The Taliban

November 17, 1999 the Kabul stadium was packed with hundreds of men and women, most of whom brought their children with them. These people came to watch the brutal and inhuman act of the Taliban; the stadium was completely silent like an empty room with no one inside it. Everyone had come to watch the execution of a woman. Her name was Zarmeena, a mother of seven children and she was found guilty of beating her husband to death. This was the first execution of a woman in Kabul since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996. The reason why she killed her husband, was described as a “family dispute” by the Taliban and no further details were given. The convicted woman, along with two female police officers, all covered from head to toe in blue burkas, was brought into the stadium in a pickup car. The convicted woman walked slowly, and the female police officers held her arms as she walked to the centre of the stadium. She was ordered to sit down and behind her a young Taliban soldier aimed at the back of her head with his Kalashnikov. Suddenly Zarmeena stood up and tried to run but a policewoman stopped her. The Taliban soldiers moved closer to her and shot her thrice and some people from the crowd shouted “Allah-o-akbar”- God is great.[1]

The Taliban rose and swept across late-twentieth-century Afghanistan much as Islam itself had swept across seventh-century Arabia and North Africa, filling the void left by the process of overrunning 80 per cent of the country, the Taliban captured Kabul, in 1996. There they carried out amputations and stonings and seized the Soviet puppet of Afghanistan, Najibullah, from the United Nations compound, castrating and jeep-dragging him before hanging him from a traffic post. (Kaplan 2001)[2]

The word Taliban comes from the word ‘Talib’ that means “a student or a knowledge seeker”. Taliban is a Sunni Islamist and Pashtun Nationalist movement that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when their leaders were removed from power by cooperative military effort between the Northern Alliance[3] and the NATO countries. The Taliban (“Students of Islamic Knowledge Movement”) came to power during the long civil war of Afghanistan. They managed to gain control of 90 per cent of the country’s territory but their policies of treatment of women and supporting the terrorism isolated them from the international community. The Taliban is one of the Mujahideen (“holy warriors” or “freedom fighters”) groups that were formed during the war against the Soviet (1979-89). In 1992 different Mujahideen groups formed an alliance and took control of the capital city, Kabul, setting up a new government with Burhanuddin Rabbani as the interim president. But unfortunately some groups were unable to cooperate and as a result of this they started fighting with each other. Warlords competed with each other and hence Afghanistan was divided into territories.

During the civil war, Taliban (“religious students”) were very loosely organized. Although they represented a potentially strong and huge force, they didn’t emerge as united body until the Taliban of Kandahar made their move in 1994. In 1994, the government of Pakistan chose a group of well-trained Taliban to protect a convoy that was working on opening a trade route from Pakistan and Central Asia. The Taliban proved they were worthy of fighting off rival Mujahideen groups and warlords. Then the Taliban took over Kandahar and began a surprise advance that ended with the capturing of Kabul city in September 1996.[4]

The Taliban are the tribal Pashtuns from the southern and eastern afghan borderland-an anarchic mountain people who have ground up one foreign invader after the other, defying attempts by the Moguls, the Sikhs, the British, the Soviets, and the Pakistanis to control them… Kaplan (2001)[5]

The popularity of Taliban surprised the other warring factions of the country. Taliban replaced some corrupt and brutal warlords and they eliminated corruption, restored peace, and allowed trade and commerce to resume, thus relieving many people. The Taliban under the direction of Mullah Mohammad Omar were able to bring this order under the institution of a very strict interpretation of the sharia or Islamic law. Executions and punishments such as flogging became regular events at the Kabul soccer stadium and activities like kite flying were outlawed. To get rid of “non Islamic” influences, they banned music, television, and especially the Internet. The Taliban took the sharia law to an extreme by making men wear beards and made women wear burkas. If they didn’t, they were subjected to beatings. Although Afghanistan was now re-united, the Taliban weren’t able to end the civil war. Not just that, the condition of cities worsened because access to food, clean water, and employment declined during their rule. Their main income and profit came from smuggling and producing opium in the country.[6]

The Taliban has become the representation of the Pashtun community for a majority of the world. Pashtuns and Taliban are both put in the same category only because a majority of the Taliban commanders and militia are Pashtuns. That Taliban are Pashtuns, fighting against foreign invaders, is a common perception and this is the position of a majority of the governments in the international community today. The Taliban are not an expression of Pashtun identity or Pashtun or Afghan nationalism, though there are people that are fighting foreign troops for such motives. The Taliban make full use of Pashtun tribalism while crossing borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan. As I mentioned earlier, al-Qaida has portrayed Osama bin Ladin and his companions as devout Muslims seeking refuge (Nanawati in Pashtunwali). Pashtun nationalists see Taliban as a threat to Pashtun identity; they are not and cannot be an expression of Pashtun pride, honour, and especially the identity.

Now for instance, if we take the examples of political groups like Hamas or Hizbullah, they are both political groups, they have military wings, they carry out terrorist activities, but not for once they have represented the Arab ethnicity. For the outside world these two groups are terrorist groups but they don’t represent the Arab world. The Uzbeki extremist group fighting in Warziristan, northwest frontier of Pakistan, against the Pakistan national army has never been labeled as an expression or representative of the Uzbek ethnicity. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a terrorist group, known for its suicide attacks and the most organized and dangerous armed group of the world. The LTTE is fighting the Srilankan government for the passed few decades; this organization has claimed many political assassinations in Srilanka like Taliban in Afghanistan, but LTTE does not represent the Tamil population neither in Srilanka or in India. United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), in Assam, India and the Irish National Liberation Army (IRA) are terrorist groups but writers and media persons do not associate them to the ethnic groups that they claim to represent. But on the other hand Taliban always represent Pashtuns of Afghanistan.

Another reason for why the Taliban are an expression of Pashtun ethnicity is because of their capital in Afghanistan. Kabul is the capital city of Afghanistan but during the Taliban regime it never was one, the capital was Kandahar. Kandahar, south of Afghanistan, is a Pashtun dominated province, Pashtoo as the provincial language and center for Pashtun tribalism.  Mullah (Mohammad) Omar lived in Kandahar and his word was the last word in policymaking, especially, foreign policy. Along with Mullah Omar, most of the cabinet members and commanders were living in Kandahar whether they were from Kandahar or not. Kandahar was the center of Taliban administration and almost all the cabinet meetings were being held there. Taliban moving their administration to Kandahar was a very wise move; they used the Pashtun tribalism to cross borders into Pakistan and on the other hand the outside world saw this as a Pashtun tribal re-union and Pashtun domination of the country. Also believed by some writers that the Taliban wanted to defend their “tribe”, the Pashtuns, and because they wanted to protect their tribe, they got along well with pakhtuns (pathans) of Pakistan. Pakhtuns of Pakistan were sympathetic and supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for the same reason.

Pashtoo language is the fundamental and significant part to the argument that is why the Taliban is an expression of Pashtunwali and Pashtun identity? Afghanistan had two official languages-Pashtoo and Dari- before the Taliban regime and they changed it to Pashtoo only. Pashtoo was not only the administrative language but also textbooks from kindergarten level to university level were changed to Pashtoo language only. Pashtoo language also became the means for getting employment and without it employment was not possible.

Taliban discriminated every tribe in Afghanistan other than Pashtuns. Dari speaking people-Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks- were imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit and a lot were forced to move out of their villages. “The policy of the Taliban is to exterminate the Hazaras,” said Maulawi Mohammed Hanif, Taliban Commander
 announcing their policy to a crowd of 300
 people summoned to a mosque [after killing
 15,000 Hazaras people in a day]. Speaking to a crowd in a mosque after the 
 fall of mazar-e-sharif city, Mullah Manon Niazi, Governor of Mazar-e Sharif, said, “Hazaras are not Muslim. You can kill them. It is not a sin.”[7]

While the inhuman execution of the innocent civilians are carried out in Afghanistan, the “champions of democracy”, including the USA, Great Britian, all the Western powers and the so-called civilized institutions such as the United Nations remain as spectators on the side.[8]

The Taliban are no more in Afghanistan, their defeat is seen by everyone. They do not represent the Afghans, especially Pashtuns, at all; a terrorist group funded by the neighboring countries of Afghanistan who has killed people of every ethnic group during their regime and during their fall. They cannot be designated to any ethnic group even if they belong to one. Still they are the representation of the Pashtun tribe for the outside world; it doesn’t matter for the international community, especially for the international media, even if all the Afghans say that they are not an expression of Pashtuns.


[1] Zarmeena’s story available from (http://www.rawa.org/murder-w.htm) [Accessed March 4, 2008]

[2] Kaplan Robert, D. (2001) Soldiers of God 3rd ed. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random house, Inc.

[3] Northern Alliance is a military-political group created in 1996 uniting various afghan groups fighting each other to fight the Taliban instead.

[4] Laura Hayes and Borgna Brunner, who are the Taliban. Available from: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/taliban.html [Accessed March 4, 2008]

[5] Kaplan Robert, D. (2001) Soldiers of God 3rd ed. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random house, Inc.

[6] Laura Hayes and Borgna Brunner, who are the Taliban. Available from: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/taliban.html [Accessed March 4, 2008]

[7] Taliban in their Own Words. Available from: http://www.hazara.net/taliban/taliban.html [Accessed 5 March 2008]

[8] Taliban in their Own Words. Available from: http://www.hazara.net/taliban/taliban.html [Accessed 5 March 2008]

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