The Taliban is a Sunni Islamist nationalist and pro-Pashtun movement founded in the early 1990s that ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until October 2001. The movement’s founding nucleus—the word “Taliban” is Pashto for “students”—was composed of peasant farmers and men studying Islam in Afghan and Pakistani madrasas, or religious schools. The Taliban found a foothold and consolidated their strength in southern Afghanistan.
By 1994, the Taliban had moved their way through the south, capturing several provinces from various armed factions who had been fighting a civil war after the Soviet-backed Afghan government fell in 1992. By September 1996, the Taliban had captured Kabul, killed the country’s president, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban’s first move was to institute a strict interpretation of Qur‘anic instruction and jurisprudence. In practice, this meant often merciless policies on the treatment of women, political opponents of any type, and religious minorities.
MULLAH MOHAMMAD OMAR (DECEASED
In the years leading up to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, the Taliban provided a safe haven for al-Qa‘ida. This gave al-Qa‘ida a base in which it could freely recruit, train, and deploy terrorists to other countries. The Taliban held sway in Afghanistan until October 2001, when they were routed from power by the US-led campaign against al-Qa‘ida.
In arguably the most significant development in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region since the May 2011 death of al-Qa‘ida founder Usama Bin Ladin, the Taliban in July 2015 revealed that its reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had died in 2013. Omar, who was the president of Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule and a major Bin Ladin supporter, was wanted by the US Government through the Rewards for Justice program. Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansur, who was Omar’s second-in-command, in early August 2015 was selected as the new Taliban leader. Mansur is only the second leader that the group has ever had.
What the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan means for terrorist groups that target India?
- The Taliban will be forming a government in Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that triggered the US invasion and its ouster.
- This is not a desirable news for India considering that the first Taliban regime made Afghanistan a haven for terror outfits from across the world and India.
- With Taliban gaining control of all Afghan strategic assets, several reports of alarm have emerged for India.
History of Taliban’s link to terror attacks in India
The Taliban, as well as Afghanistan, have historical links to terrorism in India. Pakistani terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami which have targeted India were created in Afghanistan.
The most famous link stems from the 1999 Indian Airlines flight IC 814 hijacking by four Pakistani terrorists who took the airplane to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime was vital to the operation, giving the terrorists safe haven and protecting the asset from any counter-terror mission by the Indian armed forces.
With the backing of Taliban, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists were able to secure the release of three terrorists imprisoned by the Indian government. One of these three was Maulana Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the terror organization behind the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament as well as the Pulwama terror attack in 2019.
Disadvantages for India
India, along with most of the permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, has called on Taliban to ensure that Afghanistan is not used for terror activities.
The US also has an agreement with Taliban to not let terror organizations work out of Afghanistan. While the US troops withdrew relying on this promise, there is hardly any clarity on the enforcement of the deal or future oversight.
Terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad could now operate from Afghanistan instead of being restricted to a few regions of Pakistan.
Does the Taliban pose a threat?
Many experts say the Taliban threatens Afghan democratic institutions, citizens’ rights, and regional security. The group has withstood counterinsurgency operations from the world’s most powerful security alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and three U.S. administrations in a war that has killed more than 6,000 U.S. troops and contractors [PDF] and over 1,100 NATO troops. Some 47,000 civilians have died, and an estimated 73,000 Afghan troops and police officers have been killed since 2007. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters are also believed to have died.
The Taliban, which has between fifty-eight thousand and one hundred thousand full-time fighters, is stronger now than at any point in the last twenty years. As the United States has withdrawn its remaining forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban has increased attacks on civilians, seized control of critical border crossings, and dramatically expanded its presence throughout the country. In July 2021, the group controlled an estimated 54 percent of Afghan districts, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Long War Journal, a U.S.-based publication that has covered the U.S. fight against al-Qaeda and other militant groups since 2007; just months earlier it controlled only 20 percent. By midsummer 2021, sixteen of the country’s thirty-four provincial capitals were at risk of falling under Taliban control.
How was the Taliban formed?
The group was formed in the early 1990s by Afghan mujahideen, or Islamic guerilla fighters, who had resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979–89) with the covert backing of the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). They were joined by younger Pashtun tribesmen who studied in Pakistani madrassas, or seminaries; taliban is Pashto for “students.” Pashtuns comprise a plurality in Afghanistan and are the predominant ethnic group in much of the country’s south and east. They are also a major ethnic group in Pakistan’s north and west.
The movement attracted popular support in the initial post-Soviet era by promising to impose stability and rule of law after four years of conflict (1992–1996) among rival mujahideen groups. The Taliban entered Kandahar in November 1994 to pacify the crime-ridden southern city, and by September 1996 seized the capital, Kabul, from President Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik whom it viewed as anti-Pashtun and corrupt. That year, the Taliban declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate, with Mullah Mohammed Omar, a cleric and veteran of the anti-Soviet resistance, leading as amir al-mu’minin, or “commander of the faithful.” The regime controlled some 90 percent of the country before its 2001 overthrow.
How has the world responded to the Taliban?
Over the past two decades, governments and international bodies joined U.S.-led efforts to oust the Taliban and bolster Afghanistan’s government, democratic institutions, and civil society in the following ways:
Military force. U.S. troops quickly overthrew the Taliban after they invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Since then, the Taliban has waged an insurgency against the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan peaked at around one hundred thousand in 2011. In the 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement, the United States committed to withdrawing all U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban carries out commitments that include cutting ties with terrorist groups. President Biden has said he plans to have all troops removed by August 2021. NATO assumed leadership of foreign forces in 2003, marking its first operational commitment outside of Europe. At its height, NATO had more than 130,000 troops from fifty nations stationed in Afghanistan.
Who leads the Taliban?
Analysts believe that the Taliban’s leadership, primarily based outside the country, continues to maintain control over most of its fighters and officials throughout Afghanistan. However, the UN Taliban monitoring team said that internal disagreements, mainly over the peace process and talks with the United States, have “[grown] more pronounced.”
The leadership council is called the Rahbari Shura and is better known as the Quetta Shura, named for the city in Pakistan where Omar and top aides are believed to have taken refuge after the U.S. invasion. The council makes decisions for all “political and military affairs of the Emirate,” according to the UN monitor. It is currently led by Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. (Omar died in 2013 and was succeeded by Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed in a 2016 U.S. air strike in Pakistan.) The leader is supported by deputies, currently Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, Omar’s son; Taliban cofounder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar; and Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also acting head of the Haqqani Network, a militant group in Afghanistan’s southeast and Pakistan’s northwest with close ties to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Pakistan’s ISI.
Do Afghans support the Taliban?
For years after its fall from power, the Taliban enjoyed support. The U.S.-based nonprofit organization Asia Foundation found in 2009 [PDF] that half of Afghans—mostly Pashtuns and rural Afghans—had sympathy for armed opposition groups, primarily the Taliban. Afghan support for the Taliban and allied groups stemmed in part from grievances against public institutions.
But in 2019, a response to the same survey found that only 13.4 percent of Afghans had sympathy for the Taliban [PDF]. As intra-Afghan peace talks stalled in early 2021, an overwhelming majority surveyed said it was important to protect [PDF] women’s rights, freedom of speech, and the current constitution. Around 44 percent of Afghans surveyed said they believed that Afghanistan could achieve peace in the next two years.