Afghanistan is burning. Streets are crowded with armed militants, defecting army personnel, and frightened citizens. A quest for power is going on and provincial capitals are falling one by one. Recent reports claim that President Ashraf Ghani has escaped Kabul and the capital of Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban. People of Afghanistan are running towards the borders and airports in a desperate attempt to escape their own country.
But who are the Taliban? And why are they bent on taking control of Afghanistan? In this article, we will cover some historical aspects of Afghanistan and the infamous Islamic group called the Taliban.
History of Afghanistan
Until 1500 BC Afghanistan -as per the archaeological findings- was an integral part of the famous Indus Valley Civilization. Afterward, with the invasion and/or movement of the Central Asian tribes including the Aryans to South Asian countries, Afghanistan came under the direct influence of North Indian dynasties like Mauryas and Nandas.
“To a large extent Afghanistan has historically been controlled by foreign forces including the Mauryan Empire.”
Picture: Mauryan Empire in 265 BCE
To a large extent Afghanistan has historically been controlled by foreign forces. From Alexander the Great and Seleucid empire, up until the Parthian empire, it has remained a vassal for a Middle Eastern, Central Asian, or Indian dynasty. Under the rule of North Indian dynasties, Afghanistan remained under the control of either an Hindu or a Buddhist ruler. Infact until the Ghaznavid empire came in the 9th century AD and forcefully converted Afghans to Muslims, the majority of the Afghan population was Hindu or Buddhist especially the city-state of Kabul which extensively controlled the trade route of the Khyber Pass. All the rulers and dynasties who came after that supported and bolstered the Islamic practices and Sharia law, making Afghanistan a Muslim majority country.
The Soviet-Afghan War (1979-89)
Everybody knows what India and other British colonies were going through during the early 19th century. Afghanistan had also been a pseudo-colony of Britain until the local tribes revolted in 1919 and took back control. However, with the Britishers controlling the majority of maritime trade to the South and Russia controlling roads and land to the North meant Afghanistan was nothing but a meaningless buffer that didn’t have an identity of its own.
In 1979, the Soviet Union or USSR took its army and air-force and invaded Afghanistan. The motive was simple. Capturing Afghanistan meant controlling a strategic position between Asia and Europe with ample mineral reserves as a bonus. The Afghan resistance was financed and backed by the USA to decrease Soviet influence in the region. This initiative of America during the Cold War gave birth to the Mujahideen, the militant army of Afghanistan that resisted with all its might the Soviets and the supposed western influence brought by them.
Mujahideen was not one entity and consisted of many different Afghani factions and tribes. One of these tribes was the Taliban. As the Taliban primarily consisted of young students fresh out of Islamic schools called Madrassas they came to be known as Talib or religious students. Though the Taliban didn’t become an official organization until 1994, the Talibs had already gained notoriety as ruthless soldiers of Islam who had fought side by side with the Mujahideen to oust the Soviet invaders.
The Birth of Taliban (1994-2001)
After the Soviets left in 1989, a civil war broke between the various Afghani tribes, in a quest to gain supremacy over the entire country. Over the years, the Talibs had emerged as the most heavily trained and dangerous armed group of Afghanistan. In 1994, Mullah Mohammad Omar founded the Taliban or Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with the sole objective of propagating and strengthening Islamic values in Afghanistan.
As of 16th August, 2021 the Presidential palace of Kabul is under Taliban control.
They did this by implementing a strict interpretation of the Sharia law which included banning women’s education, making hijab and burqa compulsory, and stopping any western influence on Afghani people. As they were trained by the USA during the Soviet wars, Taliban fighters were experts in military combat. They easily defeated the other militia of the region and slowly but surely took control of the provincial capitals of Afghanistan one by one just as they are doing today. Taliban under the leadership of Mohammad Omar formed their government in 1996 which ruled unchallenged until the USA invaded in 2001.
What is happening in Afghanistan right now?
Things changed for the Taliban when on September 11, 2001, two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center under the command of Osama Bin laden. Laden fled to Afghanistan and the Taliban refused to give up one of their important leaders and so the US invaded Afghanistan. Americans returned to Afghanistan but this time as the invaders instead of the supporting friends they had acted to be during the Soviet war. One interesting fact is that Osama was originally sent by the USA to take over Afghanistan during Afghan-Soviet War. However, he had turned on them when the US army had started making military bases in Saudi Arabia. It is estimated that in the Taliban-US dispute, more than 40 thousand civilians, and atleast 64 thousand Afghan military and police have died. On top of that more than 3500 international soldiers have lost their lives while trying to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban.
In late 2020, it was agreed by Joe Biden that they will decrease military presence in Afghanistan by the end of 2021 because of the increasing Taliban hostilities and for the betterment of Afghanistan. This, however, was the superficial reason. In reality, the US just like Russia had failed to take any substantial control of Afghanistan due to Taliban’s guerrilla supremacy and their increasing numbers. This added to the growing resentment of the Afghan citizens and government towards US influence meant that it was time for America to stop wasting money and manpower.
Taliban receives capital from opium production as well as selling minerals. It is estimated that they made around 400 million dollars in 2020 from opium. They also receive funds from other rogue states and Islamic nations like Pakistan. They have their Sharia court and implement justice where the state courts fail.
The current conflict has been building up after this American declaration. Taliban had given the US army time till August 2021 to leave Afghanistan completely. As the withdrawal started, the Taliban began attacking provincial capitals and the strategic places not under their control. According to the withdrawal agreement, Taliban was supposed to decrease the violence but they are clearly not doing that. Now that America and the United Nations have completely withdrawn troops from Afghanistan, there is no one left to defend Afghan nationals from the Taliban.
Taliban is estimated to have around 80 thousand active fighters which have only increased after capturing provincial capitals like Lashkar Gah and Ghazni. Wherever the Taliban army has marched the Afghan army and police have more or less surrendered without a fight which suggests an internal conspiracy. As of 16th August, 2021, it is confirmed that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled his presidential palace in Kabul and the capital city has fallen to the Taliban. What will happen now with the Afghan citizens and most importantly the women of Afghanistan as the brutal Sharia law is implemented once again is something I don’t want to guess. Till we know what the next move of Taliban is going to be, we can only anticipate.