the international community to "engage the Taliban." Raphel was instrumental in coordinating the State Department's establishment of diplomatic relations with the Taliban shortly after its takeover of Kabul:300. She welcomed their taking of Kabul in September 1996 as a "positive step". Her consistent support for the Taliban from its earliest days earned her the sobriquet "Lady Taliban" and "Godmother to the Taliban" in some circles.
Emergence in Afghanistan
The first major military activity of the Taliban was in October–November 1994 when they marched from Maiwand in southern Afghanistan to capture Kandahar City and the surrounding provinces, losing only a few dozen men. Starting with the capture of a border crossing and a huge ammunition dump from warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a few weeks later they freed "a convoy trying to open a trade route from Pakistan to Central Asia" from another group of warlords attempting to extort money. In the next three months this hitherto "unknown force" took control of twelve of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, with Mujahideen warlords often surrendering to them without a fight and the "heavily armed population" giving up their weapons. By September 1996 they had captured Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. Taliban emergence also started with two local commanders of the then government raped a girl. Taliban found the commanders and hung them as their punishment.
Consolidation of power
Under the Taliban regime, Sharia law was interpreted to ban a wide variety of activities hitherto lawful in Afghanistan: employment, education and sports for women, movies, television, videos, music, dancing, hanging pictures in homes, clapping during sports events, kite flying, and beard trimming. One Taliban list of prohibitions included:
pork, pig, pig oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography, and equipment that produces the joy of music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, television, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, pictures, Christmas cards.
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Men were required to have a beard extending farther than a fist clamped at the base of the chin. On the other hand, they had to wear their head hair short. Men were also required to wear a head covering.
Possession was forbidden of depictions of living things, whether drawings, paintings or photographs, stuffed animals, and dolls.
These rules were issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice (PVSV) and enforced by its "religious police," a concept thought to be borrowed from the Wahhabis. In newly conquered towns hundreds of religious police beat offenders (typically men without beards and women who were not wearing their burqas properly) with long sticks.
Theft was punished by the amputation of a hand, rape and murder by public execution. Married adulterers were stoned to death. In Kabul, punishments were carried out in front of crowds in the city's former soccer stadium.
Treatment of women
Women in particular were targets of the Taliban's restrictions. They were prohibited from working; from wearing clothing regarded as "stimulating and attractive," including the "Iranian chador," (viewed as insufficiently complete in its covering); from taking a taxi without a "close male relative" (mahram); washing clothes in streams; or having their measurements taken by tailors.
Employment of women was restricted to the medical sector because male medical personnel were not allowed to examine women. One result of the Taliban's ban on employment of women was the closing down of many primary schools, in places such as Kabul, not only for girls but for boys too, because almost all the teachers there were women.
Women were made to wear the burqa, a traditional dress covering the entire body, with a small screen covering the face through which the wearer could see. Taliban restrictions became more severe after they took control of the capital. In February 1998, religious police forced all women off the streets of Kabul and issued new regulations ordering "householders to blacken their windows, so women would not be visible from the outside." Home schools for girls, which had been allowed to continue, were forbidden. In June 1998, the Taliban stopped all women from attending general hospitals, leaving the use of one all-women hospital in Kabul. There were many reports of Muslim women being beaten by the Taliban for violating the Taliban interpretation of the Sharia.
Prohibitions on culture
A sample Taliban edict issued after their capture of Kabul is one decreed in December 1996 by the "General Presidency of Amr Bil Maruf and Nahi Anil Munkar" (or Religious Police) banning a variety of things and activities: music, shaving of beards, keeping of pigeons, flying kites, displaying of pictures or portraits, western hairstyles, music and dancing at weddings, gambling, "sorcery," and not praying at prayer times. In February 2001, Taliban used sledgehammers to destroy representational works of art at the National Museum of Afghanistan.
Local festivities were not exempt from prohibitions. The Taliban banned the traditional Afghan New Year's celebrations and "for a time they also banned [Ashura] the Shia Islamic month of mourning and even restricted any show of festivity at Eid." The Afghan people were not allowed to have any cultural celebrations if women were present. If there were only men at the celebration it would be allowed, so long as it ended by 7:00 p.m, a set time.
Many Taliban officials were slightly opposed to the idea of no entertainment, but even they wanted it to follow many of the religious restrictions.
Buddhas of Bamiyan
In March 2001, the Taliban ordered the demolition of two statues of Buddhas carved into cliffsides at Bamiyan, one 38 metres (125 ft) tall and carved in 507 CE, the other 53 metres (174 ft) tall and carved in 554 CE. The act was condemned by UNESCO and many countries around the world.
The intentions of the destruction remain unclear. Mullah Omar initially supported the preservation of Afghanistan's heritage, and Japan linked financial aid to the preservation of the statues. However, after a few years, a decree was issued claiming all representations of humans and idols, including those in museums, must be destroyed in accordance with Islamic law which prohibits any form of idol worship.
The government of Pakistan (itself host to one of the richest and most ancient collections of Buddhist art) implored the Taliban to spare the statues. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates later denounced the act as savage.
Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a senior representative of the Taliban designated as the roving Ambassador, visited the US in March, 2001. He portrayed the Taliban's action not as an act of irrationality, but as an act of rage over UNESCO and some western governments denying the Taliban use of the funds meant for the repairs of the war-damaged statues of the Buddha. He contended that the Taliban intended to use the money for drought relief. However, the Taliban spent much money and effort on destroying the statues, resources which they could have instead used for drought relief.
Ethnic massacres and persecution
The worst attack on civilians came in summer of 1998 when the Taliban swept north from Herat to the predominantly Hazara and Uzbek city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the largest city in the north. Entering at 10 am on 8 August 1998, for the next two days the Taliban drove their pickup trucks "up and down the narrow streets of Mazar-i-Sharif shooting to the left and right and killing everything that moved — shop owners, cart pullers, women and children shoppers and even goats and donkeys." More than 8000 noncombatants were reported killed in Mazar-i-Sharif and later in Bamiyan. Contrary to the injunctions of Islam, which demands immediate burial, the Taliban forbade anyone to bury the corpses for the first six days while they rotted in the summer heat and were eaten by dogs. In addition to this indiscriminate slaughter, the Taliban sought out and massacred members of the Hazara, a mostly Shia ethnic group, while in control of Mazar-i-Sharif.
While the slaughter can be attributed to several factors – ethnic difference, suspicion of Hazara loyalty to their co-religionists in Iran, fury at the loss of life suffered in an earlier unsuccessful Taliban takeover of Mazar – the belief by some Sunni Taliban that the Shia Hazaras were guilty of takfir (apostasy) may have been the principal motivation. It was expressed by Mullah Niazi, the commander of the attack and governor of Mazar after the attack, in his declaration from Mazar's central mosque:
Last year you rebelled against us and killed us. From all your homes you shot at us. Now we are here to deal with you. The Hazaras are not Muslims and now we have to kill Hazaras. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan. Wherever you go we will catch you. If you go up we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair.
Hazara also suffered a siege by the Taliban of their Hazarajat homeland in central Afghanistan and the refusal by the Taliban to allow the UN to supply food to Hazara in the provinces of Bamiyan, Ghor, Wardak and Ghazni. A month after the Mazar slaughter, Taliban broke through Hazar lines and took over Hazarajat. The number of civilians killed was not as great as in Mazar, but occurred nevertheless.
According to the testimony of Guantanamo captives before their Combatant Status Review Tribunals, the Taliban, in addition to conscripting men to serve as soldiers, also conscripted men to staff its civil service.
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Status of women
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- Prostitution Under the rule of Taliban – 1999 RAWA report on prostitution