The Taliban Story: Morality, Commerce and War (Part8)

By Arun Anand

The Taliban Story: Morality, Commerce and War (Part8)
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The three pillars on which Taliban’s functioning rests are morality, commerce and war. To understand more about these three pillars or functions one needs to understand the way Taliban exercises power that it usurps illegitimately from institutions after destroying them and what drives there quest for power.

In 1992, as Kabul fell into hands of Mujahedeen after Najibullah regime was toppled, such was the breakdown of order that the warring Mujahedeen factions were bombing each other’s quarters. Similar skirmishes and clashes were being witnessed in most parts of Afghanistan.

With robust military and logistic support from outside for Taliban, especially from Pakistan, the external factors were working in favour of Taliban while internally the warring Mujahedeen factions created an atmosphere where people had started looking for some organization or group which could clear the mess created by the Mujahedeen factions on ground making life difficult for common Afghani people.


‘In the Pashtun areas, atleast, Taliban had been able to take control of district after district without firing a shot: their reputation for moral integrity had preceded them, and in the rural areas their ultra-strict attitudes towards the women and the society were perfectly acceptable to a population that adhered to the roughly similar tribal traditions of Pashtunwali. On the other hand, they met stiff resistance when they reached Kabul and were foiled in their first attempt to seize the city, an objective they finally achieved in September 1996. The same happened in the pre-dominantly Shiite regions of Western Afghanistan, where they devoutly massacred the “Ungodly,” notably at Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998. Yet it was religious ardor that impelled them to march forth on their jihad and give their lives for the cause in the conviction that as martyrs for God they would see the gates of heaven flung wide before them.”1

Once the Taliban had taken control of Kabul, they immediately applied the Deobandi concepts taught to them in madrassas not only to their community of disciples but to the whole of Afghan society.2 Pashtun-speaking country bred people as they were, the Taliban saw the Dari speaking Kabulis, who had been accustomed to a modern urban lifestyle since the 1950s, as a corrupt mob who must be subjugated to the rules of Sharia. Women were compelled to wear burqas in public and were forbidden to take jobs, with the result that many of those women who had lost their husbands, fathers and brothers in the war were forced to beg in the streets, surrounded by their starving children.3

Gilles Kepel explains through first hand experience while staying in Kabul during the initial years of Taliban regime, “Morality, which is no more than the strict imposition of Deobandi norms in all citizens, was implemented by their ‘organisation for the commanding of the good and hunting down of the evil,’ shortened in English to the Vice/Virtue Police. Its operatives bore the same name as the counterparts in Saudi Arabia, the infamous mutawia, and like them were bearded young men from poor backgrounds who went around with truncheons enforcing the hours of prayer, the wearing of the veil and the Wahabbite rules of behaviour in general.”

From 1996 to 2001, till the 9/11 attacks in US happened and US and its allies started hunting down Al-Qaida and its protector Taliban, men were whipped by Taliban’s vice/virtue police for being clean shaven or for having short beards. Television, music, video recorders and all possible forms of entertainment were forbidden. Kepel puts it succinctly, “The mental environment of madrassa was recreated in the villages and cities of Afghanistan.”

Giving a first hand account, he further adds, “Roadblocks set up by the Taliban always included a pole around which were wrapped, like trophies, the tapes ripped from audiocassettes that had been seized from motorists. The only public spectacles that could be viewed were those the Taliban considered edifying on Fridays, the enormous stadium built by the Soviet Union to celebrate the triumph of proletarian internationalism was enlivened by the flagellation of drinkers, the amputations of the limbs of thieves and the execution of murderers by the families of their victims.”


In addition to the morality, what survived in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was commerce. The Taliban had initially reaped the benefits of Saudi financial aid at a time when the princes of the peninsula were all flying to Kandahar in their private planes to hunt wild game in the mountains. On their departure they would leave their all-terrain four wheeled vehicles as gifts for the locals.4

After Taliban took control of the country, the trade in contraband goods and especially heroin that was exported to US and Europe, took a quantum jump as Taliban ensured smooth transit of all these goods between Pakistan and the Central Asian nations. Pakistan’s transport mafia was a significant player in this game as it had become by now a major benefactor of Taliban. The transport mafia of Pakistan benefitted from the fact that unlike the warring Mujahedeen factions, Taliban ensured uninterrupted transit of goods. However, it did charge substantial toll that in addition to the money from sale of narcotics, filled its coffers. This made Taliban financially independent and it started standing up to its earlier paymasters which created fissures between Taliban and its mentors.


The last of the three functions of the Islamic State (of Afghanistan) was War and this was the only one that required a semblance of centralization. The ongoing struggle was waged from Kandahar, where the commander of the Faithful, Mullah Omar Akhund, who has never been seen by any ‘infidel’, resided. ..he presided over his shura(council) all the times, deciding on offensives to be undertaken against the rebels, making known his responses to pressures from abroad, and most notably reiterating the conditions under which Osama bin Laden and the jihadist-salafists who surrounded him were allowed to remain in Afghanistan, despite the protests of Saudis and Americans.5

The summary exercise of these three functions did not make the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan anything like a modern state:in fact it was more a community organized according to Deobandi norms but merely “swollen” to the dimensions of a country subjected to moral coercion on the inside and jihad on the edges. It was entirely financed by tolls levied on the flow of the (largely illegal) commerce that transited across its territory.6

  1. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel, Bloomsbury Academic (2021) (Pp210)
  2. Afghanistan, Taliban: An Islamic revolution of the Pashtun by Andreas Rieck, Orient(January,1997) (PP 135) and ‘Les Liens des Taleban avec l’histoire afghane’ by Mariam Abou Zahab, Les Nouvelles d’Afghanistan 85(3rd quarter 1999)
  1. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel, Bloomsbury Academic (2021) (Pp211)
  2. Pakistan and the Taliban by Ahmed Rashid in ‘Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban’, ed. By William Maley(London, Hurst and Company, 1998) PP-76
  3. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel, Bloomsbury Academic (2021) (Pp213)
  4. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel, Bloomsbury Academic (2021) (Pp213)