By Arun Anand
The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and its troops finally left the country after much bloodshed and devastation in 1989. During these 20 years different Mujahideen factions fought against the Russians.
Even after the Soviet withdrawal of 1989, the Mujahedeen were not able to capture the power immediately. They had to fight hard against the regime of President Najibullah until he was overthrown in 1992 and the Mujahideen captured Kabul.
Contrary to the common perception that Kabul fell to bickering Mujahideen factions, it fell to well organized Tajik and Uzbek forces. The Tajik forces were led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and military commander Ahmad Shah Masud, also known as the ‘lion of Panjshir’. The Uzbek forces were led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
In a nut shell, the non-Pashtuns had captured the power in Kabul for the first time in 300 years and this was a huge psychological blow to Pahstun warlords. This led to the beginning of a civil war with Pashtun leader Gulubddin Hikmetyar launching a blistering attack against Kabul.
‘Afghanistan was in a virtual state of disintegration just before the Taliban emerged at the end of 1994. The country was divided into warlord fiefdoms and all the warlords had fought, switched sides and fought again in a bewildering array of alliances, betrayals and bloodshed. The predominantly Tajik government of the President Burhanuddin Rabbani controlled Kabul, its environs and north east of the country, while three provinces in the west centering on Herat were controlled by Ismael Khan. In the east on Pakistan border three Pashtun provinces were under the independent control of a council or Shura (Council) of Mujahideen commanders based in Jalalabad. A small region to the south and east of Kabul was controlled by Gulubddin Hikmetyar.
In the north, the Uzbek warlord General Rashid Dostum held sway over six provinces and in January 1994 he had abandoned his alliance with the Rabbani government and joined with Hikmetyar to attack Kabul. In central Afghanistan, Hazaras controlled the province of Bamiyan. Southern Afghanistan and Kandahar were divided up amongst dozens of petty ex-Mujahideen warlords and bandits who plundered the population at will.’1 With the tribal structure and the economy in tatters and Pakistan providing military aid and logistics support primarily to Hikmetyar faction, there was no consensus on Pashtun leadership and the war broke out between different sections of Pashtuns.
For those Mujahideen who had gone back after toppling Najibullah regime, the scenario was getting more and more disturbing. There were frequent incidents in Kandahar, Kabul and all over Afghanistan where warlords and their henchmen committed rapes, sodomised young boys, brutally killed people, asked for ransoms, plundered and looted bazars and would enter any house at their will to kill, rape, loot or abduct men, women and children.
The confabulations began amongst these Mujahedeen and they started discussing a way out of this chaos for Afghanistan. After discussions, these divergent groups chalked out an agenda that comprised restoring peace and maintaining Islamic character of Afghanistan by imposing Sharia. They chose the name ‘Taliban’ for themselves.
‘As most of them were part time or full time students at madrassas, the name they chose for themselves was natural. A talib is an Islamic student, one who seeks knowledge compared to the mullah who is one who gives knowledge .’2 Taliban is the plural of talib.
Initially, one of the key impacts of naming this new conglomeration of various groups as ‘Taliban’ was that it was seen to be much above the petty politics of various warlords who were ruling over their fiefdoms in Afghanistan. This ensured that they also got support from the local populace who was looking at restoration of some order by a group who wasn’t seemingly driven by petty politics, greed and personal interests.
This group rallied around the one-eyed Mullah Omar who became the first chief of Taliban. There are various versions of the reasons for choosing Mullah Omar, a low profiled village Mullah from Singesar village in the Mewand district of Kandahar province where he ran a small madrasaa.
One version is that he was chosen for his piety and the other version is that he was chosen by God. Mullah Omar, born around 1959 in Nodeh village near Kandahar was one of the most reclusive leaders and he became even more recluse after Taliban emerged as a force to reckon with in 1994. He was not to be photographed. He shunned meetings with journalists and foreign diplomats. He met a UN diplomat for the first time in 1998 and the reason for meeting UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, was to avert a possible attack by Iran. He kept stationed in Kandahar, most of the time, and rarely visited Kabul.
‘All those who gathered around Omar were the children of the jihad but deeply disillusioned with the factionalism and criminal activities of the once idealized Mujaheddin leadership. They saw themselves as the cleansers and purifiers of a guerrilla war gone astray, a social system gone wrong and Islamic way of life that had been compromised by corruption and excess. Many of them had been born in Pakistani refugee camps, educated in Pakistani madrassas and had learnt their fighting skills from Mujaheddin parties based in Pakistan. As such the younger Taliban barely knew their own country or history, but from their madrassas they learnt about the ideal Islamic society created by the Prophet Mohammed 1,400 years ago and this is what they wanted to emulate.’3
(to be continued)
1.Taliban: The story of Afghan Lords by Ahmed Rashid, Pan books (PP 18-25)
2. Taliban: The story of Afghan Lords by Ahmed Rashid, Pan books (PP 18-25)
3. Taliban: The story of Afghan Lords by Ahmed Rashid, Pan books (PP 18-25)