Talibanistan: A Brief Look at the History of the Taliban

Jack Hebert, Staff Writer

On August 15th, 2021, the Taliban, a fundamentalist political movement and military organization in Afghanistan, took control of the city of Kabul, and with it, Afghanistan. This marks the end of a near two decade long conflict after the United States invasion toppled the original regime in 2001. This has left many people concerned for the political and military stability in the Middle Eastern region. But what is the Taliban? How did they regain power in Afghanistan?

The Taliban emerged from Pakistan in September of 1994 following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. They promised the people that they would restore peace and security and enforce their own version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power. The Taliban quickly extended their influence through southwest Afghanistan before they captured the Herat province in September 1995. Exactly one year later, they captured Kabul and overthrew the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, one of the founding fathers of the Afghan mujahideen that resisted Soviet forces. By 1998, the Taliban controlled nearly 90% of Afghanistan. 

Afghans generally welcomed the Taliban, as they were tired of the conflict from the mujahideen and infighting that resulted after the Soviets left. They gained popularity early on by stamping out corruption, curbing lawlessness, and making the areas under their control safe for trade to flourish. The Taliban also, however, enforced punishments in strict accordance with Sharia law. This included public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers, and the amputations of convicted thieves. They were accused of various human rights violations and cultural abuses. 

The world’s attention was called to Afghanistan not during the regime change, but after the September 11th attacks. The Taliban was accused of sheltering Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden before and after the attacks, which was true. The Taliban gave Al-Qaeda a safe haven where they were free to recruit, educate, train, and deploy their members to other countries. This was likely due to the support Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban at the time, gave to Bin Laden. On October 7th, 2001, the United States led an invasion into Afghanistan, resulting in the collapse of the Taliban within the first week of December 2001. The group’s senior leaders, including Bin Laden, managed to evade capture.

Despite their major setback, the Taliban was able to regain its influence and reorganize, where it carried out numerous terror attacks throughout the years until a US-Taliban peace deal was negotiated in February 2020. Despite this peace deal, the Taliban continued, but shifted their attacks to targeted assassinations against journalists, judges, peace activists, and women of power. This suggested that the Taliban had not changed their extremist ideology. Despite the Taliban’s continued violence and concerns that the Afghan government would be vulnerable, President Joe Biden withdrew all American forces from Afghanistan. This withdrawal, however, was executed poorly, leaving behind millions of dollars worth of military technology, which the Taliban quickly seized. Along with that, the Taliban rapidly conquered land, and within ten days, conquered Kabul. A twenty year conflict has finally ended, and has been brought back to right where it began.