Represent the Taliban Pashtuns

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Since the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Taliban government, as host of Osama bin Laden and the terrorist network Al-Qaeda, has become the focus of international media interest and, since October 7, the first military target of the Americans and British in the "international fight against terrorism".

But even before September 11th, the Taliban caused a stir with their radical interpretation of Islamic law. At the latest with the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan, which also led to protests in Muslim countries, the Taliban regime completely isolated itself. Although the Taliban did not appear on the scene of the Afghan civil war until 1994, they managed in a very short time to become the dominant political force in the country and to extend their control to 90% of the territory. Little is known about them, however, and there is only one blurred photo of even their leader, Mullah Omar. The incomplete nature of the information leaves a lot of scope for speculation, distorted images and the formation of myths. Therefore, the following article tries to approach the Taliban phenomenon.

The Afghan Civil War

Afghanistan has been in civil war for 23 years. The starting point of this civil war was the takeover of power by the Marxist-Leninist Democratic People's Party of Afghanistan (DVPA) in 1978. The DVPA's revolutionary government pursued the goal of transforming the ethnically, religiously and tribally extremely heterogeneous country into a socialist state. However, their violent reform policy met with strong resistance, which ultimately led to uprisings in the country. As a result, Soviet troops marched into Afghanistan in December 1979, and they have since endeavored to restore government authority in all parts of the country.

Resistance to the communist government and the Soviet occupying power, which was initially spontaneous and then combined in a broad alliance, grew rapidly. Since 1980, collectively referred to as mujahideen (originally a term for the Islamic religious fighter in the holy war), various regional groups within Afghanistan fought against the Soviet occupation. The resistance was not only promoted through the more than 3 million refugees in Pakistan, but above all through the support of other countries (including the USA in particular). The massive foreign aid led to a dominance of the Islamist-oriented groups and displaced the independent resistance rooted in rural traditions. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1989, it was not until April 1992 that the mujahideen were able to eliminate the last Soviet influence with the overthrow of the communist government under President Najibullah. After Najibullah's fall, the power struggle between the now divided groups of the former Afghan resistance got more and more out of control. Many areas of the country fell into anarchy and came under the control of so-called warlords. Looting, rape and other acts of violence were on the agenda.

In this context, in autumn 1994 students from fundamentalist Koran schools (madrassas) in Pakistan, which gave the movement its name, formed the new militia of the "Taliban" (Talib, plural Taliban, in the languages ​​of the Islamic world denotes the student of religious sources) .

Establishment of the Taliban

In the summer of 1994, according to the legend spread by the Taliban about its creation, Mullah Mohammed Omar, a former mujahideen commander, is said to have received a dream in a dream: he was destined to establish a "true Islamic order" in Afghanistan. Out of indignation over the betrayal of Islam by the warring mujahideen, he is said to have gathered 33 like-minded people around him in the same year and founded the De Talibano Islami Ghurdzang-Tahrik (Taliban Islamic Movement) in his home town of Maiwand, near Kandahar to have. After this presentation, they made it their task to end the arbitrary and tyrannical rule of the warlords in Afghanistan and to establish a rigorously Islamic state in which order and peace prevail. Very soon, many like-minded Taliban would have joined them. The Taliban compare the rapid success of the movement to the spread of Islam in the course of the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina. Thus, for Mullah Omar, too, an analogous function is claimed that Muhammad once had.

Victory march of the Taliban

The starting point of the Taliban's military triumph was the rural surroundings of the southeastern Afghan city of Kandahar, the stronghold of the Durrani Pashtuns. (The Pashtuns are the numerically strongest ethnic group in Afghanistan (40%) and are divided into two large tribal confederations: the Durrani and the Ghilzai.) After the capture of Kandahar in November 1994, the Taliban moved north towards the Pashtun Ghilzai in early 1995 Areas ahead. There, numerous units of former mujahideen defected to the Taliban. Many of the local commanders were drawn to their own side with considerable monetary payments.

In February 1995 the Taliban captured the city of Maidan Shahr and Tschahrasyab, the headquarters of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-e Islami (Islamic Party of Afghanistan). At this point in time, they already ruled nine of the country's 31 provinces.

In March 1995 the Taliban eliminated one of their most important opponents in the Kabul region, the Shiite (pro-Iranian) Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami (Party of the Islamic Unity of Afghanistan) and murdered its leader, Abdul Ali Mazari.

In a new offensive since September 1995, they captured the cities of Farah and Herat in the west (Herat's commander, Ismail Khan, fled to Iran) and thus expanded their area of ​​influence over the Pashtun tribal areas for the first time. The offensive could not be stopped by the new alliance between Burhanuddin Rabbani, the president elected at the end of 1992, and his former arch rival Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which was directed against the encirclement of Kabul. Instead, some eastern provinces (Nangarhar and Kunar) fell to the Taliban without resistance, so that on September 27, 1996 they were finally able to take the capital, Kabul. The troops of the government alliance under Rabbani fled before the Taliban entered the north of the country.

In response to the conquest of Kabul and the further advance of the Taliban, the militias of General Dostum (the commander in chief of the Uzbek-dominated Jonbehe-e Melli (National Movement)) joined forces with the troops of Rabbani, Hekmatyar and the Shiite Hazara (Hezb-e-Wahdat ) to form the National Islamic United Front for the Liberation of Afghanistan, the so-called Northern Alliance. The new alliance initially succeeded in stopping the Taliban's advance and in turn started new attacks on Kabul. In June 1997, the defection of Abdul Malik, one of Dostum's generals and closest confidante, to the Taliban highlighted the fragility of the power structure in the north and allowed the Taliban to take the city of Mazar-i-Sharif almost without a fight. However, the Taliban's occupation of the city lasted only a short time. Malik terminated the alliance with the Taliban a few days later, and an uprising, mainly carried out by Shiite and Tajik fighters and the urban population, forced the Taliban to withdraw from Mazar-i-Sharif with great losses.

Although the Northern Alliance increasingly disintegrated into rival parties, by the end of 1997 the north was again under the control of the Taliban opponents. In 1998 the Taliban besieged the central Afghan mountainous country of Hazarajat in order to bring the Shiite population under control and in August of the same year began a large-scale offensive against the north with the aim of cutting off supplies to the areas in the northeast controlled by Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud, also known as the "Lion from the Punjir Valley", led the military arm of the Jamiat-e-Islami, the Shura-ye Nazar (Control Council), until his assassination in September 2001. In August 1998, the Taliban militias captured Mazar-i-Sharif and carried out gruesome massacres among the Hazara - the UN estimates that up to 6,000 people were killed. Not only the massacre of the Shiite Hazara, but also the murder of eight Iranian diplomats during the conquest led to massive tensions between Iran and Afghanistan. Instead of defusing the situation with Iran and responding to increasing international criticism, the Taliban launched an attack on Bamiyan. The city was captured on September 13, 1998. Iran saw the capture of Bamiyan as a further provocation and responded with war threats and extensive troop marches in the border area. The danger of war was only averted when the UN commissioner Lakhdar Brahimi was sent to Afghanistan, who met with Mullah Omar on October 14, 1998. Relations between the international community and the Taliban remained tense, however, and on October 15, 1999, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions. The sanctions were tightened at the beginning of 2001.

After several unsuccessful offensives in 1999 and early 2000, the Taliban succeeded in taking the city of Taloqan, the political headquarters of the Northern Alliance, on September 5, 2000 after a month-long siege and with the support of the Pakistani Air Force. Masoud and his troops and more than 150,000 residents of the city and the surrounding area fled north. With the capture of Taloqan and a few other cities on the Afghan-Tajik border, the Taliban had succeeded in cutting off the Northern Alliance's last overland supply line.

Until the attacks of September 11th, the course of the fronts between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance changed little.

The Conditions of Success: The Role of Pakistan

Initially, a certain support from the population played an important role in the rapid advance of the Taliban. The appearance of the Taliban as a "force for order" was supported by the war-weary population. In many places the movement has been welcomed by the people as national peacemakers. The disarming of the population and the introduction of the Islamic legal code (Sharia) in a particularly rigid interpretation that goes back to Pashtun tribal traditions (Pashtunwali) had a stabilizing effect, especially in the traditional rural south. In the cities with a liberal and modern tradition and in the non-Pashtun areas, the actions of the Taliban met with resistance. With the murder of Mazari, the massive rocket attacks on residential areas in Kabul and, last but not least, the public hanging of Najibullah when he took the city, the Taliban had discredited themselves, also in the eyes of many Afghans, and failed to claim that they could choose their own means To distinguish opponents.

Much more important than the initial popular support, however, was the massive military, financial and logistical support from Pakistan for the success of the Taliban. The interference of the neighboring country in the Afghan civil war did not begin with the support of the Taliban, but dates back to the time of Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation, when Pakistan became the frontline state of the West during the Cold War. Until 1994, the Pakistani government had relied mainly on the Hezb-i-Islami under Hekmatyar to assert their interests in the Afghanistan conflict.

Pakistan's goals in Afghanistan include the establishment of a pro-Pakistani government in Kabul to achieve "strategic depth" vis-à-vis the archenemy India, and the establishment of stable conditions in the country in order to gain access to the Central Asian markets and energy resources. The influential Pakistani transport mafia, with its contacts to the government, the military and the secret service, is particularly interested in safe transit routes. Since Hekmatyar's massive support for Pakistan did not show convincing results, the Taliban were promoted from 1994 onwards and specifically built up as a military force. The Pakistani secret service, Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), was jointly responsible for the operational planning and logistical support of the Taliban troops until at least 1996. He also played a central role in the mutual networking of religious schools, the so-called madrassas. Almost a year after the capture of Kabul, on May 25, 1997, Pakistan became the first state to recognize the Taliban government.

The main Pakistani supporters of the Taliban, including Nasirullah Khan, who was Interior Minister under Benazir Bhutto until 1996, are all Pashtuns. Among the Pakistani parties, the Jamiat Ulema e Islam (JUI) is particularly close to the Taliban. At the same time, as a party in which religious students and scholars of the Sunni Deobandi tradition unite, it can also be described as a role model for the Taliban.

In addition to Pakistani aid, the Taliban also received substantial financial and political support from Saudi Arabia until the end of the 1990s, which, alongside Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, was the only country that recognized the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia has an ideological interest in spreading the strictly Sunni-oriented Wahabi interpretation of Islam in Central Asia and, on the other hand, a geopolitical interest in expanding its sphere of influence. However, given the differences with the Taliban over housing the Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden and strong pressure from the United States, Saudi aid has been increasingly reduced.

Whether and, if so, in what form the USA was involved in promoting the Taliban cannot be said with any certainty. The weight of the American oil company Unocal, which wants to use Afghanistan as a transit country for a planned natural gas pipeline and is therefore interested in stable conditions in the country, could initially have helped determine American policy towards the Taliban. What is certain, however, is that the US governments have clearly distanced themselves from the Taliban since 1997 and have clearly criticized their misogynistic policies and the numerous human rights violations - not least in response to massive pressure from the American women's rights lobby.

Organization and structure

After the capture of Kandahar in October 1994, the Taliban's new power and decision-making center was established in the city, headed by Mullah Omar as Amir al-Mu’minin (ruler / head of the believers). The leadership center of the Taliban faction meets with the central Shura (council) in Kandahar. Ten men belong to the narrow circle of this body; Military commanders, tribal elders and ulema (religious scholars) also take part in the Shura deliberations, so that the wider community consists of up to 50 men.

After taking Kabul, the Taliban proclaimed the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in November 1997. A six-person shura has been set up in the city to deal with day-to-day government affairs, the administration of the city and the military front in front of Kabul. Kandahar, however, remained the seat of the leadership Shura and Mullah Omar, who is said to have left the city only once since then. Both bodies are in constant contact with one another. All decisions of the Kabul Shura must be sent to Kandahar beforehand and "approved" there. Since even smaller determinations can only be made after consultation with the Kandahar Shura, decision-making processes are very protracted.

Almost the entire leadership of the Taliban is made up of Durrani Pashtuns. Even after the Taliban had expanded their sphere of influence to non-Pashtun areas, nothing was changed in the composition of the two Shuren, so that the Taliban leadership in no way represents the ethnic and tribal heterogeneity of the Afghan population.

In addition to the two bodies in Kandahar and Kabul, the Taliban have installed governors in the cities, but their political leeway is limited. In addition, the governors are regularly transferred to other posts in the country or sent to the front as military commanders. This is to prevent local power bases from developing under individual governors in the country.

Military and recruitment

Very little is known about the Taliban's military organization. Mullah Omar is the head of the armed forces. A military shura does exist, but this loose body has no real strategic decision-making power. The military strategy, the distribution of funds and all other important decisions are made in the immediate vicinity of Omar. There also does not seem to be a clear structure and hierarchy in the army.

The total number of fighters is around 45,000 men. Between 8,000 and 12,000 of these are not Afghans, but volunteers and mercenaries from Pakistan, the Arab states and other Islamic regions. However, the Taliban are able to mobilize a large number of fighters in the short term. Furthermore, the Taliban armed forces have an arsenal of weapons that come almost exclusively from old Soviet stocks.According to estimates by the Institute of Strategic Studies in London, this includes around 650 armored vehicles, including 100 T-55 and T-62 tanks, 76 aircraft, including 15 fighter jets (MiG-21 and SU-22) and 5 MI-35 helicopters , Multiple rocket launchers (so-called Stalin organs), SAM-7 and Stinger rockets, grenade launchers and artillery.

The common fighters, the Taliban's rank and file, are recruited almost exclusively from the madrassas. Most of the Koran schools are located in the Pashtun-dominated provinces of Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially in the North West Frontier Province and in Balochistan. During the Cold War, schools served to prepare graduates for the struggle against communism. The madrassas were sponsored under the Zia ul-Haqs regime and received financial support from Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and the USA. The schools primarily took in children from poor families and from so-called martyrs (fighters who died in jihad). The majority of the 15 to 30 year old schoolchildren are refugees who grew up during the war and often did not get to know their homeland or their parents. In the religious schools the "students" live under extremely harsh, ascetic conditions. The lessons consist almost exclusively of memorizing the Koran, so that many of the graduates remain illiterate. In addition to religious instruction, the students also receive military training, which was mainly organized by the ISI and the Pakistani border guards.

The ideology of the Taliban

Unlike Muslim movements in other countries, the Taliban actually have a one-dimensional program: the implementation of a "true", "pure" form of Islam that refers to a period 1400 years ago. In this context, the Taliban in the West have come into focus primarily through their numerous violations of human rights, the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan and the labeling requirement for non-Muslims. In particular, the repressive measures against Afghan women, including the closing of girls' schools, the prohibition for women to earn money and to go out on the streets without a male companion, the obligation to wear the burqa and the rigid application of Islamic criminal law have violent international consequences Caused protests and - promoted by the Western media - often contributed to the development of an "enemy image of Islam".

Islam, as a synonym for the politics of the Taliban, is seen as fundamentally incompatible with the West and its values. But: it is not Islam as such that disregards human rights, but rather its limited, Pashtun-influenced, fanatical interpretation by the Taliban. Many Muslim states condemn the radical interpretation of the Koran and Sharia by the Taliban as a distortion. To what extent and whether the numerous bans issued by the Taliban, such as shaving men, children playing on the street, making music, using radio and television, etc., can be derived from an Islamic context is questionable. The rules of the Taliban are embedded in the rural value system of southern Afghanistan and consequently strongly influenced by the Pashtun tribal code, the Pashtunwali.

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