Forces: Who All Is The Taliban?

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December 4, 2007: The Taliban began fifteen years ago as armed Afghan religious school students, from refugee camps in Pakistan, who entered the civil war then raging in Afghanistan. That war was being fought by tribal and religious factions, to determine who would control Kabul (and, technically, rule Afghanistan). At that point, most Afghans were tired of fifteen years of Russian occupation and civil war. The puritanical and fanatic Taliban struck a chord, and many Afghans got behind them. Most of the other civil war factions were soon defeated or absorbed, and the Taliban ruled the country for six years, until the United States came to the aid of the remaining anti-Taliban factions (the Northern Alliance) in late 2001. The Taliban had made themselves very unpopular by then, and most Afghans switched sides once more. The Taliban were out of power within two months.

The Taliban were defeated, but not destroyed. The refugee camps and religious schools back in Pakistan still existed, and many surviving Afghan Taliban returned to Pakistan. Most of these pro-Taliban areas were in FATA (the Pakistani "Federally Administered Tribal Areas".) This was a border area, with a population of 3.3 million, containing some of the most independent minded Pushtun tribes. However, after the Taliban fell, most of the Afghan refugees, including many pro-Taliban ones, went home. But many Pakistanis had adopted the Taliban philosophy (a very conservative form of Islam). The Taliban had gotten these religious attitudes from Saudi preachers and religious scholars, sent by Saudi religious charities dedicated to the spread of Wahhabism, a two century old form of Islam that originated in Arabia. The missionary effort began in the 1980s, as Saudi Arabia also sent many weapons and much cash to the Afghans fighting the Russian occupation.

The Taliban had plenty of allies. These included several of the Pushtun tribes in southern Afghanistan (around Kandahar.) Many of the Pushtun tribes in FATA also support the Taliban, as do many of the Baluchi tribes in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan). The Baluchis mostly provide sanctuary, not fighters. The former head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, and his key aides, have remained hidden among the Pushtun and Baluchi tribes along the Afghan border.

There are still several warlords, dating from the 1980s and the war with the Russians, who continue to support the Taliban. These are usually Pushtun tribal leaders, who maintain their own small armies of gunmen, and maintain these forces via smuggling, extortion or whatever else will bring in cash. These warlords support the Taliban (most of the time) because of mutual dislike for democracy and the national government.

Many of the drug gangs (often run by warlords or tribal leaders) have also supported the Taliban, again because of a mutual dislike for the central government (which is dedicated to destroying the heroin trade.) These gangs mainly supply money, and expect that, when the Taliban regain power, the drug business will be allowed to continue, as it did when the Taliban were last in charge.

Finally, there's al Qaeda. This is a small operation, which specializes in bomb attacks (suicide or roadside). Al Qaeda has been in the region for about a decade, and have made enemies among many of the Pushtun tribes.

In fact, the entire "Taliban Alliance" is a very loose operation. Some factions are basically criminals (the drug gangs and many warlords). The alliance is very fluid, with factions leaving, and new ones joining (or old ones returning) all the time. There is no central command, and only a general agreement on the need to overthrow the elected government of Afghanistan, and replace it with a religious dictatorship.

 


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