Taliban 101- Origins and History

Reporting by Manzer Munir for http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com

Pakistan’s month long offensive against the Taliban continues in the Swat valley displacing up to 2.4 million people from their homes as the army fights the militants. The fighting is fierce and ongoing. Just who are the Taliban, where did they originate, and how did they become so powerful?

In December of 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with over a 100,000 Russian troops. In response to the Soviet occupation and as a part of its overall Cold War strategy, the United States responded by arming and militarily supporting the mujahideen who were Afghan citizens opposed to the Soviet invasion of their country and the pro-Soviet Afghan government at the time.

President Reagan’s administration found a great ally in the form of Pakistani leader General Zia ul Haq who was willing to allow Pakistan to be used as a base to receive American weapons and support to be funneled to the Afghani resistance fighting the Soviets. The United States and Pakistan’s spy agency the ISI, provided arms and funding to the Afghans resisting the invasion of Afghanistan. The ISI also assisted in the process of gathering radical Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and indeed around the world to help in fighting the Soviets. With the help of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, a fundamentalist and well financed Saudi by the name of Osama Bin Laden became one of the key players in organizing training camps of radicalized Muslims eager to wage jihad against the communist regime of the Soviet Union. Soon, over 35,000 fundamentalists came to fight alongside the Afghani holy warriors. Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo III (1988) was based on this vision of the world: when the “good” guys were the Bin Laden and mujahideen “holy warriors” fighting the “evil communist” Soviet empire.

Rambo III-1

The origins of the Taliban started inside Pakistani religious schools known as madrassahs during this time as General Zia sought a steady flow of young men willing to die for the cause and saw it as their religious duty to defend Afghanistan against the atheist communists. It is estimated that there were as many as 11,000 to 15,000 madrassahs or religious schools throughout Pakistan helping churn out radicalized young men with a very strict and narrow interpretation of Islam.

After the Soviets accepted defeat and withdrew from Afghanistan, the various Afghani factions controlled by different hostile warlords started to fight each other and a civil war between the various groups ensued for several years. Fed up with lawlessness and chaos in their country, a group of Talibs or religious students with the help of the Pakistani army quickly won some territory in a few cities. Soon the average Afghani citizen supported these Talibans as they promised to bring order and a rule of law to a land that was without any form of governance thanks to the warlords. Eventually the Taliban managed to conquer several important provinces as well as Kabul in 1996.

The Taliban considered Osama Bin Laden a guest of their country and felt indebted to him for helping in fight the Soviets. During their rule leading up to 9-11, Al-Qaeda operated freely within Afghanistan and in fact had the support of the ruling Taliban government and Mullah Omar, their leader. With American forces dispatched by President Bush soon after 9-11 to go after Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda and their supporters, the Taliban quickly fled to the hills of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where they have been ever since, deploying guerrilla tactics and insurgency towards both the government of Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai as well as within Pakistan.

This brings us to the present time where the Taliban have used the rugged mountainous region of the Afghan-Pakistan border as well as the sympathies of the local population to find multiple bases from within which to operate. After trying to make peace deals with the Taliban in the Swat region of Pakistan only to see it fail, the Pakistani army has been unrelenting in its offensive against the Taliban and now the fighting has gone on for more than a month with over 2 million people displaced.

The people of Pakistan are fed up with the Taliban and although want to see peace return to the Swat valley as soon as possible, they are willing to wait as long as it takes to make sure the Taliban threat is eliminated from within Pakistan once and for all. And in order for the US to eradicate the Taliban in Afghanistan, they have to first eliminate all places of sanctuary for them inside Pakistan and that is why the current offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley is of such paramount importance in defeating the Taliban in the region.

It is commendable that the Pakistani and US governments are now cooperating in working together to defeat the Taliban as this enemy is a very skillful and determined opponent who is used to a long fight. After all, they fought the Soviets for nearly a decade before the Russians admitted defeat and withdrew. The forces of Pakistan’s army and the people of Pakistan must realize that this fight will take many months, perhaps years before the Taliban threat is eliminated from this region.

But then again, nothing worthwhile comes easily and peace in the Swat valley, Pakistan and in Afghanistan is something that is well worth all the blood, sweat and tears as this enemy is not one you negotiate with as their actions in the past have proven. One hopes that the government does not lighten up on the Taliban and that the people of Pakistan continue to provide their support in this war against the militants.

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