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38 HISTORY •• The Taliban


Arriving in Kabul for the first time, you could be forgiven for confusing the identity of Afghanistan’s president. Pictures of Ahmad Shah Massoud vastly outnumber those of Hamid Karzai. Hailing from the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul. Massoud was the most formidable mujaheddin leader to fight against the Soviets. Largely ignored by the Pakistanis and Americans, he built a tough guerrilla army that repulsed 10 Russian offensives against the Panjshir, often by evacuating its entire civilian population. His natural charm, fluent French and moderate Islamic beliefs made him a hugely popular figure with Western journalists. Following the capture of Kabul in 1992, Massoud became the real power behind the throne. While militarily brilliant, Massoud was no politician, and his inability to form alliances with other factions did much to prolong the civil war. The Taliban reduced Massoud to a rump of power in the northeast. His assassination two days

before 11 September 2001 has since cast him permanently in the role of martyr and saviour, his image reproduced everywhere in the style of an Afghan Che Guevara. Politically he has become more influential dead than when he was alive. Not everyone idolises Massoud. Many Pashtuns resent him as a symbol of Tajik rule, Hazaras for his massacres of their kin, and others for the part he played in reducing Kabul to rubble in the 1990s. While Massoud will surely remain Afghanistan’s number one poster boy for the foreseeable future, he’s also a reminder that in civil wars few people emerge without any blood on their hands.

Taliban were allowed to capture a major arms dump on the border, and the Pakistani army provided training and logistical support for the nas- cent militia. Many of the opposing warlords were simply bought off with huge bribes facilitated by the ISI and the Saudis. When Kandahar fell the Taliban were welcomed for returning security to the region. The mujaheddin government couldn’t decide how to handle the situ-

Other things forbidden by the Taliban included nail polish, lipstick, playing cards, chess, neckties, the internet and paper bags (lest they accidentally carry verses of the Quran).

ation. Talks sparked on and off, but collapsed when the Taliban raced to capture Herat in 1995, and started looking enviously towards the capital. In a final bid for power Hekmatyar threw his lot in with the hated Mas- soud, but his troops left the back door open. Rushing in from Jalalabad, the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996. Massoud fled to his Panjshir stronghold. The fall of Kabul briefly jolted the international community out of their

indifference. The Taliban wasted no time setting up the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Najibullah was hauled from his UN-protected compound and publicly lynched. Women were banned from work and education and wearing the burqa was made compulsory. Men had to grow beards, music was banned and shops closed at prayer time. Over the next two years the Taliban consolidated their control of Af-

ghanistan. Mazar-e Sharif fell, driving Dostum into exile. Uprisings in the Hazarajat were brutally suppressed. Half the population relied on food aid but there was little sign of active Taliban governance, just ever more esoteric Islamic rulings on the minutiae of life. Rabbani clung on the presidency (and Afghanistan’s seat at the UN), despite eventually being pinned back to a fiefdom in Badakhshan. In addition, the Taliban became ever more reliant on the Arab-Afghans who had stayed in Afghanistan – most nota- bly Osama Bin Laden, who had reorganised his movement into Al-Qaeda (‘The Base’) and set up training camps for further jihad. As Bin Laden’s


Taliban capture Kabul, and lynch Najibullah


USA fires missiles at training camps in east Afghanistan in retaliation for bombing of US embassies in East Africa

HISTORY •• War, Again 39

influence grew, the Taliban became ever more radical and unbending. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE recognised the Taliban as Afghani- stan’s legitimate government. In the words of the head UN representative, the country was ‘a failed state which looks like an infected wound. You don’t even know where to start cleaning it.’


On 9 September 2001, two suicide bombers posing as journalists assas- sinated Massoud, an act heavily suspected to be the work of Al-Qaeda. Two days later, hijackers flew planes into the Word Trade Centre and the Pentagon, killing over 3000 people. From that moment the Taliban were doomed. Citing the rules of Afghan hospitality, they refused to give up Osama Bin Laden to the USA. Two months later the Americans launched Operation Enduring Freedom to oust the regime. Still mourn- ing their leader, Massoud’s Northern Alliance was reconstituted. The CIA returned with suitcases full of money to buy off any waverers, and the American B-52 bombers did the rest from high altitude. Pakistan objected but nevertheless distanced itself from the Taliban, who after a brief fight simply melted away, with Mullah Omar fleeing to the hills. A major offensive against Al-Qaeda at Tora Bora similarly failed to cap- ture Bin Laden. On 13 November 2001 a resurgent Northern Alliance entered Kabul. A post-war conference in Bonn elected Hamid Karzai as interim leader.

An International Assistance Force (ISAF) was mandated to provide se- curity in Kabul, while the Americans continued the hunt on the ground for Al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants. A loya jirga the following summer confirmed Karzai as president and King Zahir Shah returned from a 28- year exile with the new title of ‘Father of the Nation’. As floods of refugees and exiles followed, optimism was in the air.


Although huge gains have been made since the Taliban’s ouster, peace was only barely less rocky than the fighting that preceded it. Afghanistan in 2002 was effectively at ‘Year Zero’, its people traumatised and the in- frastructure of the state destroyed. Huge attention was paid to getting the country back on its feet and assistance pledged by international donors. Yet for every gain made, a step back was taken elsewhere. Remembering the dark days of the civil war, Afghans craved security

more than anything, but requests to expand international peacekeepers outside the capital were repeatedly blocked by the Americans. Instead, many of the warlords and mujaheddin were allowed to creep back into power through either direct support or the turning of blind eyes. While there were intermittent factional fights across the north, the failure to properly control the south left the back door open for the return of the Taliban and the opium mafias. As the security situation there deteriorated reconstruction efforts ground to a halt, further alienating a Pashtun population wondering where their peace dividend had gone. Despite the promises it soon became clear that Afghanistan was going to be an experiment in state-building on the cheap. America quickly be- came bored with Afghanistan and diverted its efforts and money towards

October–November 2001

Operation Enduring Freedom defeats Taliban; Northern Alliance regains power


New constitution signed; Hamid Karzai elected president

Taliban by Ahmed Rashid is the definitive history of the movement by a long-time observer of the Afghan scene, lifting the lid on regional power games, oil company manoeuvrings and radical Islamism. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123
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