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Origins of the Taliban

Notes: What follows are excerpts from books, documents and articles that provide contemporary and historical background for understanding today's War in Afghanistan.

A key source is "Taliban," by Ahmed Rashid,a 320-page book that is incredibly rich and informative, which includes Rashid's eyewitness accounts as well as his research. It should be noted that many areas covered in "Taliban," such as discussions with US and Argentine gas companies to build a pipeline across Afghanistan, the heroin trade and relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are not cited here and what is cited only scratches the surface of Rashid's in-depth presentation. "Taliban" was published in 2001 and in 2009 by Yale University Press.

Origins of the Taliban by
Ahmed Rashid in "Taliban" (2000)

pp 21-50

Afghanistan was in a state of virtual disintegration just before the Taliban emerged at the end of 1994. The country was divided into warlord fiefdoms and all the warlords had fought, switched sides and fought again in a bewildering array of alliances, betrayals and bloodshed. ...

... International aid agencies were fearful of even working in Kandahar asthe city itself was divided by warring groups. Their leaders sold off every- thing to Pakistani traders to make money, stripping down telephone wires and poles, cutting trees, selling off factories, machinery and even road rollers to scrap merchants. The warlords seized homes and farms, threw out their occupants and handed them over to their supporters. The commanders abused the population at will, kidnapping young girls and boys for their sexual pleasure, robbing merchants in the bazaars and fighting and brawling in the streets. Instead of refugees returning from Pakistan, afresh wave of refugees began to leave Kandahar for Quetta.

For those Mujaheddin who had fought the Najibullah regime and had then gone home or to continue their studies at madrassas in Quetta and Kandahar, the situation was particularly galling."... it was easy to come to a decision to do something," (said Mulla Hassan).

... After much discussion these divergent but deeply concerned groups chalked out an agenda which still remains the Taliban's declared aims -- restore peace, disarm the population, enforce Sharia law and defend the integrity and Islamic character of Afghanistan. As most of them were part-time or full-time students at madrassas, the name they chose for themselves was natural. A talib is an Islamic student, one who seeks knowledge compared to the mullah who is one who gives knowledge. By choosing such a name the Taliban (plural of Talib) distanced themselves from the party politics of the Mujaheddin and signalled that they were a movement for cleansing society rather than a party trying to grab power.

All those who gathered around Omar were the children of the jihad but deeply disillusioned with the factionalism and criminal activities of the once idealised Mujaheddin leadership. They saw themselves as the cleansers and purifiers of a guerrilla war gone astray, a social system gone wrong and an Islamic way of life that had been compromised by corruption and excess.

... Some Taliban say Omar was chosen as their leader not for his political or military ability, but for his piety and his unswerving belief in Islam. Others say he was chosen by God.

Omar was born sometime around 1959 in Nodeh village near Kandaharto a family of poor, landless peasants who were members of the Hotaktribe, the Ghilzai branch of Pashtuns.

... There is now an entire factory of myths and stories to explain how Omar mobilized a small group of Taliban against the rapacious Kandahar warlords. The most credible story, told repeatedly, is that in the spring of 1994 Singesar neighbours came to tell him that a commander had abducted two teenage girls, their heads had been shaved and they had been taken to a military camp and repeatedly raped. Omar enlisted some 30 Talibs who had only 16 rifles between them and attacked the base, freeing the girls and hanging the commander from the barrel of a tank. They captured quantities of arms and ammunition. 'We were fighting against Muslims who had gone wrong. How could we remain quiet when we could see crimes being committed against women and the poor?' Omar said later.'

A few months later two commanders confronted each other in Kandahar, in a dispute over a young boy whom both men wanted to sodomise. In the fight that followed civilians were killed. Omar's group freed the boy and public appeals started coming in for the Taliban to help out in other local disputes. Omar had emerged as a Robin Hood figure, helping the poor against the rapacious commanders. His prestige grew because he asked for no reward or credit from those he helped, only demanding that they follow him to set up a just Islamic system.

... However the Taliban's closest links were with Pakistan where many of them had grown up and studied in madrassas

... When Benazir Bhutto was elected as Prime Minister in 1993, she was keen to open a route to Central Asia. ... Instead of the northern route the way could be cleared from Quetta to Kandahar, Herat and on to Ashkhabad, the capital of Turkmenistan. ...

.... On 12 October 1994 some 200 Taliban from Kandahar and Pakistani madrassas arrived at the small Afghan border post of Spin Baldak on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border just opposite Chaman. The grimy grease pit in the middle of the desert was an important trucking and fuelling stop for the transport mafia and was held by Hikmetyar's men. Here Afghan trucks picked up goods from Pakistani trucks, which were not allowed to cross into Afghanistan and fuel was smuggled in from Pakistan to feed the warlords' armies. For the transport mafia, control of the town was critical. They had already donated several hundred thousand Pakistani Rupees to Mullah Omar and promised a monthly stipend to the Taliban, if they would clear the roads of chains and bandits and guarantee the security for truck traffic."

The Taliban force divided into three groups and attacked Hikmetyar's garrison. After a short, sharp battle they fled, losing seven dead and several wounded. The Taliban lost only one man. Pakistan then helped the Taliban by allowing them to capture a large arms dump outside Spin Baldak that had been guarded by Hikmetyar's men. ... At the dump the Taliban seized some18,000 kalashnikovs, dozens of artillery pieces, large quantities of ammunition and many vehicles.'

On 29 October 1994, the convoy drawn from the (Pakistan) army's National Logistics Cell (NLC), which had been set up in the 1980s by the ISI to funnel US arms to the Mujaheddin, left Quetta with 80 Pakistani ex-army drivers. Colonel Imam, the ISI's most prominent field officer operating in the south and Pakistan's Consul General in Herat, was also on board. Along with him were two young Taliban ...

The commanders demanded money, a share of the goods and that Pakistan stop supporting the Taliban... we then asked the Taliban to free the convoy,' said a Pakistani official. On 3 November 1994, the Taliban moved in to attack those holding the convoy. The commanders, thinking this was a raid by the Pakistani army, fled. Mansur was chased into the desert by the Taliban, captured and shot dead with ten of his bodyguards. His body was hung from a tank barrel for all to see.

That same evening, the Taliban moved on Kandahar where, after two days of sporadic fighting they routed the commanders' forces. Mullah Naquib, the most prominent commander inside the city who commanded 2,500 men, did not resist. Some of his aides later claimed that Naquib taken a substantial bribe from the ISI to surrender, with the promise that he would retain his command. The Taliban enlisted his men and retired the Mullah to his village outside Kandahar. The Taliban captured dozens of tanks, armoured cars, military vehicles, weapons and most significantly at the airport six Mig-21 fighters and six transport helicopters -- left-overs from the Soviet occupation.

In just a couple of weeks this unknown force had captured the second largest city in Afghanistan with the loss of just a dozen men. In Islamabad no foreign diplomat or analyst doubted that they had received consider- able support from Pakistan. The fall of Kandahar was celebrated by the Pakistan government and the JUI. Babar took credit for the Taliban's success, telling journalists privately that the Taliban were 'our boys'.. ...

.... The Taliban immediately implemented the strictest interpretation of Sharia law ever seen in the Muslim world. They closed down girls' schools and banned women from working outside the home, smashed TV sets, forbade a whole array of sports and recreational activities and ordered all males to grow long beards. In the next three months the Taliban were to take control of 12 of Afghanistan's 31 provinces, opening the roads to traffic and disarming the population.

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Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Declares He is the Leader of All Muslims

Ahmed Rashid, p. 41

Travelling by jeep, truck and horseback hundreds of Afghan mullahs began to descend on Kandahar in the cool spring weather of 1996....

It was the biggest gathering of mullahs and ulema that had ever taken place in modern Afghan history. Significantly absent were local military commanders, traditional tribal and clan leaders, political figures from the war against the Soviets and non-Pashtun representatives from northern Afghanistan. Only religious leaders had been summoned by Mullah Omar to debate a future plan of action, but more importantly to legitimize the Taliban leader as the all powerful leader in the country...

To patch over their differences, the core group of Kandaharis around Mullah Omar nominated him to become the 'Amir-ul Momineen' or 'Commander of the Faithful,' an Islamic title that made him the undisputed leader of the jihad and the Emir of Afghanistan. (The Taliban were later to rename the country as the Emirate of Afghanistan). On 4 April1996, Omar appeared on the roof of a building in the centre of the city, wrapped in the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed, which had been taken out of its shrine for the first time in 60 years. As Omar wrapped and unwrapped the Cloak around his body and allowed it to flap in the wind, he was rapturously applauded by the assembled throng of mullahs in the courtyard below, as they shouted 'Amir-ul Momineen.'

This oath of allegiance or 'baiat' was a procedure similar to when Caliph Omar was confirmed as leader of the Muslim community in Arabia after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. It was a political masterstroke, for by cloaking himself with the Prophet's mantle, Mullah Omar had assumed the right to lead not just all Afghans, but all Muslims. The meeting ended with a declaration of jihad against the Rabbani regime. The Taliban vowed not to open talks with any of their adversaries and declared that a final decision on allowing women to be educated could only be tackled 'when there was a legitimate government in Afghanistan'. The hard-liners and Mullah Omar had won.'

But for many Afghans and Muslims elsewhere it was a serious affront to propriety that a poor village mullah with no scholarly learning, no tribal pedigree or connections to the Prophet's family should presume so much. No Afghan had adopted the title since 1834, when King Dost Mohammed Khan assumed the title before he declared jihad against theSikh kingdom in Peshawar. But Dost Mohammed was fighting foreigners, while Omar had declared jihad against his own people. Moreover, there was no sanction for such a title in Islam, unless all of the country's ulema had bestowed it upon a leader. The Taliban insisted that their meeting constituted the Koranic requirement of 'ahl al-hal o aqd', literally 'the people who can loose and bind' or those empowered to take legitimate decisions on behalf of the Islamic community.

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The Taliban were in part a response to corrupt and oppressive warlords during the Afghan civil war during 1992-94.

From the review of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef's book, "My Life with the Taliban" by Ahmed Rashid in NY Review of Books Feburary 2010.

Zaeef became the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan but he was turned over to the US and spent several years in Guantanamo. He currently lives in Kabul.

After the Soviets left Afghanistan, Zaeef became a mullah in a small village near Kandahar. He describes how the situation deteriorated in the south as warlords and criminals extracted tolls from trucks on the road, kidnapped and raped women, and held young boys captive to become their forced lovers. Zaeef was one of the original Taliban; in the winter of 1994 he joined with like-minded young men to work out a strategy for dealing with the warlords.

He was and remains intensely loyal to Mullah Omar, who would, he writes, listen to everybody with focus and respect for as long as they needed to talk, and would never seek to cut them off. After he had listened, he then would answer with ordered, coherent thoughts.

When Zaeef attended the founding meeting of the Taliban, each man took an oath of loyalty to Omar. That oath is still in effect, which is why no senior Taliban commander has ever betrayed the whereabouts of Omar. As the Taliban started to conquer Afghanistan, Zaeef was promoted from one job to the next.

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