Who Are the Afghani Taliban?
Unraveling the Group’s Roots, Divisions, and Today’s Trend
The emergence of Taliban was a landmark event in Afghanistan. It has changed the whole political scene in the country. Soon after its emergence in Sangsar village in Uruzgan province, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, the movement captured many Pashtun-dominated provinces without any remarkable resistance. The war-weary Afghans welcomed them. They considered Taliban as their saviors from daily armed clashes. However, after the capturing of Kabul, Taliban faced dug-in resistance from militias formed of other Afghan minorities like Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara which continued until 2001.
The Roots of the Taliban
After its invasion by the former Soviet Union, religious scholars in Afghanistan rallied under the banner of Harakate-Inqilabe-Islami Afghanistan. (Movement for Islamic Revolution in Afghanistan) led by Maulavi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi. He was a religious scholar and former parliamentarian during the ex-king Zahir Shah government.
His deputy, Malulavi Nasrulla Mansoor, was one of the prominent members of Khudam-ul-Furqan party during the former king Zahir Shah Regime. He was also a religious scholar and a Pashtun by ethnicity. Nasrullah Mansoor splintered from Harakat in 1982, and formed his own faction under the same name of Harakate-Inqilabe Islami Afghanistan.
The government of Pakistan did not recognize his newly-founded party, so he turned to Tehran for financial and logistical assistance. Iran was funding Mansoor’s faction through its diplomatic channels based in Peshawar.
The two resistance factions led by Maulavi Mohammad Nabi Mohmmadi and Maulavi Nasrullah Mansoor formed their own religious students unions, each by the name of Jamiate Tulabae Afghanistan (Afghanistan Islamic students Association) and Tanzim Tulaba-ee Harakat (Harakat Students Organization).
Their head offices were situated in Peshawar,but their branches were spread as far as Balochistan and other cities of North Western Province of Pakistan. The organizers were considering these students entities as their future strategic assets.
They prepared them for political leadership in Afghanistan. Maulavi Mansoor had built a big religious school near Bara, a semi–autonomous area near Peshawar, in North Western Province of Pakistan where teachers gave religious education to the students, as well as some classes in English and history.
Another branch of Tanzim Tulaba Harakat operated in Baluchistan. A parallel faction under the leadership of M. M Nabi Mohammadi had built a grand religious seminary in Charat Refugees Camp in the vicinity of Peshawar, Pakistan, where Maulavi Mohammadi was living along with his family.
In 1992, before the fall of Najibulla regime, both factions re-united under the name of Harakate Inqilabe Islami Afghanistan. By then, the students’ organizations had expanded in terms of numbers and training facilities.
The Fall of Najibullah’s Government
After the fall of the last pro-Soviet government in Kabul in 1992, Afghanistan became a gruesome scene of factional fighting. Various armed factions controlled parts of the capital city Kabul. At least 60,000 people were killed as a result of armed clashes.
Fiefdoms emerged all over the country where the word of the commander was a law unto itself. Unscrupulous gunmen had been imposing arbitrary taxes on common people, and even raping defenseless women. People were fed up with the status quo.
They wanted a relief from these anomalies. Mullah Omar rose to the occasion by launching a resistance movement against these warlords. Soon thousands of Jamiate Tulaba and Tanzim Taulaba members joined the new movement, forming the back bone of the newly-founded group.
At the outset, their goal was to save the common Afghans from the grips of the irresponsible commanders and gunmen. Their major offensisve against Kandahar took place in October 1994. They had already captured Maiwand district and Spin Boldack border city near Pakistan. By September 1996, Taliban captured Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
Tahir Anwary and Arifulla Arif, the alternate heads of Tanzaim Tulaba became minister and deputy minister of finance in the Taliban government.
Asadullah Hanafi, another head of Jamiate Islami Tulaba, got important slot in the Taliban regime. Other members of the student’s orgizanization took up responsibility as governors, commanders, and high-ranking officials.
The Taliban could be divided into four sets of groups:
Mullah Omar circle formed a radical but influential group. They held important government slots and were very influential in decision-making processes. They had sway over other members. Unfortunately, this group kept Mullah Omar ignorant of what was happening in response to some of his decisions and other Taliban’s policies.
Mullah Omar hardly met non-Muslim foreign delegations, and was not watching television either. He was completely relying on his small clique of protégés. Moreover, some hard-line religious scholars who tried hard to influence him time and again, were — in part — responsible for some untimely and provocative decisions he made. They encouraged him, for instance, to:
Distorted information given to Mullah Omar by clandestine hands played a great role in his decisions whereas some groups misused his nominal consent to take critical measures of grave consequences.
Prominent figures of these groups did not believe in the export of the revolution, particularly in the chaotic situation that the country was passing through.
Some members of this group included prominent figures like Mullah Mohammad Ghous, former foreign minister of Taliban, and many others.
the third group comprised of Taliban who had been members of other resistance parties. When they became disgruntled with their factions, they joined the newly formed Taliban Islamic Movement of Afghanistan. They wanted peace for the common people and a Muslim regime in the country. There were many former commanders and some qualified people among them, but they held low-ranking posts and had no role in the policy-making bodies of Taliban.
The fourth element is the opportunists who had joined Taliban to obtain wealth, fame, and power. This group along with some ultra-enthusiastic elements among Taliban ranks isolated Taliban at world level, and created a gap between them and the common people.
Mullah Qalamuddin was chief of the Department of Prevention of Vices and Promotion of Good at the first days of the Taliban government. Unfortunately, members of his department frequently misbehaved common people.
This distanced the common sympathizers from the movement and even pushed them toward hostile forces. He issued circular letters on day-to-day basis, and used to send these letters to media and NGOs. For example, a circular letter signed by him prohibited women from using high heels shoes. Such actions caused widespread reaction at home and abroad.
After the fall of Taliban, Qalamuddin joined Karzai government and ran for an Afghan National Assembly seat, but failed. He is now living in Kabul. Another ultra-enthusiast was Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, the Taliban minister of Justice. He also created uproars by his uncalled-for actions. He is said now to be under detention of Pakistani security forces.
Mullah Mohammad Wali replaced Mullah Qalamuddin, as the Minister of the Promotion of Good and Prevention of Vices. He continued along the previous hard line.
In an interview with Afghan Islamic Press Agency, Mullah Wali said that the Afghan Sikh community members should hoist yellow banners on their houses, and should carry yellow badges on their chests.
In fact, it was his personal view. There was no decision at Taliban leadership level or a decree issued by Mullah Omar in this regard. However, it created widespread hue and cries, damaging the image of the Taliban regime. These Taliban ultra-conservative officials along with other opportunist elements among the ranks and files of Taliban added to the defamation of Taliban.
Even up to this day, the Taliban leadership has not launched investigation to find out whether these persons were acting by themselves or were acting by instructions from some foreign intelligence agencies.
There is a strong possibility that some secret actors had role in the provocative actions which contributed to Taliban failure to rise as a strong model of a Muslim regime for the Ummah.
The other blunder of Taliban was that its leadership focused more on defeating the Northern Alliance forces led by commander Ahmad Shah Massoud rather than on reconstruction and development projects. People wanted peace, but after peace, they wanted economic prosperity and employment. Taliban did not meet these demands.
International community, Muslim countries, and religious scholars did not try to engage Taliban. Their engagement would have helped Taliban to frame more popular and pragmatic policies.
In this case, Mullah Omar would not have taken the above-mentioned decicions. However, the Muslim world just left him to a small clique of hard-line but sycophant elements. Neighboring countries specially the Muslim ones must be blamed for this neglect. Unfortunately, this mistake is being repeated anew.
After Their Ousting
The Taliban were not familiar with the tactics of underground struggle. After the fall of Kandahar, Taliban leaders and low-rank members spread all over Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf countries and even some went to Europe.
The Taliban structure of organization fell down. Before the inception of the American attacks, they had not chalked out a comprehensive strategy to keep their organization intact in case of defeat. It was only in 2003 that some leaders of Taliban set to re-organize the resistance anew. However, they could only launch sporadic attacks.
Only in 2004-2005, the resistance gathered momentum. Still, the Taliban have not been able to win back all their former members from their private life. About 20-30 percent of former Taliban members have opted to continue their private life giving up any political participation up to this day.
This percentage would have been further high, had the US extremist policy of detaining and prosecuting them not pushed the Taliban ranks and file to rally once again around their leadership. The Taliban leaders are now greatly relying on new recruits.
“We would like to live up to the expectations of the people. We want to be in contact with our people through their representatives, elders, notables and religious scholars. No doubts there are problems facing the nation, but these are the grave outcome of the war. On our behalf, we would try to alleviate their sufferings as far as we can,” Mullah Brother said in a recent interview.
This is a new trend in Taliban’s popular policy. They are usually reputed for monopolizing power and not catering to the demands of the masses.
Mullah Mautasseim Agha Jan, the head of the Political Commission envisages further share for the Afghans in a national government.
“Upon the withdrawal of foreign troops, the Muslim Emirate will have consultation with all important circles of the Afghan issue to reach an understanding about a mechanism of political set-up in Afghanistan,” Agha said.
However, military commanders who are waging the current armed battles are rigid in their approach regarding core issues. Monopolizing power in their hands and not catering to people’s needs are their mistakes, which will keep them away from the masses. They believe in military solution of the Afghan issue rather than diplomacy.