Military Wiki
Participant in Civil war in Afghanistan; War in Afghanistan
Flag of the Taliban
A flag used by the Taliban from 1997 to 2001
Active 1994–1996 (militia)
1996–2001 (government)
2004–2021 (insurgency)
2021–Present (2nd government)
Ideology Islamic fundamentalism
Strict Sharia law
Deobandi Islamism
Religious nationalism
Leaders Mullah Mohammed Omar (1994–2013) (founder and spiritual leader)[1]
Akhtar Mansour (2015–2016)
Hibatullah Akhundzada (2016–present)
Kandahar, Afghanistan (1994–2001) (Afghanistan)
Kabul, Afghanistan (2021–present) (Afghanistan
Area of
Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan
Strength 45,000 (2001 est.)[2]
11,000 (2008 est.)[3]
36,000 (2010 est.)[4]
Originated as Students of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam
Allies Haqqani network
Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin
Islamic Emirate of Waziristan
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
File:Etim tip logo.JPG East Turkestan Islamic Movement
Caucasian Front[6]Afghanistan Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
Opponents International Security Assistance Force
Iran Islamic Republic of Iran

The Taliban (Pashto language: طالبان ṭālibān "students"), alternative spelling Taleban,[7] is an Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan. It spread from Pakistan into Afghanistan and formed a government, ruling as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from September 1996 until December 2001, with Kandahar as the capital. However, it gained diplomatic recognition from only three states: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Mohammed Omar has been serving as the spiritual leader of the Taliban since 1994.[8]

While in power, it enforced its strict interpretation of Sharia law,[9] and leading Muslims have been highly critical of the Taliban's interpretations of Islamic law.[10] The Taliban were condemned internationally for their brutal treatment of women.[11][12] The majority of the Taliban are made up of Pashtun tribesmen.[13][14] The Taliban's leaders were influenced by Deobandi fundamentalism,[15] and many also strictly follow the social and cultural norm called Pashtunwali.[16]

From 1995 to 2001, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence[17] and military[18] are widely alleged by the international community to have provided support to the Taliban. Their connections are possibly through Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a terrorist group founded by Sami ul Haq.[19] Pakistan is accused by many international officials of continuing to support the Taliban; Pakistan states that it dropped all support for the group after 9/11.[20][21][22] Al Qaeda also supported the Taliban with regiments of imported fighters from Arab countries and Central Asia.[23][24][25] Saudi Arabia provided financial support.[26] The Taliban and their allies committed massacres against Afghan civilians,[27][28][29] denied UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians[30] and conducted a policy of scorched earth, burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes during their rule from 1996 to 2001.[31][32] Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee to United Front-controlled territory, Pakistan, and Iran.[32]

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Taliban were overthrown by the American-led invasion of Afghanistan. Later it regrouped as an insurgency movement to fight the American-backed Karzai administration and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).[33] The Taliban have been accused of using terrorism as a specific tactic to further their ideological and political goals.[34][35] According to the United Nations, the Taliban and their allies were responsible for 75% of Afghan civilian casualties in 2010, 80% in 2011, and 80% in 2012.[36][37][38] It is widely believed that the city of Quetta in Pakistan serves as Quetta Shura's headquarter.[39][40]


The word Taliban is Pashto, طالبان ṭālibān, meaning "students", the plural of ṭālib. This is a loanword from Arabic طالب ṭālib,[41] plus the Persian plural ending -ān ان (the Arabic plural being طلاب ṭullāb, whereas طالبان ṭālibān is a dual form with the incongruous meaning, to Arabic speakers, of "two students"). Since becoming a loanword in English, Taliban, besides a plural noun referring to the group, has also been used as a singular noun referring to an individual. For example, John Walker Lindh has been referred to as "an American Taliban", rather than "an American Talib". In the English language newspapers of Pakistan, the word Talibans is often used when referring to more than one Taliban. The spelling Taliban has come to predominate over Taleban in English.[42]



The Taliban movement traces its origin to the Pakistani-trained mujahideen in northern Pakistan, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. When Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq became President of Pakistan he feared that the Soviets were planning to invade Balochistan, Pakistan so he sent Akhtar Abdur Rahman to Saudi Arabia to garner support for the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation forces. In the meantime, the United States and Saudi Arabia joined the struggle against the Soviet Union by providing all the funds.[1] Zia-ul-Haq has been labelled the "grandfather of global Islamic jihad". He aligned himself with Pakistan's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and later picked General Akhtar Abdur Rahman to lead the insurgency against the Soviet Union inside Afghanistan. About 90,000 Afghans, including Mohammad Omar, were trained by Pakistan's ISI during the 1980s.[1]

After the fall of Soviet-backed regime of Mohammad Najibullah in 1992, several Afghan political parties agreed on a peace and power-sharing agreement, the Peshawar Accord. The accord created the Islamic State of Afghanistan and appointed an interim government for a transitional period. According to Human Rights Watch:

The sovereignty of Afghanistan was vested formally in the Islamic State of Afghanistan, an entity created in April 1992, after the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibullah government. ... With the exception of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, all of the parties... were ostensibly unified under this government in April 1992. ... Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, for its part, refused to recognize the government for most of the period discussed in this report and launched attacks against government forces and Kabul generally. ... Shells and rockets fell everywhere.[43]

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar received operational, financial and military support from Pakistan.[44] Afghanistan expert Amin Saikal concludes in Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival:

Pakistan was keen to gear up for a breakthrough in Central Asia. ... Islamabad could not possibly expect the new Islamic government leaders... to subordinate their own nationalist objectives in order to help Pakistan realize its regional ambitions. ... Had it not been for the ISI's logistic support and supply of a large number of rockets, Hekmatyar's forces would not have been able to target and destroy half of Kabul.[45]

In addition, Saudi Arabia and Iran – as competitors for regional hegemony – supported Afghan militias hostile towards each other.[45] According to Human Rights Watch, Iran assisted the Shia Hazara Hezb-i Wahdat forces of Abdul Ali Mazari, as Iran attempted to maximize Wahdat's military power and influence.[43][45][46] Saudi Arabia supported the Wahhabite Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and his Ittihad-i Islami faction.[43][45] Conflict between the two militias soon escalated. A publication by the George Washington University describes:

[O]utside forces saw instability in Afghanistan as an opportunity to press their own security and political agendas.[47]

The Taliban emerged in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar around September 1994.

Due to the sudden initiation of the civil war, working government departments, police units or a system of justice and accountability for the newly created Islamic State of Afghanistan did not have time to form. Horrific crimes were committed by criminals and individuals inside different factions. Rare ceasefires, usually negotiated by representatives of the Islamic State's newly appointed Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud, President Sibghatullah Mojaddedi and later President Burhanuddin Rabbani (the interim government), or officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), commonly collapsed within days.[43] The countryside in northern Afghanistan, parts of which was under the control of Defense Minister Massoud remained calm and some reconstruction took place. The city of Herat under the rule of Islamic State ally Ismail Khan also witnessed relative calm.

Meanwhile southern Afghanistan was neither under the control of foreign-backed militias nor the government in Kabul, but was ruled by local leaders such as Gul Agha Sherzai and their militias. In 1991, the Taliban (a movement originating from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-run religious schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan) also developed in Afghanistan as a politico-religious force.[48] Mullah Omar started his movement with fewer than 50 armed madrassah students in his hometown of Kandahar.[48] The most often-repeated story and the Taliban's own story of how Mullah Omar first mobilized his followers is that in the spring of 1994, neighbors in Singesar told him that the local governor had abducted two teenage girls, shaved their heads, and taken them to a camp where they were raped. 30 Taliban (with only 16 rifles) freed the girls, and hanged the governor from the barrel of a tank. Later that year, two militia commanders killed civilians while fighting for the right to sodomize a young boy. The Taliban freed him.[48][49]

In the beginning the Taliban numbered in the hundreds, were badly equipped and low on munitions. Within months however 15,000 students arrived from the madrassas in Pakistan.[50] The Taliban's first major military activity was in 1994, when they marched northward from Maiwand and captured Kandahar City and the surrounding provinces, losing only a few dozen men.[51] When they took control of Kandahar in 1994, they forced the surrender of dozens of local Pashtun leaders who had presided over a situation of complete lawlessness and atrocities.[51][52] The Taliban also took over a border crossing at Spin Baldak and an ammunition dump from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In the course of 1994, the Taliban took control of 12 of 34 provinces not under central government control. Militias controlling the different areas often surrendered without a fight.[53] Omar's original commanders were "a mixture of former small-unit military commanders and madrassa teachers."[54]

At the same time most of the militia factions (Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami, Dostum's Junbish-i Milli and Hezb-i Wahdat) fighting in the battle for control of Kabul were defeated militarily by forces of the Islamic State's Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud. Bombardment of the capital came to a halt and the Islamic State initiated measures to restore law and order to the capital.[55][56][57] Massoud furthermore tried to initiate a nationwide political process with the goal of national consolidation and democratic elections.[24] Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as the "Lion of Panjshir", had been named "the Afghan who won the Cold War" by the Wall Street Journal[58] and had defeated the Soviet Red Army nine times in north-eastern Afghanistan.[59] Hoping for the Taliban to be allies in bringing stability to Afghanistan, Massoud invited the Taliban to join the consolidation process and to contribute to stability.[24] Unarmed, Massoud went to talk to a Taliban leaders in Maidan Shar to convince them to join the initiated political process, so that democratic elections could be held to decide on a future government for Afghanistan.[24] The Taliban declined to join such a political process. When Massoud returned unharmed to Kabul, the Taliban leader who had received him as his guest was killed by other senior Taliban for failing to execute Massoud while the possibility had presented itself.

In a bid to establish their rule over Afghanistan, the Taliban started shelling the capital in early 1995.[56] Amnesty International, referring to the Taliban offensive, wrote in a 1995 report:

This is the first time in several months that Kabul civilians have become the targets of rocket attacks and shelling aimed at residential areas in the city.[56]

The Taliban, however, suffered a devastating defeat against government forces of the Islamic State under the command of Ahmad Shah Massoud. The Taliban's early victories in 1994 were followed by a series of defeats that resulted in heavy losses which led analysts to believe that the Taliban movement as such might have run its course.[52] Pakistan, however, started to provide stronger military support to the Taliban.[45][60] Many analysts like Amin Saikal describe the Taliban as developing into a proxy force for Pakistan's regional interests.[45] On September 26, 1996, as the Taliban with military support by Pakistan and financial support by Saudi Arabia prepared for another major offensive, Massoud ordered a full retreat from Kabul to continue anti-Taliban resistance in the Hindu Kush mountains instead of engaging in street battles in Kabul.[61] The Taliban entered Kabul on September 27, 1996, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.[62]

Taliban Emirate against United Front

Role of the Pakistani military

The Taliban were largely founded by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 1994.[16][63][64][65][66][67][68][69] The ISI used the Taliban to establish a regime in Afghanistan which would be favorable to Pakistan, as they were trying to gain strategic depth.[39][70][71][72] Since the creation of the Taliban, the ISI and the Pakistani military have given financial, logistical and military support.[17][73][74][75]

According to Pakistani Afghanistan expert Ahmed Rashid, "between 1994 and 1999, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistanis trained and fought in Afghanistan" on the side of the Taliban.[76] Peter Tomsen stated that up until 9/11 Pakistani military and ISI officers along with thousands of regular Pakistani armed forces personnel had been involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.[77]

In 2001 alone, according to several international sources, 28,000-30,000 Pakistani nationals, 14,000-15,000 Afghan Taliban and 2,000-3,000 Al Qaeda militants were fighting against anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan as a roughly 45,000 strong military force.[23][24][78][79] Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf – then as Chief of Army Staff – was responsible for sending thousands of Pakistanis to fight alongside the Taliban and Bin Laden against the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud.[24][60][80] Of the estimated 28,000 Pakistani nationals fighting in Afghanistan, 8,000 were militants recruited in madrassas filling regular Taliban ranks.[23] A 1998 document by the U.S. State Department confirms that "20–40 percent of [regular] Taliban soldiers are Pakistani."[60] The document further states that the parents of those Pakistani nationals "know nothing regarding their child's military involvement with the Taliban until their bodies are brought back to Pakistan."[60] According to the U.S. State Department report and reports by Human Rights Watch, the other Pakistani nationals fighting in Afghanistan were regular Pakistani soldiers especially from the Frontier Corps but also from the army providing direct combat support.[19][60]

Human Rights Watch wrote in 2000:

Of all the foreign powers involved in efforts to sustain and manipulate the ongoing fighting [in Afghanistan], Pakistan is distinguished both by the sweep of its objectives and the scale of its efforts, which include soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban's virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and ... directly providing combat support.[19]

On August 1, 1997 the Taliban launched an attack on Sheberghan the main military base of Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum has said the reason the attack was successful was due to 1500 Pakistani commandos taking part and that the Pakistani air force also gave support.[81]

In 1998, Iran accused Pakistan of sending its air force to bomb Mazar-i-Sharif in support of Taliban forces and directly accused Pakistani troops for "war crimes at Bamiyan". [82] The same year Russia said, Pakistan was responsible for the "military expansion" of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan by sending large numbers of Pakistani troops some of whom had subsequently been taken as prisoners by the anti-Taliban United Front.[83]

In 2000, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo against military support to the Taliban, with UN officials explicitly singling out Pakistan. The UN secretary-general implicitly criticized Pakistan for its military support and the Security Council stated it was "deeply distress[ed] over reports of involvement in the fighting, on the Taliban side, of thousands of non-Afghan nationals."[84] In July 2001, several countries including the United States, accused Pakistan of being "in violation of U.N. sanctions because of its military aid to the Taliban."[85] The Taliban also obtained financial resources from Pakistan. In 1997 alone, after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, Pakistan gave $30 million in aid and a further $10 million for government wages.[86]

In 2000, British Intelligence reported that the ISI was taking an active role in several Al Qaeda training camps.[87] The ISI helped with the construction of training camps for both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.[87][88][89] From 1996 to 2001 the Al Qaeda of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri became a state within the Taliban state.[90] Bin Laden sent Arab and Central Asian Al-Qaeda militants to join the fight against the United Front among them his Brigade 055.[90][91]

After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan claimed to have ended its support to the Taliban.[92][93] But with the fall of Kabul to anti-Taliban forces in November 2001, ISI forces worked with and helped Taliban militias who were in full retreat.[94] In November 2001, Taliban, Al-Qaeda combatants and ISI operatives were safely evacuated from Kunduz on Pakistan Army cargo aircraft to Pakistan Air Force bases in Chitral and Gilgit in Pakistan's Northern Areas in what has been dubbed the "Airlift of Evil"[95] Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf wrote in his memoirs that Richard Armitage, the former US deputy secretary of state, said Pakistan would be "bombed back to the stone-age" if it continued to support the Taliban,[96][97][98][99] although Armitage has since denied using the "stone age" phrase.[100]

The role of the Pakistani military has been described by international observers as well as by the anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massoud as a "creeping invasion".[76] Yet the "creeping invasion" proved unable to defeat the severely outnumbered anti-Taliban forces.[76]

Pakistan has been accused of continuing to support the Taliban since 9/11, an allegation Pakistan denies.[21][22]

Anti-Taliban resistance under Massoud

Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum, former enemies, created the United Front (Northern Alliance) against the Taliban that were preparing offensives against the remaining areas under the control of Massoud and those under the control of Dostum. The United Front included beside the dominantly Tajik forces of Massoud and the Uzbek forces of Dostum, Hazara troops led by Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq and Pashtun forces under the leadership of commanders such as Abdul Haq and Haji Abdul Qadir. Notable politicians and diplomats of the United Front included Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Masood Khalili. From the Taliban conquest of Kabul in September 1996 until November 2001 the United Front controlled roughly 30% of Afghanistan's population in provinces such as Badakhshan, Kapisa, Takhar and parts of Parwan, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Samangan, Kunduz, Ghōr and Bamyan.

After longstanding battles especially for the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Junbish forces were defeated by the Taliban and their allies in 1998. Dostum subsequently went into exile. Ahmad Shah Massoud remained the only major anti-Taliban leader inside Afghanistan who was able to defend vast parts of his territory against the Taliban.

In the areas under his control Massoud set up democratic institutions and signed the Women's Rights Declaration.[101] In the area of Massoud, women and girls did not have to wear the Afghan burqa. They were allowed to work and to go to school. In at least two known instances, Massoud personally intervened against cases of forced marriage.[24]

It is our conviction and we believe that both men and women are created by the Almighty. Both have equal rights. Women can pursue an education, women can pursue a career, and women can play a role in society – just like men.[24]

—Ahmad Shah Massoud, 2001

Massoud is adamant that in Afghanistan women have suffered oppression for generations. He says that 'the cultural environment of the country suffocates women. But the Taliban exacerbate this with oppression.' His most ambitious project is to shatter this cultural prejudice and so give more space, freedom and equality to women – they would have the same rights as men.[24]

—Pepe Escobar, Massoud: From Warrior to Statesman

Afghanistan in 1996

Afghan traditions would need a generation or more to overcome and could only be challenged by education, he said.[24] Humayun Tandar, who took part as an Afghan diplomat in the 2001 International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, said that "strictures of language, ethnicity, region were [also] stifling for Massoud. That is why ... he wanted to create a unity which could surpass the situation in which we found ourselves and still find ourselves to this day."[24] This applied also to strictures of religion. Jean-José Puig describes how Massoud often led prayers before a meal or at times asked his fellow Muslims to lead the prayer but also did not hesitate to ask a Christian friend Jean-José Puig or the Jewish Princeton University Professor Michael Barry: "Jean-José, we believe in the same God. Please, tell us the prayer before lunch or dinner in your own language."[24]

Human Rights Watch cites no human rights crimes for the forces under direct control of Massoud for the period from October 1996 until the assassination of Massoud in September 2001.[19] 400,000 to one million Afghans fled from the Taliban to the area of Massoud.[80][102] National Geographic concluded in its documentary "Inside the Taliban":

The only thing standing in the way of future Taliban massacres is Ahmad Shah Massoud.[80]

—National Geographic, Inside the Taliban

The Taliban repeatedly offered Massoud a position of power to make him stop his resistance. Massoud declined. He explained in one interview:

The Taliban say: 'Come and accept the post of prime minister and be with us', and they would keep the highest office in the country, the presidentship. But at what cost?! The difference between us concerns mainly our way of thinking about the very principles of the society and the state. We can not accept their conditions of compromise, or else we would have to give up the principles of modern democracy. We are fundamentally against the system called 'the Emirate of Afghanistan".[103]

—Ahmad Shah Massoud, 2001

The United Front in its Proposals for Peace demanded the Taliban to join a political process leading towards nationwide democratic elections.[103] In early 2001 Massoud employed a new strategy of local military pressure and global political appeals.[104] Resentment was increasingly gathering against Taliban rule from the bottom of Afghan society including the Pashtun areas.[104] Massoud publicized their cause "popular consensus, general elections and democracy" worldwide. At the same time he was very wary not to revive the failed Kabul government of the early 1990s.[104] Already in 1999 he started the training of police forces which he trained specifically in order to keep order and protect the civilian population in case the United Front would be successful.[24] Massoud stated:

The Taliban are not a force to be considered invincible. They are distanced from the people now. They are weaker than in the past. There is only the assistance given by Pakistan, Osama bin Laden and other extremist groups that keep the Taliban on their feet. With a halt to that assistance, it is extremely difficult to survive.[105]

—Ahmad Shah Massoud, 2001
File:Massoud and Qadir 2.PNG

Ahmad Shah Massoud (right) with Pashtun anti-Taliban leader Abdul Qadir (brother of Abdul Haq) (left) as part of the pre 9/11 2001 grand Pashtun-Tajik-Hazara-Uzbek alliance against the Taliban

From 1999 onwards a renewed process was set into motion by the Tajik Ahmad Shah Massoud and the Pashtun Abdul Haq to unite all the ethnicities of Afghanistan. While Massoud united the Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks as well as some Pashtun commanders under his United Front command, the famed Pashtun commander Abdul Haq received increasing numbers of defecting Pashtun Taliban as "Taliban popularity trended downward".[77] Both agreed to work together with the exiled Afghan king Zahir Shah.[77] International officials who met with representatives of the new alliance, which Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll referred to as the "grand Pashtun-Tajik alliance", said, "It's crazy that you have this today ... Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara ... They were all ready to buy in to the process ... to work under the king's banner for an ethnically balanced Afghanistan."[104][106] Senior diplomat and Afghanistan expert Peter Tomsen wrote: "The ‘Lion of Kabul’ [Abdul Haq] and the ‘Lion of Panjshir’ [Ahmad Shah Massoud] ... Haq, Massoud, and Karzai, Afghanistan’s three leading moderates, could transcend the Pashtun—non-Pashtun, north-south divide."[77] The most senior Hazara and Uzbek leader were also part of the process. In late 2000, Massoud officially brought together this new alliance in a meeting in Northern Afghanistan among other things to discuss "a Loya Jirga, or a traditional council of elders, to settle political turmoil in Afghanistan".[107] That part of the Pashtun-Tajik-Hazara-Uzbek peace plan did eventually materialize. An account of the meeting by author and journalist Sebastian Junger says: "In 2000, when I was there ... I happened to be there in a very interesting time. ... Massoud brought together Afghan leaders from all ethnic groups. They flew from London, Paris, the USA, all parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India. He brought them all into the northern area where he was. He held a council of ... prominent Afghans from all over the world, brought there to discuss the Afghan government after the Taliban. ... we met all these men and interviewed them briefly. One was Hamid Karzai; I did not have any idea who he would end up being ..."[108]

In early 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud with ethnic leader from all of Afghanistan addressed the European Parliament in Brussels asking the international community to provide humanitarian help to the people of Afghanistan.[109] He stated that the Taliban and Al Qaeda had introduced "a very wrong perception of Islam" and that without the support of Pakistan and Bin Laden the Taliban would not be able to sustain their military campaign for up to a year.[110] On this visit to Europe he also warned that his intelligence had gathered information about a large-scale attack on U.S. soil being imminent.[111] The president of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, called him the "pole of liberty in Afghanistan".[112]

On September 9, 2001, Massoud, then aged 48, was the target of a suicide attack by two Arabs posing as journalists at Khwaja Bahauddin, in the Takhar Province of Afghanistan.[113][114] Massoud, who had survived countless assassination attempts over a period of 26 years, died in a helicopter taking him to a hospital. The first attempt on Massoud's life had been carried out by Hekmatyar and two Pakistani ISI agents in 1975, when Massoud was only 22 years old.[46] In early 2001, Al-Qaeda would-be assassins were captured by Massoud's forces while trying to enter his territory.[104] The funeral, though in a rather rural area, was attended by hundreds of thousands of mourning people.

The assassination of Massoud is believed to have a connection to the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. soil, which killed nearly 3000 people, and which appeared to be the terrorist attack that Massoud had warned against in his speech to the European Parliament several months earlier.[115] John P. O'Neill was a counter-terrorism expert and the Assistant Director of the FBI until late 2001. He retired from the FBI and was offered the position of director of security at the World Trade Center (WTC). He took the job at the WTC two weeks before 9/11. On September 10, 2001, O'Neill told two of his friends, "We're due. And we're due for something big.... Some things have happened in Afghanistan. [referring to the assassination of Massoud] I don't like the way things are lining up in Afghanistan.... I sense a shift, and I think things are going to happen ... soon."[116] O'Neill died on September 11, 2001, when the South Tower collapsed.[116]

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Massoud's United Front troops and United Front troops of Abdul Rashid Dostum (who returned from exile) ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul with American air support in Operation Enduring Freedom. From October to December 2001, the United Front gained control of much of the country and played a crucial role in establishing the post-Taliban interim government under Hamid Karzai.

American-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan, Taliban overthrow and insurgency


After the September 11 attacks on the U.S. and the PENTTBOM investigation, the United States made the following demands of the Taliban,[117]

  1. Deliver to the U.S. all of the leaders of Al-Qaeda
  2. Release all foreign nationals that have been unjustly imprisoned
  3. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats, and aid workers
  4. Close immediately every terrorist training camp
  5. Hand over every terrorist and their supporters to appropriate authorities
  6. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps for inspection

The U.S. petitioned the international community to back a military campaign to overthrow the Taliban. The U.N. issued two resolutions on terrorism after the Sept.11 attacks. The resolutions called on all states to "[increase] cooperation and full implementation of the relevant international conventions relating to terrorism" and specified consensus recommendations for all countries. The Security Council did not authorize military intervention in Afghanistan of any kind, and nowhere in the U.N resolutions did it say military operations in Afghanistan were justified or conformed to international law.[118] Despite this, NATO approved a campaign against Afghanistan as self-defense against armed attack.[119]

The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salem Zaeef, responded to the ultimatum by demanding "convincing evidence"[120] that Bin Laden was involved in the attacks, stating "our position is that if America has evidence and proof, they should produce it."[121][122] Additionally, the Taliban insisted that any trial of Bin Laden be held in an Afghan court.[123] Zaeef also claimed that "4,000 Jews working in the Trade Center had prior knowledge of the suicide missions, and 'were absent on that day.'"[122] This response was generally dismissed as a delaying tactic, rather than a sincere attempt to cooperate with the ultimatum.[120][124][125]

On September 22, the United Arab Emirates, and later Saudi Arabia, withdrew recognition of the Taliban as Afghanistan's legal government, leaving neighbouring Pakistan as the only remaining country with diplomatic ties. On October 4, the Taliban agreed to turn bin Laden over to Pakistan for trial in an international tribunal[126] that operated according to Islamic Sharia law, but Pakistan blocked the offer as it was not possible to guarantee his safety.[127] On October 7, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan offered to detain bin Laden and try him under Islamic law if the U.S. made a formal request and presented the Taliban with evidence. A Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected the Taliban offer, and stated that the U.S. would not negotiate their demands.[128]

Coalition attack

The Taliban were removed from power in October 2001 by a unified effort of United Islamic Front (Northern Alliance) ground forces, small U.S. Special Operations teams and U.S. air support.

On October 7, less than one month after the September 11th Attacks, the U.S., aided by the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries including several from the NATO alliance, initiated military action, bombing Taliban and Al-Qaeda-related camps.[129][130] The stated intent of military operations was to remove the Taliban from power, and prevent the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations.[131]

The CIA's elite Special Activities Division (SAD) units were the first U.S. forces to enter Afghanistan (noting that many different countries intelligence agencies were on the ground or operating within theatre before SAD, and that SAD are not technically military forces, but civilian paramilitaries). They joined with the Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance) to prepare for the subsequent arrival of U.S. Special Operations forces. The United Front (Northern Alliance) and SAD and Special Forces combined to overthrow the Taliban with minimal coalition casualties, and without the use of international conventional ground forces.{{cn}} The Washington Post stated in an editorial by John Lehman in 2006:

What made the Afghan campaign a landmark in the U.S. Military's history is that it was prosecuted by Special Operations forces from all the services, along with Navy and Air Force tactical power, operations by the Afghan Northern Alliance and the CIA were equally important and fully integrated. No large Army or Marine force was employed.[132]

On October 14, the Taliban offered to discuss handing over Osama bin Laden to a neutral country in return for a bombing halt, but only if the Taliban were given evidence of bin Laden's involvement.[133] The U.S. rejected this offer, and continued military operations. Mazar-i-Sharif fell to United Front troops of Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum on November 9, triggering a cascade of provinces falling with minimal resistance.

In November 2001, before the capture of Kunduz by United Front troops under the command of Mohammad Daud Daud, thousands of top commanders and regular fighters of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agents and military personnel, and other volunteers and sympathizers in the Kunduz airlift, dubbed the Airlift of Evil by US military forces around Kunduz and subsequently used as a term in media reports, were evacuated and airlifted out of Kunduz by Pakistan Army cargo aircraft to Pakistan Air Force air bases in Chitral and Gilgit in Pakistan's Northern Areas.[95][134][135][136][137][138]

On the night of November 12, the Taliban retreated south from Kabul. On November 15, they released eight Western aid workers after three months in captivity. By November 13, the Taliban had withdrawn from both Kabul and Jalalabad. Finally, in early December, the Taliban gave up Kandahar, their last stronghold, dispersing without surrendering.


Development of a then small Taliban insurgency up until 2006, the year which saw an escalation in Taliban attacks

Before the summer 2006 offensive began, indications existed that soldiers in Afghanistan had lost influence and power to other groups, including potentially the Taliban.[citation needed] A notable sign was rioting in May after a street accident in the city of Kabul.[139][140]

The continued support from tribal and other groups in Pakistan, the drug trade, and the small number of NATO forces, combined with the long history of resistance and isolation, indicated that Taliban forces and leaders were surviving. Suicide attacks and other terrorist methods not used in 2001 became more common. Observers suggested that poppy eradication, which destroys the livelihoods of rural Afghans, and civilian deaths caused by airstrikes encouraged the resurgence. These observers maintained that policy should focus on "hearts and minds" and on economic reconstruction, which could profit from switching from interdicting to diverting poppy production—to make medicine.[141][142]

In September 2006, Pakistan recognized the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan, an association of Waziristani chieftains with close ties to the Taliban, as the de facto security force for Waziristan. This recognition was part of the agreement to end the Waziristan War, which had exacted a heavy toll on the Pakistan Army since early 2004. Some commentators viewed Islamabad's shift from war to diplomacy as implicit recognition of the growing power of the resurgent Taliban relative to American influence, with the U.S. distracted by the threat of looming crises in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran.[citation needed]

Other commentators viewed Islamabad's shift from war to diplomacy as an effort to appease growing discontent.[143] Because of the Taliban's leadership structure, Mullah Dadullah's targeted killing in May 2007 did not have a significant effect, other than to damage incipient relations with Pakistan.[144]

By 2009, a strong resistance was created, known as Operation Al Faath, the Arabic word for "victory" taken from the Koran,[145][146][147] in the form of a guerrilla war. The Pashtun tribal group, with over 40 million members (including Afghans and Pakistanis) had a long history of resistance to occupation forces, so the Taliban may have comprised only a part of the insurgency. Most post-invasion Taliban fighters were new recruits, mostly drawn from local madrasas.

In December 2009, Asia Times Online reported that the Taliban had offered to give the US "legal guarantees" that it would not allow Afghanistan to be used for attacks on other countries, and that the US had given no response.[148]

Targeted killings

The United States has conducted targeted killings against Taliban leaders, mainly using Special Forces, and sometimes unmanned aerial vehicles. British forces also used similar tactics, mostly in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. During Operation Herrick, British special forces killed at least fifty high and local Taliban commanders in targeted killings in Helmand Province, which received both positive and negative coverage in the British media.[149]

The Taliban also use targeted killings. In 2011 alone, they assassinated notable anti-Taliban leaders such as former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the police chief in northern Afghanistan and the commander of the elite anti-Taliban 303 Pamir Corps, Mohammad Daud Daud and the police chief of Kunduz, Abdul Rahman Saidkhaili. All belonged to the Massoud faction of the United Front. According to Guantanamo Bay charge sheets, the United States Department of Defense believes the Taliban may maintain a 40-man undercover unit called "Jihad Kandahar", which is used for undercover operations including assassination.[150]

Human rights abuses

Massacre campaigns

According to a 55-page report by the United Nations, the Taliban, while trying to consolidate control over northern and western Afghanistan, committed systematic massacres against civilians.[28][29] UN officials stated that there had been "15 massacres" between 1996 and 2001.[28][29] They also said, that "[t]hese have been highly systematic and they all lead back to the [Taliban] Ministry of Defense or to Mullah Omar himself."[28][29] "These are the same type of war crimes as were committed in Bosnia and should be prosecuted in international courts", one UN official was quoted as saying.[28] The documents also reveal the role of Arab and Pakistani support troops in these killings.[28][29] Bin Laden's so-called 055 Brigade was responsible for mass-killings of Afghan civilians.[23] The report by the United Nations quotes "eyewitnesses in many villages describing Arab fighters carrying long knives used for slitting throats and skinning people".[28][29] The Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, in late 2011 stated that cruel behaviour under and by the Taliban had been "necessary".[151]

In 1998, the United Nations accused the Taliban of denying emergency food by the UN's World Food Programme to 160,000 hungry and starving people "for political and military reasons".[152] The UN said the Taliban were starving people for their military agenda and using humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war.

On August 8, 1998 the Taliban launched an attack on Mazar-i Sharif. Of 1500 defenders only 100 survived the engagement. Once in control the Taliban began to kill people indiscriminately. At first shooting people in the street, they soon began to target Hazaras. Women were raped, and thousands of people were locked in containers and left to suffocate. This ethnic cleansing left an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 dead.[73][153] At this time ten Iranian diplomats and a journalist were killed. Iran assumed the Taliban had murdered them, and mobilized its army, deploying men along the border with Afghanistan. By the middle of September there were 250,000 Iranian personnel stationed on the border. Pakistan mediated and the bodies were returned to Tehran towards the end of the month. The killings of the Diplomats had been carried out by Sipah-e-Sahaba a Pakistani Sunni group with close ties to the ISI.[100][154] They burned orchards, crops and destroyed irrigation systems, and forced more than 100,000 people from their homes with hundreds of men, women and children still unaccounted for.[155]

In a major effort to retake the Shomali plains from the United Front, the Taliban indiscriminately killed civilians, while uprooting and expelling the population. Among others, Kamal Hossein, a special reporter for the UN, reported on these and other war crimes. The city of Istalif i. e. was home to more than 45,000 people. In Istalif the Taliban gave 24 hours notice to the population to leave, then completely razed the town leaving the people destitute.[32][156]

In 1999 the town of Bamian was taken, hundreds of men, women and children were executed. Houses were razed and some were used for forced labor.[157] There was a further massacre at the town of Yakaolang in January 2001. An estimated 300 people were murdered, along with two delegations of Hazara elders who had tried to intercede.[15]

By 1999, the Taliban had forced hundreds of thousands of people from the Shomali Plains and other regions conducting a policy of scorched earth burning homes, farm land and gardens.[32]

Human trafficking

Several Taliban and Al-Qaeda commanders ran a network of human trafficking, abducting women and selling them into sex slavery in Afghanistan and Pakistan.[158] Time Magazine writes: "The Taliban often argued that the brutal restrictions they placed on women were actually a way of revering and protecting the opposite sex. The behavior of the Taliban during the six years they expanded their rule in Afghanistan made a mockery of that claim."[158]

The targets for human trafficking were especially women from the Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Some women preferred to commit suicide over slavery, killing themselves. During one Taliban and Al-Qaeda offensive in 1999 in the Shomali Plains alone, more than 600 women were kidnapped.[158] Taliban as well as Arab and Pakistani Al-Qaeda militants forced them into trucks and buses.[158] Time Magazine writes: "The trail of the missing Shomali women leads to Jalalabad, not far from the Pakistan border. There, according to eyewitnesses, the women were penned up inside Sar Shahi camp in the desert. The more desirable among them were selected and taken away. Some were trucked to Peshawar with the apparent complicity of Pakistani border guards. Others were taken to Khost, where bin Laden had several training camps." Officials from relief agencies say, the trail of many of the vanished women leads to Pakistan where they were sold to brothels or into private households to be kept as slaves.[158]

Some local Taliban commanders were opposed to the human trafficking ordered and conducted by their leaders. One Taliban commander, Nuruludah, is quoted as saying that he and his men freed some women which were being abducted by Pakistani members of Al-Qaeda.[158] A few local Taliban in Jalalabad also freed women that were being held by other Taliban and members of Al-Qaeda in a camp.[158]

Oppression of women

Taliban religious police beating a woman in Kabul on August 26, 2001.[159]

To PHR's knowledge, no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment.[160]

—Physicians for Human Rights, 1998

The Taliban were condemned internationally for their brutal repression of women.[63][161] In 2001 Laura Bush in a radio address condemned the Taliban's brutality to women.[162][163] In areas they controlled the Taliban issued edicts which forbade women from being educated, girls were forced to leave schools and colleges. Those who wished to leave their home to go shopping had to be accompanied by a male relative, and were required to wear the burqa, a traditional dress covering the entire body except for a small screen to see out of. Those who appeared to disobey were publicly beaten.[164] Sohaila, a young woman who was convicted of walking with a man who was not a relative, was charged with adultery. She was publicly flogged in Ghazi Stadium and received 100 lashes.[165] The religious police routinely carried out inhumane abuse on women.[166] Employment for women was restricted to the medical sector, because male medical personnel were not allowed to treat women and girls. One result of the banning of employment of women by the Taliban was the closing down in places like Kabul of primary schools not only for girls but for boys, because almost all the teachers there were women.[167] Taliban restrictions became more severe after they took control of the capital. In February 1998, religious police forced all women off the streets of Kabul, and issued new regulations ordering people to blacken their windows, so that women would not be visible from the outside.[168]

Terrorism against civilians

According to the United Nations, the Taliban were responsible for 76% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2009, 75% in 2010 and 80% in 2011.[36][169]

According to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban's bombings and other attacks which have led to civilian casualties "sharply escalated in 2006" when "at least 669 Afghan civilians were killed in at least 350 armed attacks, most of which appear to have been intentionally launched at non-combatants."[170][171] By 2008, the Taliban had increased its use of suicide bombers and targeted unarmed civilian aid workers, such as Gayle Williams.[172]

The United Nations reported that the number of civilians killed by both the Taliban and pro-government forces in the war rose nearly 50% between 2007 and 2009.[173] The high number of civilians killed by the Taliban is blamed in part on their increasing use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), "for instance, 16 IEDs have been planted in girls' schools" by the Taliban.[173]

In 2009, Colonel Richard Kemp, formerly Commander of British forces in Afghanistan and the intelligence coordinator for the British government, drew parallels between the tactics and strategy of Hamas in Gaza to those of the Taliban. Kemp wrote:

Like Hamas in Gaza, the Taliban in southern Afghanistan are masters at shielding themselves behind the civilian population and then melting in among them for protection. Women and children are trained and equipped to fight, collect intelligence, and ferry arms and ammunition between battles. Female suicide bombers are increasingly common. The use of women to shield gunmen as they engage NATO forces is now so normal it is deemed barely worthy of comment. Schools and houses are routinely booby-trapped. Snipers shelter in houses deliberately filled with women and children.[174][175]

—Richard Kemp, Commander of British forces in Afghanistan

The Taliban has often targeted health officials that work to immunise children against polio due to fears of the vaccine, including the fear that it is used to gather intelligence about their organisation.[176] Polio vaccines were banned in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan in June 2012[177] and in December 2012, Taliban assassins killed four female UN polio-workers in Pakistan because they were thought to be spies.[178] The Afghan government was forced to suspend vaccination efforts to eliminate polio from the Nuristan province in March 2013 because of a large Taliban influence in the province.[179] Taliban leaders changed their stance on polio vaccination in early May 2013, saying the vaccine is the only way to prevent polio and that they would work with immunisation volunteers so long as polio workers are "unbiased" and "harmonised with the regional conditions, Islamic values and local cultural traditions."[176][180]



The Taliban initially enjoyed goodwill from Afghans weary of the warlords' corruption, brutality, and incessant fighting.[181] However, this popularity was not universal, particularly among non-Pashtuns.

The Taliban's extremely strict and anti-modern ideology has been described as an "innovative form of sharia combining Pashtun tribal codes,"[182] or Pashtunwali, with radical Deobandi interpretations of Islam favored by JUI and its splinter groups. Also contributing to the mix was the jihadism and pan-Islamism of Osama bin Laden.[183] Their ideology was a departure from the Islamism of the anti-Soviet mujahideen rulers they replaced who tended to be mystical Sufis, traditionalists, or radical Islamicists inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan).[184]

Under the Taliban regime, Sharia law was interpreted to forbid a wide variety of previously lawful activities in Afghanistan. One Taliban list of prohibitions included: pork, pig, pig oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography, musical equipment, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, television, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, pictures, Christmas cards.[185] They also got rid of employment, education, sports for all women, dancing, clapping during sports events, kite flying, and characterizations of living things, including drawings, paintings, photographs, stuffed animals, and dolls. Men had to have a fist size beard at the bottom of their chin. Conversely, they had to wear their head hair short. They had to wear a head covering.[186]

Many of these activities were hitherto lawful in Afghanistan. Critics complained that most Afghans followed a different, less strict, and less intrusive interpretation of Islam. The Taliban did not eschew all traditional popular practices. For example, they did not destroy the graves of Sufi pirs (holy men), and emphasized dreams as a means of revelation.[187]

Taliban have been described as both anti-nationalist and Pushtun nationalist. According to journalist Ahmed Rashid, at least in the first years of their rule, they adopted Deobandi and Islamist anti-nationalist beliefs, and opposed "tribal and feudal structures," eliminating traditional tribal or feudal leaders from leadership roles.[188] According to Ali A. Jalali and Lester Grau, the Taliban "received extensive support from Pashtuns across the country who thought that the movement might restore their national dominance. Even Pashtun intellectuals in the West, who differed with the Taliban on many issues, expressed support for the movement on purely ethnic grounds."[189]

Like Wahhabi and other Deobandis, the Taliban do not consider Shiʻi to be Muslims. The Shia in Afghanistan consist mostly of the Hazara ethnic group which totaled almost 10% of Afghanistan's population.[190]

The Taliban were averse to debating doctrine with other Muslims. "The Taliban did not allow even Muslim reporters to question [their] edicts or to discuss interpretations of the Qur'an."[191]

The Taliban mainly strictly enforced its ideologies in major cities like Herat, Kabul, and Kandahar. In rural areas the Taliban had little direct control, and the Taliban had promoted village jirgas, so it did not as stringently enforce its ideology in rural areas.[192]

Bamyan Buddhas

In 1999, Mullah Omar issued a decree protecting the Buddha statues at Bamyan, two 6th century monumental statues of standing buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan. He did this because Afghanistan had no Buddhists, so idolatry would not be a problem. But in March 2001 the statues were destroyed by the Taliban of Mullah Omar following a decree stating: "all the statues around Afghanistan must be destroyed."[193]

Yahya Massoud, brother of the anti-Taliban and resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, recalls the following incident after the destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamyan:

It was the spring of 2001. I was in Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley, together with my brother Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Afghan resistance against the Taliban, and Bismillah Khan, who currently serves as Afghanistan's interior minister. One of our commanders, Commandant Momin, wanted us to see 30 Taliban fighters who had been taken hostage after a gun battle. My brother agreed to meet them.

I remember that his first question concerned the centuries-old Buddha statues that were dynamited by the Taliban in March of that year, shortly before our encounter. Two Taliban combatants from Kandahar confidently responded that worshiping anything outside of Islam was unacceptable and that therefore these statues had to be destroyed. My brother looked at them and said, this time in Pashto, 'There are still many sun- worshippers in this country. Will you also try to get rid of the sun and drop darkness over the Earth?'"'[194]

Explanation of ideology

The author Ahmed Rashid suggests that the devastation and hardship of the Soviet invasion and the following period influenced Taliban ideology.[195] It is said the Taliban did not include scholars learned in Islamic law and history. The refugee students, brought up in a totally male society, not only had no education in mathematics, science, history or geography, but also had no traditional skills of farming, herding, or handicraft-making, nor even knowledge of their tribal and clan lineages.[195] In such an environment, war meant employment, peace meant unemployment. Dominating women simply affirmed manhood. For their leadership, rigid fundamentalism was a matter not only of principle, but also of political survival. Taliban leaders "repeatedly told" Rashid that "if they gave women greater freedom or a chance to go to school, they would lose the support of their rank and file."[196]

November 1999 public execution in Kabul of a mother of five who was found guilty of killing her husband with an axe while he slept.[197][198][199]


The Taliban were criticized for their strictness toward those who disobeyed their imposed rules. Many Muslims complained that most Taliban rules had no basis in the Qur'an or sharia. Mullah Omar's title as Amir al-Mu'minin was criticized on the grounds that he lacked scholarly learning, tribal pedigree, or connections to the Prophet's family. Sanction for the title traditionally required the support of all of the country's ulema, whereas only some 1,200 Pashtun Taliban-supporting Mullahs had declared Omar the Amir. "No Afghan had adopted the title since 1834, when King Dost Mohammed Khan assumed the title before he declared jihad against the Sikh kingdom in Peshawar. But Dost Mohammed was fighting foreigners, while Omar had declared jihad against other Afghans."[200]

Another criticism was that the Taliban called their 20% tax on truckloads of opium "zakat", which is traditionally limited to 2.5% of the zakat-payers' disposable income (or wealth).[200]



The Taliban, de jure, controlled 85% of Afghanistan. De facto the areas under its direct control were mainly Afghanistan's major cities and highways. Tribal khans and warlords had de facto direct control over various small towns, villages, and rural areas.[201]

Taliban police patrolling the streets of Herat in a pickup truck

Rashid described the Taliban government as "a secret society run by Kandaharis ... mysterious, secretive, and dictatorial."[202] They did not hold elections, as their spokesman explained:

The Sharia does not allow politics or political parties. That is why we give no salaries to officials or soldiers, just food, clothes, shoes, and weapons. We want to live a life like the Prophet lived 1400 years ago, and jihad is our right. We want to recreate the time of the Prophet, and we are only carrying out what the Afghan people have wanted for the past 14 years.[203]

They modeled their decision-making process on the Pashtun tribal council (jirga), together with what they believed to be the early Islamic model. Discussion was followed by a building of a consensus by the "believers".[204] Before capturing Kabul, there was talk of stepping aside once a government of "good Muslims" took power, and law and order were restored.

As the Taliban's power grew, decisions were made by Mullah Omar without consulting the jirga and without consulting other parts of the country. He visited the capital, Kabul, only twice while in power. Instead of an election, their leader's legitimacy came from an oath of allegiance ("Bay'ah"), in imitation of the Prophet and the first four Caliphs. On April 4, 1996, Mullah Omar had "the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed" taken from its shrine for the first time in 60 years. Wrapping himself in the relic, he appeared on the roof of a building in the center of Kandahar while hundreds of Pashtun mullahs below shouted "Amir al-Mu'minin!" (Commander of the Faithful), in a pledge of support. Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil explained:

Decisions are based on the advice of the Amir-ul Momineen. For us consultation is not necessary. We believe that this is in line with the Sharia. We abide by the Amir's view even if he alone takes this view. There will not be a head of state. Instead there will be an Amir al-Mu'minin. Mullah Omar will be the highest authority, and the government will not be able to implement any decision to which he does not agree. General elections are incompatible with Sharia and therefore we reject them.[205]

The Taliban were very reluctant to share power, and since their ranks were overwhelmingly Pashtun they ruled as overlords over the 60% of Afghans from other ethnic groups. In local government, such as Kabul city council[202] or Herat,[206] Taliban loyalists, not locals, dominated, even when the Pashto-speaking Taliban could not communicate with the roughly half of the population who spoke Dari or other non-Pashtun tongues.[206] Critics complained that this "lack of local representation in urban administration made the Taliban appear as an occupying force."[207]


Consistent with the governance of early Muslims was the absence of state institutions or "a methodology for command and control" that is standard today even among non-Westernized states. The Taliban did not issue press releases, policy statements, or hold regular press conferences. The outside world and most Afghans did not even know what their leaders looked like, since photography was banned.[208] The "regular army" resembled a lashkar or traditional tribal militia force with only 25,000 men (of whom 11,000 were non-Afghans).

Cabinet ministers and deputies were mullahs with a "madrasah education." Several of them, such as the Minister of Health and Governor of the State bank, were primarily military commanders who left their administrative posts to fight when needed. Military reverses that trapped them behind lines or led to their deaths increased the chaos in the national administration.[209] At the national level, "all senior Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara bureaucrats" were replaced "with Pashtuns, whether qualified or not." Consequently, the ministries "by and large ceased to function."[207]

The Ministry of Finance had neither a budget nor "qualified economist or banker." Mullah Omar collected and dispersed cash without bookkeeping.


According to the testimony of Guantanamo captives before their Combatant Status Review Tribunals, the Taliban, in addition to conscripting men to serve as soldiers, also conscripted men to staff its civil service.[210]


The Kabul money markets responded positively during the first weeks of the Taliban occupation. But the Afghani soon fell in value.[211] They imposed a 50% tax on any company operating in the country, and those who failed to pay were attacked.[92] They also imposed a 6% import tax on anything brought into the country,[212] and by 1998 had control of the major airports and border crossings which allowed them to establish a monopoly on all trade.[212] By 2001 the per capita income of the 25 million population was under $200,[213] and the country was close to total economic collapse.[166] As of 2007 the economy had begun to recover, with estimated foreign reserves of three billion dollars and a 13% increase in economic growth.[214]

Opium in Taliban safehouse in Helmand

Under the Transit treaty between Afghanistan and Pakistan a massive network for smuggling developed. It had an estimated turnover of 2.5 billion dollars with the Taliban receiving between $100 & $130 million per year.[215] These operations along with the trade from the Golden Crescent financed the war in Afghanistan and also had the side effect of destroying start up industries in Pakistan.[216] Ahmed Rashid also explained that the Afghan Transit Trade agreed on by Pakistan was "the largest official source of revenue for the Taliban."[217]

Between 1996 and 1999 Mullah Omar reversed his opinions on the drug trade, apparently as it only harmed kafirs. The Taliban controlled 96% of Afghanistan's poppy fields and made opium its largest source of taxation.[217] Taxes on opium exports became one of the mainstays of Taliban income and their war economy.[217] According to Rashid, "drug money funded the weapons, ammunition and fuel for the war."[217] In the New York Times, the Finance Minister of the United Front, Wahidullah Sabawoon, declared the Taliban had no annual budget but that they "appeared to spend US$ 300 million a year, nearly all of it on war." He added that the Taliban had come to increasingly rely on three sources of money: "poppy, the Pakistanis and bin Laden."[217]

In an economic sense it seems however he had little choice, as the war of attrition continued with the Northern Alliance the income from continued opium production was all that prevented the country from starvation.[16] By 2000 Afghanistan accounted for an estimated 75% of the world's supply and in 2000 grew an estimated 3276 tonnes of opium from poppy cultivation on 82,171 hectares.[218] At this juncture Omar passed a decree banning the cultivation of opium, and production dropped to an estimated 74 metric tonnes from poppy cultivation on 1,685 hectares.[219] Many observers say the ban - which came in a bid for international recognition at the United Nations - was only issued in order to raise opium prices and increase profit from the sale of large existing stockpiles.[217] The year 1999 had yielded a record crop and had been followed by a lower but still large 2000 harvest.[217] The trafficking of accumulated stocks by the Taliban continued in 2000 and 2001.[217] In 2002, the UN mentioned the "existence of significant stocks of opiated accumulated during previous years of bumper harvests."[217] In September 2001 – before the 11 September attacks against the United States – the Taliban allegedly authorized Afghan peasants to sow opium again.[217]

There was also an environmental toll to the country, heavy deforestation from the illegal trade in timber with hundreds of acres of pine and cedar forests in Kunar Province and Paktya being cleared.[220][221] Throughout the country millions of acres were denuded to supply timber to the Pakistani markets, with no attempt made at reforestation,[222] which has led to significant environmental damage.[223] By 2001, when the Afghan Interim Administration took power the country's infrastructure was in ruins, Telecommunications had failed, the road network was destroyed and Ministry of Finance buildings were in such a state of disrepair some were on the verge of collapse.[224] On July 6, 1999 former president Bill Clinton signed into effect executive order 13129. This order implemented a complete ban on any trade between America and the Taliban regime and on August 10 they froze £5000,000 in Ariana assets.[225] On December 19, 2000 UN resolution 1333 was passed. It called for all assets to be frozen and for all states to close any offices belonging to the Taliban. This included the offices of Ariana Afghan Airlines.[226] In 1999 the UN had passed resolution 1267 which had banned all international flights by Ariana apart from preapproved humanitarian missions.[227]

International relations

During its time in power, the Taliban regime, or "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", gained diplomatic recognition from only three states: the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, all of which provided substantial aid. The other nations including the United Nations recognized the government of the Islamic State of Afghanistan (parts of whom were part of the United Front (Northern Alliance) as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.


The "vast majority" of the Taliban's rank and file and most of the leadership, though not Mullah Omar, were Koranic students who had studied at madrasas set up for Afghan refugees, usually by JUI. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, JUI's leader, was a political ally of Benazir Bhutto. After Bhutto became prime minister, Rehman "had access to the government, the army and the ISI," whom he influenced to help the Taliban.[228]

Pakistan's ISI supported the previously unknown Kandahari student movement,[229] the Taliban, as the group conquered Afghanistan in the 1990s.[230]

Human Rights Watch writes, "Pakistani aircraft assisted with troop rotations of Taliban forces during combat operations in late 2000 and ... senior members of Pakistan's intelligence agency and army were involved in planning military operations."[231] Pakistan provided military equipment, recruiting assistance, training, and tactical advice.[232] Officially Pakistan denied supporting the Taliban militarily.

Author Ahmed Rashid claims that the Taliban had "unprecedented access" among Pakistan's lobbies and interest groups. He also writes that they at times were able to "play off one lobby against another and extend their influence in Pakistan even further".[233] By 1998–99, Taliban-style groups in Pakistan's Pashtun belt, and to an extent in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, "were banning TV and videos ... and forcing people, particularly women, to adapt to the Taliban dress code and way of life."[234]

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the U.S. operation in Afghanistan the Afghan Taliban leadership is claimed to have fled to Pakistan where they regrouped and created several shuras to coordinate their insurgency in Afghanistan. On February 8, 2009, U.S. commander of operations in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal and other officials said that the Taliban leadership was in Quetta, Pakistan, though the Pakistani government, an official U.S. ally, denied this.[40]

A range of officials inside and outside Pakistan have stepped up suggestions of links between the ISI and terrorist groups in recent years.[235] In fall 2006, a leaked report by a British Defense Ministry think tank charged, "Indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism--whether in London on 7/7 [the July 2005 attacks on London's transit system], or in Afghanistan, or Iraq."[235] In June 2008, Afghan officials accused Pakistan's intelligence service of plotting a failed assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai; shortly thereafter, they implied the ISI's involvement in a July 2008 Taliban attack on the Indian embassy.[235] Indian officials also blamed the ISI for the bombing of the Indian embassy.[235] Numerous U.S. officials have also accused the ISI of supporting terrorist groups including the Afghan Taliban. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "to a certain extent, they play both sides." Gates and others suggest the ISI maintains links with groups like the Afghan Taliban as a "strategic hedge" to help Islamabad gain influence in Kabul once U.S. troops exit the region. [235] U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in 2011 called the Haqqani network (the Afghan Taliban's most destructive element) a "veritable arm of Pakistan's ISI".[20] He further stated, "Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers."[20]

From 2010, a report by a leading British institution also claimed that Pakistan's intelligence service still today has a strong link with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Published by the London School of Economics, the report said that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has an "official policy" of support for the Taliban. It said the ISI provides funding and training for the Taliban, and that the agency has representatives on the so-called Quetta Shura, the Taliban's leadership council, which is believed to meet in Pakistan. The report, based on interviews with Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, was written by Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University.[236]

"Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," the report said. The report also linked high-level members of the Pakistani government with the Taliban. It said Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, met with senior Taliban prisoners in 2010 and promised to release them. Zardari reportedly told the detainees they were only arrested because of American pressure. "The Pakistan government's apparent duplicity – and awareness of it among the American public and political establishment – could have enormous geopolitical implications," Waldman said. "Without a change in Pakistani behaviour it will be difficult if not impossible for international forces and the Afghan government to make progress against the insurgency." Afghan officials have long been suspicious of the ISI's role. Amrullah Saleh, the former director of Afghanistan's intelligence service, told Reuters that the ISI was "part of a landscape of destruction in this country".[237]

Pakistan on other hand has strongly denied all links with Taliban or any terrorist groups with the argument that Pakistan is the biggest victim of the "War on terror" with a loss of 35,000 lives including policemen, soldiers and mostly civilians.[238] Pakistan's military officials called such allegations highly biased and factually inaccurate. The military spokes person said that not a single bullet or financial support had been given to Taliban. Pakistan's foreign minister further clarified that if Pakistan had recruited some people for intelligence purposes, it did not mean that Pakistan supported them.[238] United States along with the accusations of supporting Taliban has also called Pakistan as an indispensable ally.[239][240][241] Pakistan has also reportedly warned United States that it may lose a key ally due to such accusations.[242][243]

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban)

Before the creation of the Tehrik-i-Taliban(Pakistan), some of their leaders and fighters were part of the 8,000 Pakistani militants fighting in the War in Afghanistan (1996-2001) and the War in Afghanistan (2001-present) against the United Islamic Front and NATO forces.[23] Most of them hail from the Pakistani side of the Af-Pak border regions. After the fall of the Afghan Taliban in late 2001 most Pakistani militants including members of today's TTP fled home to Pakistan.

After the creation of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in 2007, headed by Baitullah Mehsud,[244] its members have officially defined goals to establish their rule over Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. They engage the Pakistani army in heavy combat operations. Some intelligence analysts believe that the TTP's attacks on the Pakistani government, police and army strained the TTP's relations with the Afghan Taliban.[245][246]

The Afghan Taliban and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan differ greatly in their history, leadership and goals although they share a common interpretation of Islam and are both predominantly Pashtun.[245] The Afghan Taliban have no affiliation with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and routinely deny any connection to the TTP. The New York Times quoted a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban stating that:

We don't like to be involved with them, as we have rejected all affiliation with Pakistani Taliban fighters ... We have sympathy for them as Muslims, but beside that, there is nothing else between us.[247]

It is alleged that Afghan Taliban relied on support by the Pakistani army in the past and are still supported by them today in their campaign to control Afghanistan.[60][248] Regular Pakistani army troops fought alongside the Afghan Taliban in the War in Afghanistan (1996–2001).[24] Major leaders of the Afghan Taliban including Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Siraj Haqqani are believed to enjoy safe haven in Pakistan.[25] In 2006 Jalaluddin Haqqani was allegedly called a 'Pakistani asset' by a senior official of Inter-Services Intelligence.[25] Pakistan denies any links with Haqqani or other terrorist groups. Haqqani himself has denied any links with Pakistan as well.[249][250][251][252]

Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar asked the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in late 2008 and early 2009 to stop attacks inside Pakistan, to change their focus as an organization and to fight the Afghan National Army and ISAF forces in Afghanistan instead.[247] In late December 2008 and early January 2009 he sent a delegation, led by former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mullah Abdullah Zakir, to persuade leading members of the TTP to put aside differences with Pakistan.[247]

Some regional experts state the common name "Taliban" may be more misleading than illuminating.[245] Gilles Dorronsoro, a scholar of South Asia currently at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington says:

The fact that they have the same name causes all kinds of confusion.[245]

As the Pakistani Army began offensives against the Pakistani Taliban, many unfamiliar with the region thought incorrectly that the assault was against the Afghan Taliban of Mullah Omar which was not the case.[245]

The Pakistani Taliban were put under sanctions by U.N. Security Council for terrorists attacks in Pakistan and 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt.[246]

Malakand Taliban

Malakand Taliban is militant outfit led by Sufi Muhammad and his son in law Molvi Fazalullah.[253] Sufi Muhammad is in Pakistani government custody, however, Molvi Fazalullah is believed to be in Afghanistan.[253] In the last week of May 2011, eight security personnel and civilians fell victim to four hundred armed Taliban who attacked Shaltalo check post in Dir, a frontier District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, located few kilometers away from Afghan border.[253] Although, they have been linked with Waziristan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), however, the connection between these two groups is of symbolic nature.[253]

Al Qaeda

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir interviewing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, November 2001.

In 1996, bin Laden moved to Afghanistan from Sudan. He came without invitation, and sometimes irritated Mullah Omar with his declaration of war and fatwas against citizens of third-party countries,[254] but relations between the two groups improved over time, to the point that Mullah Omar rebuffed his group's patron Saudi Arabia, insulting Saudi minister Prince Turki while reneging on an earlier promise to turn bin Laden over to the Saudis.[255]

Bin Laden was able to forge an alliance between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The Al Qaeda-trained 055 Brigade integrated with the Taliban army between 1997 and 2001. Several hundred Arab Afghan fighters sent by bin Laden assisted the Taliban in the Mazar-e-Sharif slaughter.[256] The so-called Brigade 055 was also responsible for massacres against civilians in other parts of Afghanistan.[23] From 1996 to 2001 the organization of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had become a virtual state within the Taliban state.

Taliban-Al-Qaeda connections were also strengthened by the reported marriage of one of bin Laden's sons to Omar's daughter. While in Afghanistan, bin Laden may have helped finance the Taliban.[257][258]

After the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, bin Laden and several Al-Qaeda members were indicted in U.S. criminal court.[259] The Taliban rejected extradition requests by the U.S., variously claiming that bin Laden had "gone missing",[260] or that Washington "cannot provide any evidence or any proof" that bin Laden is involved in terrorist activities and that "without any evidence, bin Laden is a man without sin... he is a free man."[261][262]

Evidence against bin Laden included courtroom testimony and satellite phone records.[263][264] Bin Laden in turn, praised the Taliban as the "only Islamic government" in existence, and lauded Mullah Omar for his destruction of idols such as the Buddhas of Bamyan.[265]

At the end of 2008, the Taliban was in talks to sever all ties with Al-Qaeda.[266]

In 2011, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn at New York University's Center on International Cooperation claimed that the two groups did not get along at times before the September 11 attacks, and they have continued to fight since on account of their differences.[267]


Iran has historically been an enemy of the Taliban. In early August 1998, after attacking the city of Mazar, Taliban forces killed several thousand civilians and 10 Iranian diplomats and intelligence officers in the Iranian consulate. Alleged radio intercepts indicate Mullah Omar personally approved the killings.[268] In the following crisis between Iran and the Taliban, the Iranian government amassed up to 200,000 regular troops on the Afghan-Iranian border.[269] War was eventually averted.

Many U.S. senior military officials such as Robert Gates,[270] Stanley McChrystal,[271] David Petraeus[272] and others believe that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps nowadays is involved in helping the Taliban to a certain extent. Reports in which NATO states accused Iran of supplying and training some Taliban insurgents started coming forward since 2004/2005.

"We did interdict a shipment, without question the Revolutionary Guard's core Quds Force, through a known Taliban facilitator. Three of the individuals were killed... 48 122 millimetre rockets were intercepted with their various components... Iranians certainly view as making life more difficult for us if Afghanistan is unstable. We don't have that kind of relationship with the Iranians. That's why I am particularly troubled by the interception of weapons coming from Iran. But we know that it's more than weapons; it's money; it's also according to some reports, training at Iranian camps as well."[273]

General David Petraeus, Commander of US-NATO forces in Afghanistan, March 16, 2011

United States

The United States supported the Taliban through its allies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia between 1994 and 1996 because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western.[274] Washington furthermore hoped that the Taliban would support development planned by the U.S.-based oil company Unocal.[275] For example, it made no comment when the Taliban captured Herat in 1995, and expelled thousands of girls from schools;[276] the Taliban began killing unarmed civilians, targeting ethnic groups (primarily Hazaras), and restricting the rights of women.[182] In late 1997, American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright began to distance the U.S. from the Taliban. The next year, the American-based oil company Unocal withdrew from negotiations on pipeline construction from Central Asia.[277]

One day before the capture of Mazar, bin Laden affiliates bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa, killing 224 and wounding 4,500, mostly Africans. The U.S. responded by launching cruise missiles on suspected terrorist camps in Afghanistan, killing over 20 though failing to kill bin Laden or even many Al-Qaeda. Mullah Omar condemned the missile attack and American President Bill Clinton.[278] Saudi Arabia expelled the Taliban envoy in protest over the refusal to turn over bin Laden, and after Mullah Omar allegedly insulted the Saudi royal family.[279] In mid-October the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to ban commercial aircraft flights to and from Afghanistan, and freeze its bank accounts worldwide.[280]

US soldiers burn a suspected Taliban safehouse.

Adjusting its counterinsurgency strategy, in October 2009, the U.S announced plans to pay Taliban fighters to switch sides.[281]

On November 26, 2009, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, President Hamid Karzai said there is an "urgent need" for negotiations with the Taliban, and made it clear that the Obama administration had opposed such talks. There was no formal American response.[282][283]

In December 2009, Asian Times Online reported that the Taliban had offered to give the US "legal guarantees" that they would not allow Afghanistan to be used for attacks on other countries, and that there had been no formal American response.[148]

On December 6, U.S officials indicated that they have not ruled out talks with the Taliban.[284] Several days later it was reported that Gates saw potential for reconciliation with the Taliban, but not with Al-Qaeda. Furthermore, he said that reconciliation would politically end the insurgency and the war. But he said reconciliation must be on the Afghan government's terms, and that the Taliban must be subject to the sovereignty of the government.[285]

In 2010, General McChrystal said his troop surge could lead to a negotiated peace with the Taliban.[286]

Allegations of connection to CIA There have been many claims that the CIA directly supported the Taliban or al-Qaeda. In the early 1980s, the CIA and the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency) provided arms and money, and the ISI helped gather radical Muslims from around the world to fight against the Soviet invaders.[287] Osama Bin Laden was one of the key players in organizing training camps for the foreign Muslim volunteers. "By 1987, 65,000 tons of U.S.-made weapons and ammunition a year were entering the war."

United Kingdom

After 9/11, the United Kingdom froze the Taliban's assets in the U.K., nearly $200 million by early October 2001.[288] The U.K. also supported the U.S. decision to remove the Taliban, both politically and militarily.[289]

The UN agreed that NATO would act on its behalf, focusing on counter-terrorist operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban had been "defeated". The United Kingdom took operational responsibility for Helmand Province, a major poppy-growing province in southern Afghanistan, deploying troops there in the summer of 2006, and encountered resistance by re-formed Taliban forces allegedly entering Afghanistan from Pakistan. The Taliban turned towards the use of improvised explosive devices.[290]

In 2008, the U.K. announced plans to pay Taliban fighters to switch sides or lay down arms;[291] later, in 2009 the United Kingdom government backed talks with the Taliban.[292]


India is one of the Taliban's most outspoken critics. India was concerned about growing Islamic militancy in its neighborhood, and refused to recognize the Taliban regime.[293] Ahmad Shah Massoud also had close ties to India.[294]

In December 1999, Indian Airlines Flight 814 en route from Kathmandu to Delhi was hijacked and taken to Kandahar. The Taliban moved its militias near the hijacked aircraft, supposedly to prevent Indian special forces from storming the aircraft, and stalled the negotiations between India and the hijackers for days. The New York Times later reported that there were credible links between the hijackers and the Taliban.[295] As a part of the deal to free the plane, India released three militants. The Taliban gave a safe passage to the hijackers and the released militants.[296]

Following the hijacking, India drastically increased its efforts to help Massoud, providing an arms depot in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.[297] India also provided a wide range of high-altitude warfare equipment, helicopter technicians, medical services, and tactical advice.[298] According to one report, Indian military support to anti-Taliban forces totaled US$70 million, including five Mil Mi-17 helicopters, and US$8 million worth of high-altitude equipment in 2001.[299] India extensively supported the new administration in Afghanistan,[300] leading several reconstruction projects[301] and by 2001 had emerged as the country's largest regional donor.[302]

In the wake of recent terrorist attacks in India, there have been growing concerns about fundamentalist organisations such as the Taliban seeking to expand their activities into India. During the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup which was co-hosted in India, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Interpol chief Ronald Noble revealed that a terrorist bid to disrupt the tournament had been foiled; following a conference with Noble, Malik said that the Taliban had begun to base their activities in India with reports from neighboring countries exposing their activities in the country and a Sri Lankan terrorist planning to target cricketers was arrested in Colombo.[303][304][305] Kashmir-based militant groups thought to have ties with the Taliban have historically been involved in the Jammu and Kashmir insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.[306] In 2009, the Times of India called for India to reassess its Taliban threat.[307]

United Nations and NGOs

A major issue during the Taliban's reign was its relations with the United Nations (UN) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Twenty years of continuous warfare had devastated Afghanistan's infrastructure and economy. There was no running water, little electricity, few telephones, functioning roads or regular energy supplies. Basic necessities like water, food, housing and others were in desperately short supply. In addition, the clan and family structure that provided Afghans with a social/economic safety net was also badly damaged.[191][308] Afghanistan's infant mortality was the highest in the world. A full quarter of all children died before they reached their fifth birthday, a rate several times higher than most other developing countries.[309]

International charitable and/or development organisations (NGOs) were extremely important to the supply of food, employment, reconstruction, and other services. With one million plus deaths during the years of war, the number of families headed by widows had reached 98,000 by 1998.[310] Thus Taliban restrictions on women were sometime a matter not only of human rights, but of life and death. In Kabul, where vast portions of the city had been devastated from rocket attacks, more than half of its 1.2 million people benefited in some way from NGO activities, even for water to drink.[311] The civil war and its never-ending refugee stream continued throughout the Taliban's reign. The Mazar, Herat, and Shomali valley offensives displaced more than three-quarters of a million civilians, using "scorched earth" tactics to prevent them from supplying the enemy with aid.[312]

Despite the aid, the Taliban's attitude toward the UN and NGOs was often one of suspicion, in place of gratitude or even tolerance. The UN operates on the basis of international law, not Sharia, and the UN did not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Additionally, most foreign donors and aid workers, were non-Muslims. As the Taliban's Attorney General Maulvi Jalil-ullah Maulvizada put it:

Let us state what sort of education the UN wants. This is a big infidel policy which gives such obscene freedom to women which would lead to adultery and herald the destruction of Islam. In any Islamic country where adultery becomes common, that country is destroyed and enters the domination of the infidels because their men become like women and women cannot defend themselves. Anyone who talks to us should do so within Islam's framework. The Holy Koran cannot adjust itself to other people's requirements, people should adjust themselves to the requirements of the Holy Koran.[313]

Taliban decision-makers, particularly Mullah Omar, seldom if ever talked directly to non-Muslim foreigners, so aid providers had to deal with intermediaries whose approvals and agreements were often reversed.[207] Around September 1997 the heads of three UN agencies in Kandahar were expelled from the country after protesting when a female attorney for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was forced to talk from behind a curtain so her face would not be visible.[314]

When the UN increased the number of Muslim women staff to satisfy Taliban demands, the Taliban then required all female Muslim UN staff traveling to Afghanistan to be chaperoned by a mahram or a blood relative.[315] In July 1998, the Taliban closed "all NGO offices" by force after those organizations refused to move to a bombed-out former Polytechnic College as ordered.[316] One month later the UN offices were also shut down.[317] As food prices rose and conditions deteriorated, Planning Minister Qari Din Mohammed explained the Taliban's indifference to the loss of humanitarian aid:

We Muslims believe God the Almighty will feed everybody one way or another. If the foreign NGOs leave then it is their decision. We have not expelled them.[318]

In 2009 a top U.N official called for talks with Taliban leaders.[319] In 2010 the U.N lifted sanctions on the Taliban,[320] and requested that Taliban leaders and others be removed from terrorism watch lists.[321] In 2010 the U.S. and Europe announced support for President Karzai's latest attempt to negotiate peace with the Taliban.[322]

See also

  • Colonel Imam
  • History of Afghanistan (1992–present)
  • Opium production in Afghanistan
  • Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
  • Taliban propaganda
  • Talibanization
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


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  • Rashid, Ahmed (2000). "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia". New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08340-8. 


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