As the focus of the world turns to the fighting in Afghanistan, fighting that relates to the infamous attacks of September 11, 2001, it may be important to take a look at the cities of Afghanistan, and particularly at the oft-cited Taliban.
The word Taliban translates as "students". In 1994, Afghan and Pakistani Muslim students, now known as "Taliban,” who comprise most of the Sunni sect, sought to bring order and end lawlessness and civil fighting in this ancient region. Most of the members of this Taliban were, and are, of Pashtun ethnicity. Pashtun are farmers and herders. The forty tribes of Pashtun often feuded among themselves, with some of these feuds lasting centuries. But the Pashtuns unite to repel invaders.
Most Pashtuns are farmers, raising wheat, fruits, sugar cane. Some Pashtuns herd sheep, goats, camels, and cattle. The farmers live in homes made of mud brick; the nomads live in tents made of goat hair. The Taliban enforce strict guidelines: the men must wear beards, the women, veils, and Islamic law is strictly enforced. We in America might find the enforcement extreme, however the Taliban rejects most forms of entertainment and other "lewdness" which they see as being contamination from the Western World. This dates back in the Sunni Muslim world to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by an Egyptian school teacher, Hassan al-Banna, who, it is said, was appalled by atheism and lewdness. In his words, "[Westerners] imported their half-naked women into these regions, together with their liquors, their theaters, their dance halls, their amusements, their stories, their newspapers, their novels, their whims, their silly games, and their vices." He maintained that the Islamic world was penetrated by European "schools and scientific and cultural institutes" that "cast doubt and heresy into the souls of its sons and taught them how to demean themselves, disparage their religion and their fatherland, divest themselves of their traditions and beliefs, and to regard as sacred anything Western."
The Taliban, in their effort to control Afghanistan and to enforce ancient traditions, captured Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar, in November 1994. Kandahar is Afghanistan's chief trade center. It is a market for sheep, wool, cotton, grains, tobacco, and fabric, including silk. The region produces fine fruits. Kandahar was founded by Alexander the Great 2400 years ago. Dominating the city is the domed mausoleum, and numerous mosques and bazaars. It has a technical college.
In January 1995, the Taliban captured the province of Ghazni, northeast of Kandahar. Then in 1996, they seized the capital city, Kabul. The government forces retreated to the northeastern part of Afghanistan.
Kabul is in east central Afghanistan, on the Kabul River. Its population is now estimated at about 5,000,000 people. Afghanistan’s chief economic and cultural center, it has long been of strategic importance because of its proximity to the Khyber Pass, an important pass in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Products of the city include textiles, processed food, chemicals, and products made of wood. While Tajiks are the predominant group, Pashtuns are an important minority. Kabul University was founded in 1932, and was the country's most important center of higher education until it was closed due to war in 1992. The university currently is partially opened, and a few students have returned. Infrastructures, such as roads and traffic system, telephone system, electricity, water sanitation, renovation of buildings are in dire need of reconstruction.
Troops of the Soviet Union occupied Kabul from 1979 until 1989. Because of its proximity to the Khyber Pass, the city has been long devastated by war. Britain, Persia, and Russia all struggled to dominate the region. Then, between 1992 and 1996 over 50,000 people were killed in a civil war on the Kabul streets. The Taliban took control in 1996, then in 2001, The Northern Alliance, which the United States recognizes as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, seized the city and the Taliban withdrew.
In 1997, Taliban authorities changed the official name of that country to the Islamic State of Afghanistan. But only three countries recognized the Taliban as a legal government — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1998, the United States accused the Taliban of harboring the Saudi millionaire, Osama bin Laden, wanted in connection with terrorist attacks against two U.S. embassies in Africa. Bin Laden was the leader of a terrorist group called Al Qaeda. The United States launched missile strikes against suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesman acknowledged that Bin Laden was in Afghanistan under Taliban protection.
In 1999, the United Nations imposed trade sanctions against Afghanistan for refusing to surrender Bin Laden. Then in 2001, following the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the hijacking of airliners, a taped statement from Bin Laden was broadcast by Al-Jazeera on October 7, 2001, in which he proclaimed: "What America is tasting now is only a copy of what we have tasted…Our Islamic nation has been tasting the same for more than eighty years of humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated…" The United States accused Bin Laden of carrying out those attacks, and accused the Taliban and Bin Laden of running terrorist camps in Afghanistan, and demanded the shutdown of these camps. The United States launched a military campaign against the Taliban which included massive air strikes in support of Afghan rebels who opposed the Taliban. This support, according to a United States spokesman "enabled the rebels to drive the Taliban from power later in 2001."
Shiite and Sunni Muslims (most Taliban are of the Sunni sect) disagree among themselves as to the Mahdi, the “Rightly Guided One”. The role of the Mahdi is to bring about global rule by the descendants of Mohammad. Some years ago, a well respected historian, Timothy Furnish, wrote that the Shiites believe he has been here and will return from hiding; The Sunni say he has yet to emerge.
The Taliban today are considered to be a great threat to the Middle and Near East, and in the long range, to the civilized world. Although the Taliban soldiers are underpaid, and underfed, they prefer what they see as a noble calling to serve Mohammad and preserve their ancient culture to a lifetime of farming and shepherding. In Kabul, they have sought to undo the influence of the Western world by burning schools, even as the schools are being built.
America's stated goal in our continuing war against the Taliban is to maintain the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, and in a broader sense, to prevent the spread of the Taliban to the neighboring areas of Pakistan, and thus to the entire Middle East. It has been suggested here at Blogcritics that if the Sunni Taliban were to overpower the nation of Pakistan they might present a nuclear threat to the Shiite nation of Iran.
Our American president, the wise and brave Barack Obama has initiated and continued a policy of pursuing the Taliban; coercing the individual soldiers where possible to undertake profitable and sustaining activities. When this is impossible, the Taliban fighters will be treated as prisoners of war. This policy will be costly, but Obama considers it necessary. We can only hope that he is right. We can only hope that God will be on our side.