Twenty years ago, the United States overthrew the Taliban government in Afghanistan for harboring Osama bin Laden and providing training grounds for Al-Qaeda terrorists. This month, the Taliban has returned to power after U.S. military forces withdrew and the Afghan government collapsed.
Here is what you should know about the brutal Islamist regime.
1. The name Taliban means ‘students.’
Taliban is a term from the Pashto language that means “students” or “seekers.” The original Taliban was a movement of religious students (talibs) from the Pashtun areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan who had been educated in traditional Islamic schools in Pakistan.
2. In school, Taliban students were trained in the Quran and in warfare.
The schools attended by the original Taliban students organized them into militant groups trained in the use of force in subduing their rivals. The students were divided into two groups: one that participated only in study and another that organized and prepared to take part in religious war. Those age 18 or older would fight against the Soviet Union and then return to their studies when they returned from battle.
3. The Taliban came to power during the Afghan civil war.
In December 1979, 30,000 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan to support the communist Afghan government. The Soviets continued to expand their presence during the next decade before withdrawing in 1988. After the Soviet withdrawal, civil conflict continued until the government fell in 1996 to the Taliban. The Afghan Northern Alliance, officially known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, formed in late 1996 to oppose the Taliban. The Northern Alliance fought a defensive war against the Taliban government until September 2001, when U.S. forces overthrew the Islamist regime.
4. The U.S. government had made a peace agreement with the Taliban.
In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban that required the United States to withdraw troops and release up to 5,000 Taliban “combat and political prisoners.” In exchange, the Taliban agreed to “prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.” President Biden has agreed to honor the agreement. “It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something,” Biden said.
5. The Taliban engaged in human trafficking and sex slavery.
While it was in power, the Taliban frequently abducted women for forced marriage and sexual servitude. According to the Afghanistan government, the Taliban also regularly sold women as sex slaves to fund its regime. More recently, the Taliban has detained and forced into labor some child and adult sex-trafficking victims charged with “moral crimes,” says the U.S. State Department. Taliban authorities would also penalize male sex-trafficking victims, and prosecuted victimized boys as equally responsible “criminals” as their adult traffickers. Authorities remanded boy sex-trafficking victims to Juvenile Rehabilitation Centers on criminal charges and detained them for several years.
6. The Taliban conscripted child soldiers to fight for the cause.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Taliban recruits and trains children in age-specific stages. “Boys begin indoctrination as young as six years old, and continue to study religious subjects under Taliban teachers for up to seven years,” HRW says. “According to relatives of boys recruited by the Taliban, by the time they are 13, Taliban-educated children have learned military skills including use of firearms, and the production and deployment of IEDs. Taliban teachers then introduce those trained child soldiers to specific Taliban groups in that district.”
7. The Taliban has a history of violating human rights.
Afghanistan under the Taliban had one of the worst human-rights records in the world, notes the U.S. State Department. Social controls embodied in “morality” officials—known as “vice and virtue” police when the Taliban was in power in the 1990s—continue to operate in districts under Taliban control, notes Human Rights Watch. These officials patrol communities to monitor residents’ adherence to Taliban-prescribed social codes regarding dress and public deportment, beard length, men’s attendance at Friday prayers, and use of smartphones or other technological devices.
8. The Taliban has a history of oppressing girls and women.
As soon as the Taliban came to power in the 1990s, it closed the women’s university and forced nearly all women to quit their jobs. The government also restricted access to medical care for women, brutally enforced a restrictive dress code, and limited the ability of women to move about the city. As many as 50,000 women, who had lost husbands and other male relatives during Afghanistan’s long civil war, had no source of income, says the State Department. Many were reduced to selling their possessions and begging in the streets, or worse, to feed their families. Women were also required to wear a burqa, with a veil “so thick that the wearer finds it difficult to breathe; the small mesh panel permitted for seeing allows such limited vision that even crossing the street safely is difficult.”
9. The Taliban has a history of persecuting Christians in Afghanistan.
The few Christians remaining in Afghanistan (their numbers range from between 1,000 to 20,000) are fearful of the Taliban’s return. A convert from Islam to Christianity told International Christian Concern how the takeover move has been received by believers and how the Taliban will operate:
They will kill the known Christians and want to spread fear. There are already posters appearing that if you have single girls, 15 years old, you have to marry them to Taliban soldiers. Christians fear their daughters will be taken away from them and forced to marry Taliban. They will be sent to madrasas to brainwash them. The parents may or may not be killed. . . . One man received a letter that his house now belongs to the Taliban. He is a simple man who makes crafts and his entire savings are in his house. The Taliban will take the property and assets of the Christians and all their women will be taken.
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