The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan


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In philosophy he was a Hepburn, a Brando, a Dean, a Bacall, stars into whose souls he gave us entryways. And on ours, too! And should their movement regain power, what might they envision for the future? From the outset, the Taliban elite have conceived of themselves in a hybrid political vocabulary. The regional context was critical. The Islamization of Pakistani politics from the s gave Afghan Islamists an important base for their activities.

The revolution in Iran, as Vali Nasr has argued, not only inspired Islamists throughout South Asia but, more Introduction 35 importantly, politicized the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites along this frontier. They ranged from pacifist, nonsectarian political mobilization to devotional rites and festivals livened by song. They were shaped by the distinctive political milieu of the Pashtun belt extending across the Afghan-Pakistan border. In their traditionalist religious ideology and social composition, they diverged markedly from Islamist movements in Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, Iran, and even Pakistan, which have been led by engineers, professors, doctors, and others educated outside of clerical institutions, and many of which have adapted to political democratization and pluralism in recent years.

During the same period many also opposed the education of girls and the appearance of women outside the home. Families tied to the mystical Sufi orders of the Naqshbandis or Qaderis or who traced their lineage to the family of the Prophet enjoyed particular prestige. Standing outside the tribal system, mullahs often mediated among feuding factions and succeeded in unifying local communities in times of war or revolt. From the late nineteenth century, state-building monarchs in Kabul co-opted many of them, while seeking to order and regulate the rest under an administrative hierarchy.

Clerics conferred authority upon Afghan rulers at coronations and other ceremonies and, equally important, acted on their calls to lead the Pashtun tribes of the eastern frontier in jihad against the British. Between the revolt of and the communist coup of , however, the Afghan state did not face a serious challenge from the men of religious learning and piety ulama.

From they challenged the policies of the communists, who, like the Afghan modernist reformers of the s, had made the transformation of the status of women a central part of their program of state intervention in Introduction 37 Afghan society. For their part, women in Kabul and elsewhere joined the resistance; in places like Kabul many adopted the veil as a symbol of their opposition to the new government. In the late nineteenth century, Amir Abdul Rahman r. It formalized many of the provisions later associated with the Taliban: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a mujahedin commander and chief beneficiary of American, Saudi, and Pakistani support against the Soviets, distinguished himself as a proponent of the disciplining of Afghan women in refugee camps in Pakistan; and his followers were credited with acid attacks on unveiled women there.

Islamist intellectuals such as Rabbani and Hekmatyar led these parties in exile. From Pakistan and Iran, they operated patronage networks stretching from the Afghan refugee camps and madrasas to the headquarters of guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan. Based in urban centers and led primarily by university professors and engineers inspired by foreign Islamist thinkers, these parties offered Afghans models of religious authority that were far removed from the everyday and locally oriented piety of diverse Afghan communities.

They controlled access to weapons, food, and other resources that they received from the United States and Saudi Arabia, but they never dominated the minds of the fighters on the ground. Members of local communities frequently affiliated with more than one party or personality in order to receive patronage, but they largely kept party ideologies at a distance.

At the same time, the Islamizing project of the Taliban was a direct outgrowth of the Cold War. The Saudis matched this funding. The conflict laid the foundations of a vast network of guerilla fighters—including future members of alQaeda—who reemerged in conflict zones throughout the globe in subsequent years. If Catholicism could serve as an oppositional force in Poland, Casey reasoned, Islam could do the same in Central Asia.

He even proposed sending translations of the Quran in local languages with the hope of stirring unrest among Muslims in the neighboring Soviet republics. While Washington may have tried to provoke the Soviet invasion by supplying anticommunists in Afghanistan in July , it certainly tried to prolong the war after the Soviets began plans for withdrawal.

In 40 Introduction the end, the United States insisted on a government of Islamists that excluded communist representation. Joined by the Kuwaitis and Iraqis, the Saudis and Americans continued to fund the mujahedin after the Soviet withdrawal. Despite their increasing resort to ethnic categories in search of clients, the resistance leaders failed to hold the loyalties of their fighters or reach sustained agreements with their rivals. As the target of their internecine struggles, the population of Kabul suffered.

Rockets rained down on the residents of the capital, who in turn relied on international aid to survive. Amid the humanitarian catastrophe, many remained committed to Islamizing Afghanistan while they fought one another for control of Kabul. The group was headed by mullahs, a social group who enjoyed only modest prestige before the jihad. The Taliban highlighted the fact that they represented a challenge to the generation of Islamist party leaders and commanders who had squandered their time in power. While constantly invoking tradition, they presented themselves as a new force in Afghan politics and, at times, as hostile critics of an alien Afghan culture.

In key respects, then, this was more than a clerical movement, because it also drew on the power of youth. It took on the name of the madrasa students, not their teachers. Its authority derived less from power in secular matters, like that exercised by khans or other elders and men of influence, than from religious authority and military prowess. Here, too, youth challenged the age hierarchies of Afghan society. Socialized in an all-male environment in the boarding schools and orphanages that made up the madrasa network along the Afghan-Pakistan border, the young soldiers of the movement had only the faintest, if any, memories of pre-revolutionary Afghanistan.

Many were under fourteen years of age. Truckloads of child soldiers arrived from 42 Introduction the Pakistani madrasas in advance of major Taliban offenses. In fact, in January the first American fatality in Afghanistan may have come at the hands of a fourteen-year-old sniper in Paktya Province.

American forces identified several other young fighters as Taliban or al-Qaeda and eventually imprisoned several of them at their detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. In the first half of , the Taliban claimed credit for a series of very uncommon occurrences in Afghanistan: Viewed within a broader time frame, the Taliban movement can be traced to the emergence of sectarian groups under British colonial rule in India.

They targeted the visitation of shrines and reverence for charismatic holy men and other forms of devotion favored by the common folk; and they reserved special enmity for Shiites. The Deobandis represented a major force in Pakistani politics, particularly since the reign of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto — , who tried to broaden popular support for his regime by selectively accommodating the demands of Islamists and the ulama. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in triggered an exodus of more than three million refugees to Pakistan.

This and similar groups provided the Afghan refugees with social services. Offering free room and board, their schools took in orphaned and impoverished Afghan children. Beginning in the early s, Pakistani Deobandis led campaigns against Shiites who made up some 15 to 25 percent of the Pakistani population. Here, too, the Cold War context contributed to radicalization and sectarian violence that persists to the present: Their anti-Shiite creed was thus very much molded by the sectarian environment of Pakistan, where the Deobandi madrasas and their political affiliates had made violent anti-Shiism a central platform of their strategy to mobilize Islamist sentiment.

While the Taliban shared ideological affinities with the Pakistani religious parties who had assisted their rise to power, their leadership introduced a highly distinctive form of rule. The Taliban leadership valued secrecy and attempted to shield its inner workings from outside view. Eager to project an image of humble piety and disinterested justice, they fostered an aura of anonymity. Mullah Omar avoided being photographed and scarcely appeared in public.

Omar had not distinguished himself during the anti-Soviet jihad; indeed, accounts of his activities and affiliations with various Islamist parties during the war are sketchy and contradictory. He did not move there from Kandahar, even when the Taliban seized Kabul in September Remaining in the heart of the Pashtun belt, Omar eschewed the cosmopolitanism—and factionalism—of the multiethnic and polyglot capital. His only appearance in front of a large crowd was a pivotal moment in the history of the movement: At this gathering, Omar, then in his mid-thirties, improvised a novel political ritual, once again breaking with Afghan rulers before him: After raising the sacred garment before the clerics gathered below the mausoleum that housed the object, Omar received their blessing, along with the title Commander of the Faithful Amir al-Muminin , which only one nineteenth-century Afghan ruler had held before him.

Like other revolutionary regimes, the Taliban state had utopian visions but remained captive to the society and international context in which it functioned; more important, would-be state builders had to contend with the legacy of the Afghan state tradition and its historic dependency on outside powers for support. The Taliban adapted the traditional ministerial government of Afghanistan to its purposes by placing the ministries under the control of the Kandahari council.

But unlike previ- 46 Introduction ous governments in Kabul, a cleric appointed from Kandahar now headed each ministry. But this was propaganda of the word and the theater, rather than that of the image. Radio has been their principal medium for communicating their message to a population marked by multilingualism but low rates of literacy. The street was their theater. Yet they also developed various print resources, including an Internet site and newspapers in a variety of languages in Afghanistan and, through their sympathizers in the religious parties, in Pakistan.

However, the iconoclasm and indeed the iconophobia of the Taliban further distinguished them from the mujahedin. When the Taliban came to power, death became more anonymous.

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The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan

Alongside a new ministry for refugees and victims of the war, the chief Taliban innovation in reworking the Afghan state-building legacy was the creation of an aggressive Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. They patrolled the streets armed with whips, radio antennas, and Kalashnikovs searching for violators of Taliban rules regarding mosque attendance, dress, music, and other matters of public decorum over which they asserted clerical authority.

Young people were drawn to this form of power. But like other police forces the world over, they also received assistance from community members who may have either sympathized with their vision of Islam or who hoped to use them against personal enemies. To be sure, tens of thousands of Kabulis and Heratis had suffered during the Soviet onslaught; and the mujahedin militias recklessly bombed whole city blocks in their struggle for power following the flight of the communists.

Many of the mujahedin parties held Taliban-like views of women, and Hekmatyar, the favorite of the Pakistanis and Americans, led forces that committed numerous atrocities against women and other civilians. It was both more commonplace as a strategy of rule in everyday life and more oriented toward spectacle and the punishment of the godless: Taliban violence was more systematic than that of their predecessors of the civil war period; the mujahedin robbed, raped, and rocketed civilian populations in search of profits and power, but the Taliban had more utopian aspirations, though they, too, sought to control territory and accumulate resources.

The Taliban approach was more intimate, and their choice of targets, including elders, women, and, more recently, mullahs, broke with traditional taboos. The Taliban forcibly introduced new religious practices to many communities. The movement drew strength from villages and their antipathy for the city, but it was also committed to the reform of religious life everywhere. Indeed, they assaulted religious practices shared in common by urban and rural Afghans. Introduction 49 For the first time in Afghan history, celebration of Nowruz, the first day of the year according to the solar calendar, was prohibited.

The Taliban tried to do away with the solar calendar altogether, replacing it with the lunar calendar followed in Arab lands. Of course, they remained dependent upon the madrasas and financial resources of the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. In that sense they were by definition a cross-national phenomenon—like the Pashtun communities from which they drew their ranks. At the same time, the Taliban raised their own domestic revenues from taxing opium and heroin, the lucrative transit trade between Iran and Pakistan, and the export of lumber and other commodities. Their opponents frequently accused them of expropriating property as well.

Omar may have grown closer to bin Laden toward the end of his rule, but the extent to which this affected Taliban policies remains unclear. Bin Laden praised and perhaps encouraged the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan, but this spectacle did not prevent the Taliban Foreign Ministry from seeking international recognition—and the critical financial resources upon which all Afghan states have depended—from abroad.

The Taliban ban on the cultivation of hashish in and of opium in were measures intended, in part, to improve the image of the regime in the international community. Crews notes in his essay, the visit by a Chechen delegation did not bring about grand expressions of solidarity between the Taliban and the Chechen rebels, as is frequently imagined in newsrooms and spy agencies, but instead yielded bitter arguments, mutual incomprehension, and, on the Chechen side, a bewildered rejection of the Islamic legal prescriptions of their Taliban hosts. For his part, bin Laden seems to have operated autonomously of Omar: Khost, the site of al-Qaeda bases that the Clinton administration bombed in August , was never a Taliban stronghold.

Though inhabited by Pashtuns, Khost was a center of unrest and sought to maintain distance from the Kandahar-centered regime. In , commentators concluded that Afghanistan was the critical nexus of al-Qaeda activities. But this may have been only partly true.

If such networks can be identified with fixed locales—a dubious proposition—then Hamburg may have been a more likely candidate. Alternatively, the Indian Ocean and, since , Iraq and the tribal areas of Pakistan are spaces that have allowed for the circulation of radicals, with or without a Taliban regime in power. Wahid Muzhda, an official who worked in the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs and who, since , has remade himself as an authority on Introduction 51 the movement, has depicted it primarily as a phenomenon reflecting the worldview of rural and uneducated Afghans.

Similarly, in an essay in the Washington Post in early October , Zalmay Khalilzad, the future Bush administration ambassador to Afghanistan and, later, Iraq and the United Nations, vouched for their ostensibly traditionalist credentials. Many of them also neglected the human rights abuses of the mujahedin, including those that formed the Northern Alliance that aligned with U. Although the wearing of the burqa preceded the Taliban, and has persisted after , it became synonymous with Taliban rule and of the dangers of Islamic law.

Afghans may have begun to defect from the regime on the eve of its fall in , in part because it failed to alleviate suffering caused by a severe drought. Despite parliamentary and presidential elections and internationally supported reconstruction efforts, the Taliban have transformed themselves into a guerilla movement fighting against the Karzai government as well as American- and NATO-led forces and have become the most deadly opposition force in the country. With Afghanistan leading the world in opium production, revenues from this trade dominating the Afghan economy, insurgent military expertise arriving in the country from the front lines of the Iraq war, and NATO increasingly becoming divided on the mandate of its Afghan mission, the Taliban appear poised to offer even more serious challenges to their opponents.

Our inquiry into the problem of the Taliban begins with a basic historical question. Are the Taliban, a militantly traditionalist movement, in fact a new phenomenon in Afghan history, and a modern one at that? Chapter 1 tackles one of the most disputed themes in the study of Afghan politics by focusing on the Pashtun community as the historic key to ruling Afghanistan. Challenging the primary role commonly attributed to Pakistan, Abdulkader Sinno shows that other Pashtun groups received far greater resources from abroad, but that only the Taliban have managed to integrate, or otherwise marginalize, Pashtun elites in their rise to power.

The Taliban received broad support from war-weary Pashtun communities not simply because they were fellow Pashtuns and zealous Muslims or because they wielded money and strategic support from al-Qaeda and Pakistan. Rather, the Taliban managed to accomplish their goals because they were skillful at engaging in local, intra-Pashtun politics. Far from stepping into a power vacuum, as many have claimed, the Taliban gained the backing of Pashtun notables and their clients by co-opting or bypassing tribal elites, presenting themselves as neutral actors, and insisting that they were unlike recent rulers.

If Taliban success among Pashtuns hinged on their mastery of the tribal milieu, the groundwork for their ascendance was laid in the religious sphere in the s and early s by the interplay of the domestic and international factors that first set the stage for the rise of Islamism in Afghanistan. In Chapter 2, Neamatollah Nojumi concentrates on the critical linkages forged during the civil war between the Afghan political parties based in Pakistan and Iran and the localized centers of the anti-Soviet resistance within Afghanistan.

In reconstructing these networks, Nojumi argues that the institutionalization of Islamism in Afghanistan was far from a natural outgrowth 54 Introduction of indigenous Afghan politics. Pakistan, in particular, came to wield influence not only over elites but over the more than three-millionstrong Afghan refugee population within its borders. The Taliban that emerged from these camps and their madrasas grew out of an alliance of regional powers and a handful of radical Afghan and Pakistani Islamists.

Born in the Cold War and endowed with an extraordinary capacity to survive, the Taliban phenomenon has been anything but a throwback to medieval times.


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Chapter 3 presents an exhaustive analysis of the repressive gender policies of the Taliban in power. Cole shows how the Taliban utilized modern techniques of rule, from mass spectacle to surveillance, tanks, and radio, both to challenge tribal custom and to redraw the boundaries between public and private.

The regulation of gender roles was crucial to the Taliban project, just as it has been central to other modern orders. What fundamentally distinguished the Taliban from contemporary societies elsewhere was their brutal insistence on projecting power in novel ways: Whereas Cole highlights that which was new about Taliban rule, M. Nazif Shahrani explores, from the perspective of state building, how the Taliban movement conforms to structural features of Afghan politics in earlier periods.

The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan by Robert D. Crews

In Chapter 4, Shahrani shows how ruling elites drawn from the Pashtun tribes have repeatedly tried to forge a Introduction 55 state dominated by Pashtuns. Even Taliban attitudes toward women, Shahrani notes, had historical precedents. Cleavages between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns proved to be particularly explosive during the Taliban era because non-Pashtuns had, since the civil war and the collapse of centralized authority, grown more assertive in expressing their group identities and in demanding political rights, both for administrative and cultural autonomy and for a stake in Afghan politics at the national level.

Drawing on fieldwork in the southwestern province of Nimroz, in Chapter 5 Rzehak recounts how Baluch communities maintained complex relations with local Pashtuns, and how this changed after the arrival of not one, but two, very different Taliban governments. These stories, songs, prayers, and poems shed light on how Afghans have viewed the world around them and how, in the face of shifting international politics and access to radio, television, and other mass media, these modes of understanding continuously change.

In Chapter 6, Robert L. Canfield also explores the emergence of new identities among Muslims of Afghanistan and the surrounding region. Canfield reconstructs how the varied groups that would ulti- 56 Introduction mately constitute the Taliban became linked to international Islamist networks, which insisted on the globalization of formerly localized grievances.

According to Canfield, Afghan Islamists have for the first time begun to link their fate to that of like-minded thinkers in Palestine, Iraq, and elsewhere. They also share, he argues, a cosmology and eschatology that posits the necessity of consigning power to religious authorities because the end of days draws near. Despite the attraction of such ideas for many constituencies within the movement, the Taliban nonetheless remained internally heterogeneous.

The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan

Several essays approach the movement as a dynamic and variegated composite of different actors whose alliances shifted as a result of internal contests for power and external challenges. The seemingly invincible orphans and madrasa students that sped from victory to victory in fleets of Toyota trucks in the mids experienced a difficult time when they turned to constructing a state to claim legitimacy and guarantee survival in the international system.

Like previous Afghan regimes, the Taliban confronted the task of ruling a country with a diverse population, rugged geography, weak infrastructure, and interfering neighbors. The trials of ruling Afghanistan proved more difficult for the Taliban than has been previously understood.

Important internal differences emerged within the movement. In Chapter 7, Robert D. Crews argues that the challenges of state building and the continued need for international support compelled factions within the regime to construct an alternative means of engaging foreign states and organizations and interacting with Afghan populations where the reach of the state was limited.

Thus the conflicts among competing currents within the movement depended upon the success of Taliban strategies of rule and how local communities responded to them. This internal differentiation and ideological dexterity allowed parts of the movement to return to politics—and ultimately mount several distinct insurgencies—following their dispersal in In Chapter 8, Amin Tarzi shows how the movement fragmented as it collapsed. While some Taliban elites benefited from amnesties offered by the new U.

Tarzi argues that a variety of groups, each with distinct goals and strategies, have reemerged to claim the Taliban name. Backed by international militant networks, and in part by local Pashtun populations who are alienated from Kabul and oppose the presence of the United States and other NATO member states, these disparate groups fighting under the Taliban banner have demonstrated that this symbol retains its power among many Afghans. Disappointed by unfulfilled promises of security and reconstruction, and distrustful of foreign soldiers, the poppy farmers of Helmand have joined numerous Afghans in other provinces in looking again to the Taliban for salvation.

As Atiq Sarwari and Crews show in the epilogue, the post-Taliban Afghan government, handicapped by a deep historical legacy and a neocolonial foreign presence, has failed to create alternatives to the vision of order offered by the Taliban. Indeed, the politics of the post-Taliban state spawned heterogeneous insurgencies whose popular support base grew steadily in and and which threat- 58 Introduction ened to pose an even greater challenge to the government in Kabul and regional stability in Great powers, including the British and the Soviets, and their client regimes also faltered in similar ways.

The United States has so far postponed a wider insurgency only by avoiding the disarmament of local leaders and the disruption of poppy production.

Feature History - Soviet-Afghan War

Neither the United States nor its client Hamid Karzai rule Afghanistan, and they are far from having a monopoly on the use of violence within its borders. Since only the Taliban have managed to mobilize the Pashtuns. Moreover, they have done so with fewer resources, less expertise in institution building, and in a shorter period of time than others who tried and failed. Why did the Taliban then enjoy this unique success in mobilizing Pashtuns? The rise of the Taliban represents one of those events that social scientists have accepted rather more than analyzed. Most existing interpretations of the rise of the Taliban are either politically or ideologically motivated, or they simply lack rigor.

These explanations point to causes for example, why the Taliban grew but fail to explain the processes that led to their emergence and nearly successful unification of Afghanistan when all other attempts had failed. Afghanistan was ignored because of its insignificance and seeming irrelevance to the West, and because feuding local leaders made it one of the least hospitable places in the world for academics and journalists alike. Yet the rise of the Taliban constitutes an important social scientific puzzle that warrants more attention.

Any successful analysis must explain how they mobilized the Pashtuns, and must meet a crucial test: It must account for the failure of other Pashtuns—including the Afghan communists, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and even Hamid Karzai—to do the same. Existing explanations remain inadequate. Many highlight foreign factors, particularly Pakistani military support and Saudi financing. Solving the puzzle of the rise of the Taliban highlights the tribulations of the American-backed state-building project and helps us assess the odds of a further reemergence of the Taliban. At the same time, it sheds light on the underlying processes involved in the production of prior social upheavals—such as the tribal revolts in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Mongol conquests, and perhaps even the early stages of the great venture of Islam—that have channeled, focused, and amplified energies in similar societies.

In the Soviets left a devastated and disordered Afghanistan. The withdrawal of the Soviets generated euphoria among the mujahedin and their supporters.


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Virtually all observers and participants predicted that the regime of Najibullah, the communist leader left in place by the Soviets, would collapse within a year. The United States and Pakistan attempted to give the mujahedin the trappings of an alternative government by encouraging them to form the Afghan Interim Government and by supplying them with better weapons. This government was a facade, however, and the Pakistanis increased their support for their traditional favorite among the mujahedin, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and his faction, the Hizb-e Islami Islamic Party , in hopes of imposing a unified organizational structure under the influence of Islamabad.

As the government fell apart, Pashtun officials went over to Hekmatyar. Aided by foreign sponsors such as Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, and the Central Asian republics, as well as various Arab states and militants, these competing factions battled for Kabul and other regions, prolonging the damage and suffering caused by the Soviet occupation. In western Afghanistan, the mujahedin commander Ismail Khan consolidated his control over the area around Herat but did not attempt to project his power on a national level. This state of anarchy and shifting alliances persisted until the rise of the Taliban, who forced these rivals into a discordant alliance.

But in the fragmented Afghanistan of , they were not alone. They competed with smaller clans and loosely structured councils, with whom they shared their ethnic territories. Once held together by ties of patronage, many of the mujahedin parties splintered when foreign aid ceased to reach their leadership in Peshawar, Pakistan. The more centralized Hizb-e Islami and Jamiat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, managed to keep the loyalty of some clients intact by maintaining access to foreign aid, which they disbursed among followers as well as centralized fighting units.

The Taliban made their first significant appearance on the Afghan scene when the larger organizations were occupied with fighting each other for control of Kabul. Indeed, it was with such aid that he himself had been able to take control of the town six years earlier. But where had the Taliban come from? As students in the religious schools madrasas that dot the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier, talibs frequently participated in the anti-Soviet and anti-Najibullah jihads as members of the mujahedin parties based in Peshawar.

Once the jihad ended and the surviving organizations turned their guns against each other, many disgruntled former mujahedin crossed the border to take advantage of the free religious education and room and board provided by the madrasas. Because these talibs could no longer look to the Peshawar parties, and because they did not share the modernist anti-tribal Islamism of Hekmatyar, they did not have an organization to push their agenda throughout Afghanistan.

The original members of the Taliban came from this pool of talibs that studied in the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam schools. Babar is said to have been the chief advocate of shifting support from Hekmatyar to the Taliban after Hekmatyar failed to break the stalemate around Kabul and the Taliban proved their worth by freeing a Pakistani convoy held captive by militiamen in Kandahar. The liberation of the convoy was particularly significant because Bhutto and Babar were personally involved in making the preparations for the symbolic trip, which they hoped would herald a historic resumption of trade with newly independent Central Asia.

After freeing the Pakistani convoy in November , the Taliban swept through Kandahar, occupied its strategic points, and dismantled its most vicious criminal bands of former government militiamen. They tore down the numerous checkpoints that extorted money from traders and travelers and imposed a traditional tribal code of social behavior that provided reassurance to a society traumatized by nearly fifteen years of violence. Rumors that they burned poppy fields endeared them to the United States and Pakistan. The Western press was generally positive in its coverage of the emerging movement, comparing the Taliban favorably to the discredited parties that led the jihad, and downplaying their religious zeal.

In December they promptly moved to occupy the adjacent provinces of Zabul and Uruzgan and faced little resistance. In January they invaded Helmand, a breadbasket province and poppygrowing center. They then expanded through other Pashtun areas, where some commanders joined them and others were disarmed. With little effort, the Taliban also swept through Paktya and Paktika provinces, which had been hotbeds of mujahedin resistance to Soviet and Afghan communists and were home to the Ghilzai Pashtuns.

Masud was initially delighted by the defeat of his old enemy Hekmatyar. The Taliban, in turn, killed the head of the Shiite party, Abdul Ali Mazari, who was in their custody. Masud took advantage of the chaos by launching an all-out attack on both the Taliban and the remaining Shiite forces. Masud finally controlled all of Kabul.

They aggressively moved from Kandahar toward Herat and the strategic airbase at Shindand in March , prompting Masud to airlift hundreds of fighters to assist Ismail Khan. The Taliban eventually halted their attacks after suffering hundreds of casualties. He captured Girishk in what appears to have been a momentous thrust toward Kandahar, but the Taliban counterattacked his overstretched forces with astounding mobility.

The mobility of the Taliban troops and their tactical aptitude had taken the seasoned Ismail Khan by surprise and marked a new phase in the conflict. Not only were the Taliban now in control of more than half of the country, including some non-Pashtun areas; they also had acquired expertise in the tactics necessary to challenge their established rivals to the north.

Hekmatyar continued to squabble with Rabbani and Masud from his remaining base in Sarobi, thirty miles east of Kabul, but he finally joined the government as prime minister in June His situation was desperate: They then attacked Kabul in September , entering the city on September 27 and dispatching their rivals back to their northern strongholds.

The front line moved to the Shamali plains north of the capital, an area that would suffer immensely from fighting in the following two years. The loss of Kabul, however, was not fatal for Masud. He also improved his odds for survival by retreating to more favorable terrain and destroying the southern entrance to the Salang tunnel, impeding a Taliban push toward the north. The Taliban occupied the area just south of the Salang and Panjsher in February , including the provincial capital of Chaharikar, but veered toward the Hazarajat to pressure the Shia instead of pushing north.

They made their first attempt to seize the fifth, Mazar-e Sharif, in May Abdul Malik Pahlawan, the largely autonomous Dostum lieutenant whose area of control west of Mazar lay on the front line, defected to the Taliban on May 19, blaming his patron for the death of his brother. In the process he handed them Ismail Khan, who had taken refuge in the north via Iran after his rout from Herat.

Dostum fled to Turkey after fighting broke out in Mazar. On May 25, Islamabad recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates did the same in the next two days. Some Taliban forces were flown to Mazar while others were allowed free passage through the Hindu Kush mountains by Bashir Salangi, a Masud commander who shifted his loyalty to them.

A hesitant convert to the Taliban cause, Salangi blocked their retreat and prevented reinforcements from reaching the Taliban in Mazar. Hundreds of Taliban perished in battle. Their foes imprisoned thousands of them, together with key leaders, and later had them murdered. Some three thousand surviving Taliban in the north withdrew to Konduz, where they occupied the airport and received reinforcements.

Masud advanced to within artillery range of Kabul. A Taliban push from Konduz toward Mazar faced fierce resistance. In September, Dostum returned from exile to replace his former betrayer Abdul Malik, whom he sent to exile in Iran. In the meantime, the Shia Wahdat pushed the Taliban to the western edge of Kabul. The Taliban rivals who made up the Northern Alliance proved to be odd bedfellows, however. They embargoed the impoverished Hazarajat, aggravating the effects of an already debilitating drought, and initiated a final assault on Mazar with approximately eight thousand troops.

In August they vanquished Dostum and occupied Mazar. In September they moved on Bamyan. These acts prompted Iranian mobilization of some two hundred thousand troops and skirmishes on the border. Now isolated and under military pressure, Masud retreated on several fronts toward the Panjsher and adjacent valleys. The Taliban now occupied more than 90 percent of the country. They faced only scattered guerilla resistance in the Hazarajat and the Uzbek regions.

Many observers have attributed Taliban success to foreign actors. Indian writers are particularly fond of such explanations, but some of the more savvy observers of Afghan affairs make similar arguments. It has become fashionable to portray the meteoric rise of the Taliban as stemming from the complex interplay of social and political conditions prevailing in southern Afghanistan.

But the Taliban were pre-eminently a military organisation rather than a political movement. It was equipped with armour, a notably effective artillery arm, a small air force, an impressive communications network and an intelligence system. The organizational skills and logistical wherewithal required to assemble from scratch, expand, and maintain such an integrated fighting machine during a period of continuous hostilities are simply not to be found in Pakistani madrassas or Afghan villages.

Both social capital that strengthens networks of solidarity and investments or side-payments from groups benefiting from the suppression of predation can help overcome the obstacles to collective action. The Taliban both mobilized social capital created in madrasas to create a homogeneous leadership group linked to political networks in Pakistan and used assistance from Pakistan and Saudi governments and traders to build up a military force and buy off opponents.

Yet such an explanation is too expedient, if only because the ISI and Arab donors fully backed another Pashtun organization—the Hizb-e Islami—for the three years that preceded the rise of Taliban, but with paltry results. And while Pakistan supported the Taliban, their rivals were vigorously backed by Iran, Russia, and India. The situation was hardly lopsided. All else being equal, both sides would have been able to buy the loyalty of regional leaders.

But such leaders do not make decisions based solely on money. At the same time, the political economy explanation does not explain why Hekmatyar, who also had exclusive access to young Afghan men in refugee camps and madrasas, strong connections, and comparable financing, was not able to maintain a stable constituency. Of course, before the rise of the Taliban, Afghans had suffered for years from the rapacious behavior of many local leaders. Pakistani and Arab backing at a crucial juncture of Taliban organizational development probably assisted their rise.

Yet it is impossible to prove that the Taliban would not have achieved similar results without outside intervention in Afghan affairs at this juncture. After all, in the past, Pashtun and other Afghan areas had experienced a large number of tribal upheavals and movements that were not encouraged or financed by outsiders, including various anti-British uprisings and the early mujahedin resistance to the Afghan communists and Soviets. It is too facile to explain the rise of the Taliban through outside assistance alone.

At least part of the explanation of Taliban success must be found in what the Taliban did. Primarily, the Taliban expanded—faster than they themselves believed possible—to fill what was, in effect, a political vacuum in southern Afghanistan. But Hekmatyar would have been perfectly happy to fill any void in the Pashtun areas long before the Taliban emerged.

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The reason he did not expand his area of influence is that there was no void to be filled. Afghanistan was like the efficient world of Chicago economists: And if those many local leaders and their armed followers do not seem substantial enough, it is worth recalling that they are in many ways similar to those who bedeviled the Soviets; and they currently are providing an intractable challenge to the United States.

Other explanations do not explain how the Taliban rose to power. Larry Goodson identifies five factors he believes explain the rise of the Taliban: First and most telling has been the shared Pashtun ethnicity of the Taliban and the majority of the noncombatant population in most of the area they have come to control. The next two factors in explaining the rise of the Taliban are interrelated.

These are their emphasis on religious piety and the war-weariness of the Afghan civilian population. A fourth factor that explains the rise of the Taliban is money. Finally, the fifth factor that explains the success of the Taliban is Pakistani support. Facilitating factors do not an explanation make, but they provide the backdrop for the description of unfolding processes. The Hizb had access to more resources than it could reasonably use, as its many overstocked weapons depots clearly demonstrated.

The Hizb also enjoyed generous Pakistani support through thick and thin for more than fifteen years. Although both the Hizb and the Taliban had the potential to take advantage of the same facilitating factors, the Taliban were much more successful. It is hard to argue that the Taliban expanded by buying off commanders with Arab and Pakistani money when, a few years earlier, Kandahari commanders expelled Hekmatyar from their area in spite of a very generous ISI offer to buy their support for a campaign to liberate the city under his leadership.

The three [sic] years since the Soviet army left have been three years of fighting between rival Islamic groups. Traditionally, religious students are held in high esteem. Other Islamic militias find it hard to bring themselves to shoot at them; the people find it easy to follow them. But how did this popularity translate into the ability to either defeat or co-opt the entrenched local leaders, who were benefiting from insecurity and exploitation?

Antonio Giustozzi provides us with a hint that moves us along this line of reasoning: As the advent of the Taliban has shown, notwithstanding their military ineptitude, they could easily sweep away the Islamists from the Pashtun belt, thanks to their influence over the rank and file of the Islamist parties themselves.

Some argue that it is the Pashtun identity of the Taliban that mattered. In identifying purist culture and tradition with the Islam of the village, the Taliban were indirectly condemning the Islam of the parties since most of the party leaders were products of Kabul University or had worked for state-sponsored institutions. They were also putting themselves on a par with the people whose support they had to enlist if their movement was going to be successful. Pakistani and Arab Gulf support was helpful for the Taliban but not for others because the former used their support effectively to achieve their goals.

It therefore makes sense to explain the rise of the Taliban by comparing the perceptions, preferences, and strategies of the Taliban and their rivals. One deterrent to the adoption of such an approach is the dearth of accurate and useful information from the critical — period. The contested territory was not particularly hospitable for the very few scholars and journalists who cared enough about events in Afghanistan. Yet this is the only intellectually rigorous way to proceed. These processes worked sometimes simultaneously and at other times independently.

They were also facilitated by some of the factors identified above—exclusive access to a pool of madrasa students, a widespread desire for law and order, a desire for a Pashtun political comeback, support from various Pakistani agencies and constituencies, and financing from the Arabian Peninsula. Some consisted of independent self-financing bands that thrived on a combination of banditry, taxing traffic, smuggling, and small-scale production of poppy. Some commanders managed to develop networks of patronage and economies of scale in the same sectors.

Such commanders maintained the loyalty of lesser commanders by providing them with resources they were well positioned to tap, including revenues from smuggling or rents from the faraway Rabbani regime or the closer Hekmatyar. Some commanders developed loose coordination and consultation councils where they conferred as equals, as in the Jalalabad shura.

Some local leaders tended to dominate their regions; others lived in a precarious rivalry with their neighbors. Many leaders maintained their followings through their ability to organize resourcegenerating activities, while others mustered support through a combination of kinship ties, religious authority, and a history of heroism during the jihad. This was a very complex landscape that provided the Taliban with various types of rivals in different configurations of power in each region they approached.

As Taliban forces approached the domain of a field commander or an area shared by rival field commanders, their presence automatically reordered the preferences of field commanders and their followers. The Taliban occupation and management of Kandahar provided the Taliban with the base and credibility to launch their dramatic expansion. It consisted of a mix of the following: The Taliban alternative made the followers of commanders in their vicinity question the wisdom of resisting the Taliban when they seemed to be the credible providers of a better order.

Followers whose loyalty to their commander was based on kinship or deep respect for his martial prowess or religious scholarship might have stuck by him longer or tried to pressure him not to resist the Taliban advance more than members of bands brought together by banditry or economic interests. Although not all field commanders and local leaders could realistically hope for the entire possible range of outcomes to their interaction with the Taliban, it is reasonable to assume that each leader would have ranked his theoretically possible outcomes in the following order of preference higher first: Maintaining local autonomy and control over local resources by successfully resisting the Taliban 2.

Being rewarded for surrendering local autonomy—money or joining the Taliban as an individual 4. Disbanding or disappearing from public view 5. Being defeated in battle 6. Being defeated by losing the support of his own troops and clients Those who led tiny bands could not reasonably hope to resist the post-Kandahar Taliban; these generally disappeared from view. They would later be taken care of in the consolidation phase when the Taliban developed their polycentric system of shuras, morality police, and courts that enforced their order.

Established and independently financed commanders who controlled networks of patronage had the option to resist the Taliban but had to assess whether their client commanders if any and their troops would support them. Commanders who generated their revenues by lending their support to the Hizb, the Jamiat, or Ismail Khan, as opposed to the exploitation of local resources, might have perceived the Taliban as an alternative source of patronage. Leaders with Islamic and jihad credentials, including figures such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, were able to join the Taliban without losing face or might even have had a dominant strategy of joining them because of their ideological affinity.

Weaker commanders in a regional power configuration or ambitious clients of stronger regional leaders could have found in the advance of the Taliban an opportunity to improve their local standing or to survive a precarious situation. The mere proximity of the advancing Taliban was often enough to strain the elementary organizations and patronage networks of the local leaders the Taliban approached, forcing them to evaluate their options and attempt to preempt some of the worse outcomes by making gestures of goodwill, like Abdul Wahid of Helmand did.

The Taliban astutely used their sophisticated knowledge of Pashtun politics to approach different local leaders in ways that convinced them that successful resistance outcome 1 was impossible and to prompt them to either disband outcome 4 or join them while sacrificing autonomy outcome 3. A vulnerable commander at risk of elimination by his stronger local rivals was more likely to be willing to join the Taliban. In return, he offered them a foothold in his area and specialized local knowledge. The previously dominant commander then found himself as the weaker of two parties locally and had to face the difficult choices above, knowing that he was alone against the Taliban.

The pressures in such dynamics often drove the weaker side to plead with the Taliban to support him, presumably in return for his loyalty. This is in part how Ghazni fell at the end of January after the Hizb attacked in an attempt to preempt Taliban advances. Davis reports that this pattern of defections also prevailed in Maidanshahr, which fell to the Taliban on February 10, Similarly, the Taliban defeated an established group led by Ghaffar Akhundzadah in Helmand by leveraging his local rivals in early An ambitious client could be tempted to switch allegiance in the hope of making up for an unsatisfactory relationship of patronage, to transplant his previous patron, or out of ideological affinity with the newcomers.

Indeed, many of those commanders were both valued as clients and targeted for recruitment by the Taliban because of their strategic locations. One or more defecting commanders allowed the Taliban to control strategic heights that facilitated their first assault on Kabul. Soon afterward, Malik turned against his Taliban allies as they tried to disarm him and then continued to attempt to seize Mazar. While the Taliban were able to draw even the best-organized Pashtun troops away from their leaders, the non-Pashtun Malik was able to switch allegiances at will because he was secure in the loyalty of his supporters.

The Taliban forces in Mazar must have forgotten why their strategies worked in the past as they became accustomed to easy acquiescence to their monopoly on violence in Pashtun areas. The Taliban co-opted local leaders who would not have tarnished their finely calibrated image as heralds of a better order and who could substantially add to their military potential. Jalaluddin Haqqani, the master guerilla leader and uncompromising learned scholar without independent ambitions, was the epitome of the co-optable commander. Those tarnished by a history of predation or loyalty to the Hizb or Jamiat were better discarded, and their followers recruited on an independent basis or disbanded.

Ambitious commanders with a solid and large group of followers who could have put up strong resistance were sometimes targeted for assassination. The assassination of Masud, with the help of al-Qaeda, was the ultimate coup. It could very well have led to the collapse of the Panjsheri resistance, absent American intervention. Of course, Taliban choices were not always flawless in this regard. They integrated highly trained former members of the communist Khalqi faction into their troops for their military capabilities, but discarded them by when they realized the damage the Khalqis caused them and found alternative sources of expertise.

The carefully scripted image and message of the Taliban were essential components of their successful expansion across Pashtun areas, and these were later tweaked, with somewhat lesser success, to win over other constituencies. The identity of the Taliban leaders and rank and file probably influenced how they were perceived and the credibility accorded to their message, but probably not in the way most observers believe it did. Identity mattered, not because of who the Taliban were, but because of who they were not.

The Taliban were not hindered in their expansion within the Pashtun areas by being of urban background.

The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan
The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan
The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan
The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan
The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan
The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan
The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan
The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan

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