The rebirth of Taliban

The rebirth of Taliban

Muhammad Irshadullah

Taliban had ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. They had imposed rigid and harsh social policies during their regime in the period. There were some positives on another side like a speedy justice system and peace in the country but these were not visible due to their harsh and authoritarian ways of governance. Let us have a brief view of their revival.

Once the US air bombardment began in early October 2001, the Taliban were ousted in quick succession from Afghanistan’s cities. They pulled out from Kabul within hours and put up no resistance. They melted into the population or took sanctuary across the border in Pakistan.

In that initial displacement period, senior leaders were fragmented and disunited over what they should do next. The shock and trauma of the fall of their regime had paralyzed the leadership and the organization has crumbled. There was no structure with which to regroup and revive. The Taliban’s isolation increased, as their support among afghan people declined.

It took more than two years for the Taliban to recover and rebuild their structure. But the rebirth had more to do with the failures of their opponents. The absence of governance by the new US-installed government has led to a complete breakdown of law and order. The Taliban and their families, who laid down arms and moved back to their villages and their tribal elders, were targeted by the local warlords and newly installed administration. The emerging scenario stemmed to regroup the Taliban with the reappearance in the form of leaflets and letters left or dropped at homes and school buildings. Civilian casualties caused by US air raids added further support for the Taliban.

In 2003, a 10-member Taliban Shura (council) was formed and given the responsibility to formulate a political and military strategy for the resistance famously known as Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omer. The Quetta Shura won implicit support from regional stakeholders, who were deeply concerned with the Afghanistan situation. 

In that early revival, the Taliban leadership had not yet fully developed a clear political or military strategy and merely reacted to circumstances. 

The period 2003 to 2005 was a turning point, as the Taliban consolidated their organizational structure and expanded their activities. Scores of madrassahs close to the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan became their recruitment centres.  These were the same seminaries from where the Taliban had initially raised, once again became the centres for producing a new generation of Taliban. The other source was the afghan refugee camps set up in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

While in hiding in Afghanistan, Mullah Omar was cut off from the rest of the insurgency. His deputy, Mullah Baradar, conducted the day to day matters of the organization. He became a major binding factor in the insurgency. In the beginning, largely the Pashtuns dominated areas became the main centres of insurgency. But later got a foothold in other areas as well by exploiting the division among various power groups within the government. Killing and arrests of innocent people by the government added the alienation and anger felt in the local communities added strength and support to the Taliban’s resistance efforts.

After regrouping and strengthening their local support at home, they set out to establish a shadow government, appointing district chiefs and provincial governors. They also revived their legal system in the areas of their influence. They started relatively small and targeted attacks. 

By 2006, the Taliban had developed its military and political strategy with an ambition to establish territorial control. Despite the surge in US forces in 2009, the security situation deteriorated and insurgent attacks hit an all-time high. The increasing influence of the Taliban was a significant development and made important gains in certain provinces. By 2010, the skirmishes turned into a full-blown insurgency and there was the presence of Taliban in more than 50 per cent of the country. 

Looking at the prevailing situation, American officials started to explore a negotiated political settlement in secret talks with the Taliban. In 2013, the Taliban established their political office in Doha. It was the first sign that Americans legitimising the Taliban’s status. They remained in talks on and off for years before the structured peace talks in Doha in 2018. After 18 months of tough negotiations, the two sides signed a historic peace deal in 2020 that finally paved the way for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Now Taliban are almost on the verge of forming a government. The question is simple. Will the reborn Taliban 2.0 be different from the earlier strict and traditionalist version? 

Although they are pledging time and again that

  1. The government will be inclusive with representation for all sections of Afghan society. 
  2. They also promised to take a moderate position on social issues. As the Taliban’s leadership appears more moderate and flexible in their views.
  3. They announced a general amnesty and asked all to return to their duties.

Despite all fears and concerns of Afghans and the international community, let’s be optimistic and pray for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.

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