Let’s talk about the Taliban. They’ve been fighting the government and its allies in Afghanistan for 20 years. Now that they have taken over Afghanistan, let's see who exactly are the Taliban? How is it that they have so much power? Who are under threat after the Taliban taking control?
Who are the Taliban?
To understand the Taliban, you need to know what happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Afghan guerillas called the mujahideen fought Soviet occupation for nine years. They even got money and weapons from the CIA. In 1989, the Soviets pulled out and the next few years were pretty chaotic. By 1992, there was a full-blown civil war with tribal leaders fighting for power.
Two years later, a militia called the Taliban started getting attention. Many of its members had studied in conservative religious schools in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan and some of them had also fought as mujahideen. They had their own plans for the country. By 1996, the Taliban had seized the capital. They declared Afghanistan as an Islamic emirate and started imposing their strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Then 9/11 happened. You can read about the 9/11 attacks here.
The US was after al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, who was hiding out in Afghanistan with the Taliban’s help. The Taliban said they wanted proof that he was behind the attack, and when they refused to hand him over immediately, the Americans invaded. Within a couple of months, the Taliban were forced out of power and Afghanistan got a new interim government.
Three years later it got a new constitution and Hamid Karzai was elected the president. While that was going on, the Taliban had regrouped. What followed were years of devastating conflict — and it’s still going on.
The Human Cost: Source AP News
- American service members killed in Afghanistan: 2,448
- U.S. contractors: 3,846
- Afghan national military and police: 66,000
- Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states: 1,144
- Afghan civilians: 47,245
- Taliban and other opposition fighters: 51,191
- Aid workers: 444
- Journalists: 72
The US alone has spent almost 2 trillion dollars on war and reconstruction projects. And after all that Afghanistan was still captured by the Taliban on the 15th of August 2021.
Today the Taliban have as many as 85,000 full-time fighters and training camps across the country. Right now the Taliban control almost all Afghan districts. They’re also well organized. The Taliban’s leader is Haibatullah Akhundzada. He heads a council that oversees about a dozen commissions in charge of things like finance, health, and education. Below them are local officials in charge of everyday services.
They even run their own courts which can be pretty popular among Afghans. Afghans are already asking themselves what life might be like after the Taliban take over again. Will they rip up the constitution which protects basic human rights? In a New York Times op-ed, the Taliban tried to clear things up saying they want to “build an Islamic system … where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected.”
How does the Taliban support itself?
The Taliban's operational budget for the year 2019-2020 was $1.6 bn. And the source for this fat budget comes from drugs specifically opium. which is estimated to be somewhere between $1.5 to $3 bn. The Taliban-controlled lithium mines are a valued asset worth $1 bn. Foreign funding is estimated at $500 million every year. The Taliban also extracts a lot of money through taxes and extortion which is hard to track.
These numbers were estimated in 2018 and in 3 years the Taliban's economic growth is not hard to imagine. Talking now about the opium industry, Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium. It supplies an overwhelming majority of heroin worldwide. It is believed to be an important source of income and the main poppy-growing province of Afghanistan has now witnessed a significant increase over the past 3 to 4 years.
However, the Taliban's financial network extends way beyond the opium business alone. Pakistan, Iran, and Russia have been accused of giving financial aid to the Taliban, a practice that they have constantly denied. Private citizens from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar are considered to be the largest individual contributors to the Taliban.
Although it is impossible to measure the current financial assets of the military organization, all the sources of funding provide a significant proportion of the Taliban's revenue which eventually has made the Taliban stronger than ever.
Who are the people the Taliban hate?
- Hazara Community- The origins of the Hazara community are much debated, the word Hazara means ‘thousand’ in Persian but given the Hazaras’ typical physical features, current theory supports their descent from Mongol soldiers left behind by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. They are the most persecuted community in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With the Taliban coming into power, they are living under constant fear.
- Women- Taliban's rule of the common people, especially for women are perhaps no less than hell in Afghanistan. Especially if the Taliban enforces the same rules that they had enforced in 1996 and 2001. Some reports state that women are being kidnapped to be the brides of the Taliban fighters. Girls are worried if they would be able to go to school. This is because, under the last Taliban government, girls weren't allowed to go to school.
Girls couldn't go out of their homes without being accompanied by a male relative. What's interesting now is that the Taliban is denying some of the new reports. They claim that when they'll form the new government in Afghanistan they will give rights to women as well. They'll give the rights to go to school to women, work, and go out of their homes alone.
Although, women would still have to wear hijabs. That would still be compulsory. When the spokesperson of the Taliban was being interviewed by BBC he said that now burqa wouldn't be compulsory for women, only hijab will be okay. "The policy is that women can have access to education and to work and of course, they will observe the hijab. That is it." That is one thing to say, but the ground reality is not the same.
Inhuman Rules of the Taliban
There are severe rules for women that pre-exist under the Taliban rule. An excerpt from the rule book read -
"You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not good for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.
You will not, under any circumstance, show your face. You will cover with a burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
Cosmetics are forbidden.
Jewelry is forbidden.
You will not wear charming clothes.
You will not speak unless spoken to.
You will not make eye contact with men.
You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.
Women are forbidden from working.
If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death. Listen. Listen well. Obey. Allah-u-Akbar."