FU Yuhong, XI Meng: The Taliban's Past and Present

November 11 , 2021 06:27 PM by FU Yuhong, XI Meng


FU Yuhong

Associate Professor, School of Public Diplomacy, Jilin University


XI Meng

Head of Pashto Department, Asia-Africa Centre, China Central Radio and Television (CCTV)


In a statement released on social media sites on August 19, local time, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the establishment of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" and unveiled the flag style on the 102nd anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from British rule. The Taliban first took power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 under the name "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," but only a month has passed since its rapid advancement and seizure of power. In this article, Fu Yohong, associate professor at the School of Public Diplomacy of Jilin University, and Xi Meng, director of the Pashto language department of the Asia-Africa Center of China Central Radio and Television, review the historical development and evolution of the Taliban.

With the Taliban back in charge of Afghanistan, some have fled in haste, some have stayed behind but can't sleep at night, and some have a new hope for peace. Almost the entire world is watching what the Taliban will do next, and there are still doubts about it. As the Taliban re-emerge at the center of Afghan politics, the memories of their perverse actions during their time in power in the 1990s are also being stirred up. It may not be possible for outsiders to accurately judge the future of the Taliban, but it is important to understand that the Taliban have undergone many transformations in the nearly three decades between their entry into the spotlight in the early 1990s and their return to power in Afghanistan today.

1. First appearance on the historical stage (1994-1996)

Emerging from the warlord chaos

Taliban means "seeker of knowledge" in Arabic and usually refers to religious students. The Taliban had its roots in the armed Muslim resistance that emerged during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, but it was only during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s that the Taliban formally emerged. 1992 saw a war of power and profit between the major warlords in Afghanistan, which not only resulted in a large number of casualties, but also weakened the power of each faction.

Omar, the founder of the Taliban, was the principal of a small religious school in Kandahar. Faced with warlords fighting in the country, Omar recruited the youth of the madrassa to rise up. Omar, who had lost the sight in his right eye during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, was elected as the leader of the organization because of his origin from the Pashtun tribe, the Girzai tribe, and his recognition as one of the most devout Muslims. At its inception, the Taliban consisted of only about eight hundred people. In the summer of 1994, under Omar's leadership, the Taliban, a group of religious students from Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, raised the banner of "eradicating the warlords, restoring peace and rebuilding the homeland. "In September 1996, the Taliban quickly succeeded in capturing Kabul and claiming to have established "the purest Islamic state in the world" - the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. -the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

In short, the opportunity provided by the internal struggle of the Muslim resistance in Afghanistan, the support of the general public, and the support of external forces such as Pakistan were the main reasons for the Taliban's rapid rise to power in the 1990s.

2. The first time they came to power (1996-2001)

Loss of popular support and power due to the implementation of extreme policies

Omar, as the Taliban's faith-based commander (Amir ul-Mumineen), had a supreme position within the core leadership. At the time, Taliban leaders did not have the capacity or interest to govern the country effectively. They ruled the country based largely on a harsh understanding of Shariah. In addition to the bombing of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, atrocities against non-Pashtuns, and arbitrary power, the Taliban were no more criticized than for their extreme policies against women, including the closure of girls' schools, the rule that women could not be educated or work, and that women had to wear burkas when they went out ...... and that they inflicted various The Taliban's unprecedentedly harsh policies against women include closing girls' schools, making it impossible for women to work, requiring women to wear burqas when they go out, etc. The Taliban's uncommonly harsh laws are also an important distinction between them and other Muslim resistance forces.

Why the extreme policies against women? The Taliban's explanation was that liberating women would lead to the corruption of the soldier class, so repression of women became necessary to safeguard morale and clean up the social environment. And if women are given more freedom of movement or access to education, it is tantamount to compromising in the face of pressure and thus losing their original supporters; compromise is defeat, and persistence represents victory. There are also analyses that Taliban leaders and ordinary soldiers mainly come from the poorest, most conservative and illiterate areas in southern Afghanistan, where women are extremely absent from the environment they grew up in. Their conservative ideas about gender discrimination are promoted by their leaders as policy throughout the country. Essentially, a series of harsh rules against women embody the majesty of male authority and serve as a means for the leaders to motivate religious students to engage in inner "jihad.

The Taliban's extreme interpretation of Islam inspired extremists elsewhere, and Omar welcomed the arrival of bin Laden and key members of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in mid-1996 and the establishment of their own camps and facilities. The Taliban provided sanctuary for al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda provided financial, military and ideological support to the Taliban. "After 9/11, the Taliban refused to hand over "their guest," bin Laden, and on October 7, 2001, the U.S.-led Western coalition launched a war in Afghanistan. A month later, the Taliban regime fell, and the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda fled to the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In short, the Taliban leadership that first took power lacked the ability to build a nation and govern a society, and its internal and external policies were conservative, closed and extreme. The only countries that recognized the Taliban regime at the time were Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The Taliban's extreme policies laid the foundation for their rapid collapse after the U.S. launched the war in Afghanistan in 2001.

3. Early stage of armed struggle (2002-2006/2007)

Resurgence in the South

As the US shifted its resources and attention from Afghanistan to the Iraqi theater in 2003, the Taliban gained the opportunity to make a comeback and gradually resumed their network of armed activities on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. in 2006, the Taliban infiltrated important southern and southeastern provinces and districts such as Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul.

Organizational Restructuring Begins

During this period, the Taliban leadership established three centers of power in Pakistan, in Quetta, Peshawar, and Miranshah. After the core Taliban leaders, Osmani and Mullah Dadullah, were weakened, Jalaluddin Haqqani (father of Sirajuddin Haqqani) became a key member of the core Taliban leadership. Overall, the Taliban's organizational structure was more decentralized, and local groups had a great deal of autonomy in their decisions and actions. The composition of ordinary Taliban members during this period was also more complex, ranging from madrassa students to money-attracted (and part-time available) tribesmen, and including many friends and relatives of Taliban members. Personal networks of tribal society played an important role in Taliban recruitment and gave Taliban fighting groups a degree of cohesion and resilience.

Exerting Political Control over Selected Areas

Political control by the Taliban also developed during this period. In particular, the corruption and incompetence of the Karzai government gave the Taliban greater opportunities to bring order and security to parts of the countryside. In many judicial cases, people in the tribal areas often turned to the Taliban for help, rather than to government agencies.

Restricted Diplomacy

From 2006 to 2008, the Taliban leadership had initial informal contacts with some Western countries and the Karzai government, but Western military-dominated policies posed a major obstacle to dialogue between the two sides. At the same time, links between the Taliban and violent extremist groups such as al-Qaeda continued to exist.

Overall, the Taliban's revival has gained significant momentum during this period, with an expanded footprint and the beginning of an increase in political influence. However, the Taliban's external relations were still relatively closed, and they had not yet broken ties with international terrorist organizations.

4. Nationwide Expansion (2007-2014)

Footprints Across the Country

After 2006/2007, the Taliban grew significantly stronger and used more lethal tactics in their military operations against Western forces in Afghanistan. mid-2008, the Taliban expanded their armed activities geographically, penetrating even into western Afghanistan and attempting to capture large rural areas while launching attacks on urban areas. The Taliban's intent to return to power became more apparent.

Organizational Cohesion and Expansion

The Taliban rarely exposed the true inner workings of the organization and the work of the leadership. Many analysts believe that the Taliban leadership during this period largely maintained a vertical command structure headed by Omar, and after the arrest of Taliban leader number two Baradar by Pakistani authorities in 2010, there were reports of fierce competition among some Taliban leaders for his position. The divisions within the Taliban are already evident. Unlike the 1990s when they were in power, the Taliban have increased their recruitment of non-Pashtun members, such as Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, as they expand into the north. This also signifies the tendency of the top Taliban leadership after 2007-2008 to want the organization to grow nationwide and present a new image both at home and abroad. At the same time, as the organization and its activities grew in size and complexity, the Taliban leadership implemented a more rigorous institutional management within the organization than in the past.

Establishing a "shadow government"

In areas under their control, the Taliban have used more control than before and have established courts and functional committees in various locations, appointing more judges, local commanders, and "shadow government" administrators. The Taliban's courts are more accessible to the population than the government's judicial branch. The Taliban's tax system was also implemented during this period. More importantly, the Taliban no longer issued extreme and oppressive decrees, did not commit atrocities against the population, and negotiated with local tribal leaders through meetings and agreements. But the Taliban are wary of the Karzai government and Western "spies," and reports of atrocities committed by Taliban members in parts of the country are often in the press. In addition, the Taliban's propaganda methods have evolved considerably. In addition to radio, newspapers, and magazines, they communicate with the outside world through the use of Web pages, e-mail, and chat rooms, and have established specialized propaganda agencies. In their propaganda the Taliban have also become adept at playing up the legends of their leaders to increase recruitment and cohesiveness.

A First Look at Diplomacy

From 2008 to 2010, Western countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany first began exploratory moves to engage politically with the Taliban. As one of the first attempts toward a political solution, informal contacts were made in late 2008 between the Afghan Karzai government and Taliban representatives with the support of Saudi Arabia. It was not until late 2010 and early 2011 that the United States began to accept proposals for peace talks with the Taliban, and in 2013, the Taliban formally established a political office in Qatar. However, numerous contacts and dialogues between the two sides failed to achieve substantial progress. At the same time, reports began to emerge that Iran, the Taliban's former rival, was providing support to individual Taliban factions and commanders. In addition, the Taliban leadership has attempted to distance itself from al-Qaeda as differences between the Taliban and al-Qaeda over political demands have widened, and as bin Laden and other core al-Qaeda leaders have been killed. "The Taliban leadership tried to distance itself from al-Qaeda.

In short, during this period, the Taliban leadership paid more attention to popular support and its own image, and had a more long-term and clear plan for its armed activities and its goals.

5. toward qualitative change (2014-2021)

Capture of Key Urban Areas

From 2015 to 2016, the Taliban made steady progress in seizing territory and attacking major Afghan cities. early 2018 saw a further escalation of Taliban armed violence and infiltration in urban areas. in mid-2020, with the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, the Taliban achieved in just three months, by adopting a strategy of encirclement from rural areas to district towns and then to major cities such as provincial capitals, a the vast majority of provincial capitals and the capital Kabul, laying the groundwork for their return to the center of the political stage.

Divisions and Unity in the Organization's Leadership

After the announcement of Omar's death in 2015, the power struggle at the top of the Taliban had intensified. The new Taliban supreme leader, Ahunzada, had also been contested and challenged by other factions within the organization. Ahunzada's emphasis on social governance activities and his policy of openness to peace talks had also diverged from individual leaders. Some mid- and lower-level commanders and members have defected and joined the Islamic State. In recent years, Ahunzada has been supported in major decisions by his three deputies, Baradar, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Yaqoob, following two Taliban ceasefire announcements in 2018 and 2020, when there was a sharp decline in violent attacks in Afghanistan, and by a very senior Taliban negotiating team that included a range of core leaders from military, diplomatic, and religious backgrounds. The Taliban's team of negotiators with the outside world was also very senior, including a range of core leaders from military, diplomatic and religious backgrounds. These circumstances suggest that the Taliban leadership was largely able to control the scale and objectives of the organization's violence and reduce the risk of internal fragmentation. The Taliban's political influence across the country has steadily increased.

Softening non-core positions on the interior

Under leaders such as Ahunzada, the Taliban's social policies have become more flexible and pragmatic. While the Taliban's core positions of pursuing a purportedly Islamic system and expelling foreign occupation forces have not changed, they have at least adjusted their policies in the areas of women, minorities, and human rights, and have pledged to safeguard individual private property, normal business activities, and civilian public goods, and have placed great emphasis on projecting a positive image through various media platforms. 2021 Gurbani Festival Top Taliban leader Ahunzada's written speech, as well as an audio address by Taliban military council head Yaqub in August, emphasized that they would restore order to productive life as soon as possible after military operations in order to gain the support of the local population and external public opinion.

Diplomatically expanding the circle of friends and presenting a new image

The Taliban leadership has always wanted to seek recognition, support and cooperation from outside countries. After 2014, Iran, Russia and other neighboring countries have also deepened their contacts and cooperation with the Taliban. In recent years, the Taliban has even sent delegations frequently to engage with various countries to clarify their positions and make friends. Public reports show that Taliban delegations have visited Russia and China, among the five permanent members of the United Nations, as well as Pakistan, Iran and other regional countries. The Taliban's political office in Qatar has also repeatedly approached representatives of various countries and international institutions. However, no substantive progress was ever made in the negotiations between the Taliban and the Ghani government in Afghanistan.

All in all, the Taliban's military and political influence increased significantly during this period, and it was publicly recognized by the domestic and international communities as a major political force in Afghanistan.

6. Coming to Power Again (2021-)

Facing a new test

In August 2021, after regaining power in Afghanistan, the Taliban further expressed its desire to be widely recognized by the international community. It issued a series of statements expressing its intention to protect the security of diplomatic missions and foreign personnel in Afghanistan; and to preserve and safeguard the lives of the Afghan population. Taliban leaders have demonstrated their political savvy through a series of moves. For example, the exposure of Dostum's opulent residence has highlighted the corruption of Ghani's government from the side; the video of Taliban soldiers shedding tears after entering Kabul has made many people feel their will and determination; Taliban officials have justifiably responded to the doubts of the outside world at the press conference, which has gained the approval of many people.

In short, the Taliban have fought a fierce battle against Western forces and the former government forces supported by them for two decades, overcoming various challenges to the organization's survival, laying deep roots within society and taking the political center stage again. The surrender of the former government forces without a fight is also somewhat indicative of popular sentiment. The Taliban's victory may make them more convinced of their beliefs, but only a flexible, pragmatic and moderate internal and external policy will allow them to gain popular support and external recognition. Although the freedoms and rights promised by the Taliban may take a different form than we have always understood and expected. The lesson from the fall of the Taliban regime in the 1990s and the resurgence of the Taliban in the early part of the new century is also that Afghan society is extremely diverse and the lack of dialogue and inclusion can bring tension, contradiction and conflict. The Afghan people have paid a heavy price for years of war, and the entire international community is calling for the arrival of peace in Afghanistan, and the Taliban who return again will face new tasks and challenges.