The Tragic Taliban: Back to Medieval Era - Daily Current Affair Article

CONTEXT:

The recent announcement by the US President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to hold a virtual G7 leaders’ meeting with respect to the uncertain and unfortunate turn of events in Afghanistan shifts the focus of International geopolitics on Taliban's takeover and the future prospects.

INTRODUCTION TO TALIBAN ERA IN AFGHANISTAN (1996-2001)

  • The Taliban, or "students" in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is believed that the predominantly Pashtun movement first appeared in religious seminaries - mostly paid for by money from Saudi Arabia - which preached a hardline form of Sunni Islam.
  • The promise made by the Taliban - in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan - was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.
  • From south-western Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly extended their influence. In September 1995 they captured the province of Herat, bordering Iran, and exactly one year later they captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani - one of the founding fathers of the Afghan mujahideen that resisted the Soviet occupation. By 1998, the Taliban were in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan.
  • On October 7, 2001, a US-led military coalition launched attacks in Afghanistan, in the aftermath of the September 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York, and by the first week of December the Taliban regime had collapsed. The group's then-leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and other senior figures, including Bin Laden, evaded capture despite one of the largest manhunts in the world.
  • The Taliban were removed from power in October 2001 by a coalition of forces led by the USA and several other countries (including NATO nations).
  • In December 2001, a new interim government was placed in Afghanistan headed by Hamid Karzai.
  • During this period, the Taliban was notorious for their strict implementation of the Sharia or Islamic law there.
  • The period saw widespread abuse of human rights, especially targeted against women.

ORIGIN OF THE TALIBAN:

The Saur Revolution in Afghanistan (April 27) in 1978 installed a communist party in power there.

  • This government introduced many reforms for modernisation and hence was considered too radical by some.
  • Rural areas and the traditional power structures were unhappy with the new scheme of things and this led to anti-government protests in many places.
  • There were divisions even within the government.
  • The USSR intervened in Afghanistan wanting to place a communist ally in government there.
  • In December 1979, the Soviet Army was deployed in Kabul (February 15). They orchestrated a coup killing the ruling President Hafizullah Amin.
  • The Soviets installed their ally, Babrak Karmal as the President of Afghanistan.
  • The USA and other western countries saw this as Soviet invasion.
  • A bitter war was fought between Soviet troops and the insurgent groups called Mujahideen. While the cities and towns were under Soviet control, the rural parts were under the control of the Mujahideen.
  • The Mujahideen were persistent in their fight against the USSR and were also supported by the USA, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They were given training and weapons.
  • The citizens of Afghanistan suffered the most in this protracted war. Many civilians lost their lives and homes. Afghan refugees poured into countries like Pakistan, Iran and even India.
  • The Soviets withdrew troops in 1989 after nine long years and at the cost of the lives of 20 lakh Afghan civilians.
  • Now, the government of Afghanistan had to fight the Mujahideen alone.
  • The insurgents took control of Kabul in 1992. There was a bloody civil war as the Mujahideen themselves were divided into various factions all vying for power.
  • In 1994, a group of students seized control of the city of Kandahar and started a battle for power to control the entire country. They were called the Taliban. They were Islamic fundamentalists. In fact, many of them were trained in camps in Pakistan where they were refugees.
  • In 1995, the Taliban captured the province of Herat and in 1996, Kabul.
  • By 1998, almost the entire country was under the control of the Taliban.
  • Some of the Mujahideen warlords fled to the north of the country and joined the Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban.

THE PERIOD FROM 2001 TO 2021

  • By all accounts, Afghanistan has made progress on recognizing and protecting Afghans’ rights since Taliban rule ended in 2001.
  • The 2004 Afghan constitution establishes a democratic political system in which basic freedoms, including of religion, expression, assembly, and association, are guaranteed.
  • But in practice and reality, human rights and other administrative laws saw profound violation too.
  • In the year following the US-Taliban peace deal of February 2020 - which was the culmination of a long spell of direct talks - the Taliban appeared to shift their tactics from complex attacks in cities and on military outposts to a wave of targeted assassinations that terrorised Afghan civilians.
  • Despite grave concerns from Afghan officials over the government's vulnerability to the Taliban without international support, the new US president, Joe Biden, announced in April 2021 that all American forces would leave the country by 11 September - two decades to the day since the felling of the World Trade Center

TALIBAN'S REGIME

Basically, Taliban established an authoritative and regressive regime devoid of democratic ethos.

As A Ruling Authority

  • Initially, when they came to power, the people of Afghanistan generally welcomed the Taliban. This is because they seemed to offer stability in a country wracked by long and bloody civil wars.
  • The Taliban’s promise was to restore peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and enforce Sharia in the country, but introduction of their interpretation of Islamic law, which meant that several rights were suspended for people, especially women and children.
  • They endorsed Sharia mixed with the Pashtun tribal code.
  • Women were required to wear burqas covering their whole bodies including faces; men had to grow beards.
  • Women could not go out of the house without a male family member accompanying them. They could not work outside.
  • The Taliban discouraged girls from going to school, and at one point, banned girls above the age of eight to go to school.
  • There laws were against the modern freedom rights and principles.
  • Public executions were held for those accused of murder and adultery. Amputations were also done for those accused of stealing.
  • They banned television, music, kite-flying, cinema, photography, painting, etc. Women were barred from attending sports events or playing them.
  • People, especially women, faced public floggings for any perceived wrongs.
  • The Taliban is also accused of carrying out massacres against civilians, especially ethnic or religious minority groups. Thousands were killed, women raped and people are still unaccounted for.
  • Needless to say, they did not believe in democracy.
  • The Taliban was much criticised for blowing up the 1500-year old Buddha statues of Bamiyan because they were idols.

International Relations

  • Only three countries recognised the Taliban while they were in power namely, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. They are believed to have been receiving funds from both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
  • It was accused of sheltering Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, who were blamed for the 9/11 attacks.
  • In fact, the US intervened in Afghanistan in 2001 to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven and a base to operate in the country.
  • Pakistan officially broke off diplomatic ties with the organisation after 9/11. However, many top leaders of the Taliban are said to have escaped to Quetta in Pakistan, from where they were controlling the organisation.

INDIA'S STAND ON THE ISSUE

  • India has never recognised the Taliban while they were in power. In 1999, an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked and landed in Kandahar, and it was suspected that the Taliban supported the hijackers. India also supported a key anti-Taliban group, the Northern Alliance. Following the backdrop of the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in 2019, the Taliban has sought positive relations with India. To this effect, the Taliban have reiterated the Kashmir is an internal matter for India and will not seek to interfere in the matters of other nations.
  • There are some major focal points that India needs to keep in mind and take a stand:
  • Regional stability
  • Counter China and Pakistan's vested interests
  • Connectivity with Central Asia
  • Link West policy of India
  • Minerals of Afghanistan

ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL AGENCIES IN PROTECTING AFGHANISTAN

OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

  • OCHA is the part of the United Nations Secretariat responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. OCHA also ensures there is a framework within which each actor can contribute to the overall response effort.

UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan)

  • The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is a political mission established by the Security Council in 2002 at the request of the Government to assist it and the people of Afghanistan in laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development in the country.

UN-HABITAT (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements)

  • UN-HABITAT's mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustianable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.

UN Women (United Nations Development Fund for Women)

  • UN Women works to promote gender equality between women and men, and to advance the status of women. UN Women brings women's interests and concerns to the world development agenda.

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

  • It also has a very important role now in transforming the challenging situation to a better and fruitful one.

WAY FORWARD

The situation in Afghanistan is a direct attack on humanity. Ignoring the situation will not benefit any country in these times of need. Thus, every strong country needs to come together and devise ways to have a humanitarian solution to this crisis.

Sources

  • The Indian Express
  • The Hindu
  • BBC
  • Global Conflict Tracker website
  • UN website
General Studies Paper 1
  • History