The Taliban have scored a string of battlefield victories in recent weeks as US-led foreign forces are on the verge of completing a withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years.
The armed group was ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on American soil, but it has gradually regained strength, launching numerous attacks on foreign and Afghan forces in the past 20 years.
It managed to gain some kind of international legitimacy after the United States, under President Donald Trump, signed an agreement with the armed group on February 29, 2020, to withdraw foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees.
Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has not reversed the decision to withdraw troops, instead delaying it until 9/11 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. However, last month, he again revised that deadline to August 31.
Although the armed group has largely fulfilled its promise not to target US security interests, it has continued to launch deadly attacks against Afghan forces and civilians, saying that the Western-backed Kabul administration was not a party to the February 2020 agreement signed in the Qatari capital. Doha.
The agreement between the United States and the Taliban paved the way for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan leadership. But the Doha talks failed to make progress as violence continued on the ground.
Since the Taliban launched a sweeping attack on government forces in May, the armed group has controlled important border crossings with Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
With up to 85,000 full-time fighters across the country, the Taliban now claims to control about half of the country’s roughly 400 provinces. However, these claims are difficult to verify.
On Wednesday, a senior US military general said the Taliban appeared to have “strategic momentum” on the battlefield.
“This will now be a test, of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon.
Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced by the fighting, as Afghans fear the country could slide into civil war with peace talks deadlocked and the government’s rushing rush to arm local civilians to confront the Taliban head-on.
Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen said on Friday that his group did not want civil war. He then insisted that for the Doha talks to fail, President Ashraf Ghani must resign.
“I want to make it clear that we do not believe in a monopoly of power,” Shaheen told the Associated Press news agency, adding that the armed group would lay down arms after “the formation of a negotiating government acceptable to all parties to the conflict.” in Kabul.”
Last week, Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzadeh called for a “political settlement” but his fighters continued their military attacks against government forces.
The Taliban, which means “students” in Arabic, fought alongside Afghan insurgents called the Mujahideen against the Soviet occupation for nine years.
The United States provided arms and money to the Mujahideen as part of its policy against the Cold War’s enemy, the former Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviets were supporting communist leaders who staged a bloody coup against the country’s first president, Muhammad Daoud Khan, in 1978.
After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, things turned chaotic, and by 1992, there was an all-out civil war with the leaders of the Mujahideen fighting for power and dividing the capital Kabul, which would rain hundreds of missiles every day coming from different directions.
The Taliban militia emerged as a major player in 1994. Many of its members studied in conservative religious schools in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.
They made quick military gains by winning control of Kandahar, the largest city after Kabul, and promising to make the cities safe for the people. The war years were fed up, and people generally welcomed it. The leaders of the Mujahideen and their forces have been accused of committing human rights violations and war crimes in their competition for power.
By 1996, the Taliban had captured the capital and hanged the country’s last communist president, Najibullah Ahmadzai, from Kabul Square. They declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate and began to impose their strict interpretation of Islamic law.
It is recognized by only three countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.
The Afghan group was able to bring life back to normal and made the decision to tackle endemic corruption, which earned it some initial popularity.
Six years rule
However, they never relaxed the restrictions, which they initially said was implemented to ensure that civil war crimes did not continue. Those restrictions included preventing women from education and keeping all women, except doctors, from working. Under their rule, anyone who did not follow their strict guidelines could be imprisoned or publicly beaten.
Their six-year rule was marked by mistreatment of ethnic and religious minorities and a limitation of seemingly harmless activities and pastimes such as music and television. Even the sport was highly regulated, with male athletes being told what to wear and matches being paused during the five daily prayers.
Their 2001 decision to destroy the historic Buddha statues in Bamiyan province drew worldwide condemnation.
In 1999, the United Nations imposed sanctions on the Taliban for its association with al-Qaeda.
The United States invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, after the Taliban refused to extradite al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, who was in hiding in Afghanistan after being initially invited to return to the country by former mujahideen leader Abd al-Rab Rasoul Sayyaf.
In the run-up to the US invasion, the group asked the Bush administration to provide evidence of bin Laden’s role in the September 11 attacks and later to conduct negotiations with Washington. Bush refused both.
The Taliban were driven from power within two months as the United States and its allies began a bombing campaign.
A new interim government headed by Hamid Karzai was formed in December 2001, and three years later a new constitution was promulgated, taking cues from the revised constitution of the 1960s, when women and ethnic minorities were officially granted their rights by the latter state. King Muhammad Zahir Shah.
But by 2006, the Taliban had regrouped and was able to mobilize fighters in its fight against the foreign occupiers and their allies.
Afghanistan has been devastated by the 20-year conflict, with more than 40,000 civilians killed in attacks by Taliban and US-led forces. At least 64,000 Afghan soldiers and police and more than 3,500 international soldiers were killed.
The United States has spent nearly a trillion dollars on war and reconstruction projects, but the country remains largely impoverished and its infrastructure is in tatters.
In 2011, the Obama administration allowed a group of Taliban officials to reside in Qatar, where they will be tasked with paving the way for face-to-face negotiations with then-President Karzai’s government.
In 2013, their office in Doha was officially opened. In 2018, the Trump administration began formal, face-to-face talks with the group without involving the Afghan government.
The Taliban movement established a parallel state, which it called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with its white flag. They also chose shadow governors who had their own administrations in the country’s 34 provinces.
The Taliban leader heads a council that oversees about a dozen committees responsible for things like finance, health, and education. They even run their own courts.
According to members of the Taliban and a UN committee, they earn approximately $1.5 billion annually (PDF).
They also made revenue from partnering with local and regional gangs in the regional drug trade. In the past year, they have made millions from mining, trading minerals, and even producing methamphetamine (a stimulant widely used as a recreational drug) in partnership with regional gangs.
They also have their own tax collection system and receive funding from abroad – although suspected sources, such as Pakistan and Iran, deny this.
prospects for peace
The question now is – what will happen after the US and NATO soldiers leave? Will the Afghan government be able to survive?
Even as peace talks continue – nearly 1,800 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in the first three months of this year. That’s nearly 30 percent more than last year.
The Taliban has also been blamed for a wave of assassinations targeting journalists and activists – a charge the movement has denied.
According to a 2019 Notable Public Opinion Survey (PDF) – 85 percent of people said they don’t empathize with them.
Afghans are already asking themselves what life would be like if the Taliban took power again. Will they sever the constitution – which protects basic human rights?
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, the Taliban tried to make things clear, saying they wanted to “build an Islamic system… where the rights of women granted by Islam – from the right to education to the right to work – are protected.”
Shaheen, the Taliban representative, reiterated earlier this week that “women will be allowed to work, go to school and participate in politics but they will have to wear a headscarf or headscarf,” a practice already common in current Islam. Republic.