Taliban – the world’s most extreme and radical Islamic organization that inspires fascination, controversy, and especially fear in both the Muslim world and the West – has been brought into sharp focus in Ahmed Rashid’s book “Taliban”. This enormously insightful book gives an account of Taliban’s rise to power, its impact on Afghanistan and the Central Asian region. The book also analyzes the wider regional and geopolitical implications of the Taliban’s advent to power and the role that Taliban has to play in oil and gas companies decisions. The author also discusses about the changing attitudes of various countries like America and Saudi Arabia towards Taliban and its effects on Afghanistan.
The word Taliban has been derived from the term talib, which means a student of an Islamic seminary. These seminaries have existed for thousands of years and Islamic boys have gone to these schools to study the Koran, Islamic law, in order to become preachers. The Taliban took this name because it is a symbol of Islam, and a symbol of doing good, and bringing people around to an Islamic viewpoint, and imposing law and order. It was a name that was initially welcomed by the Afghan people.
To understand the enmity between the Hazaras and Iran and the Taliban it is very important to clarify here that the Hazars and Iranians are Shias while the Taliban are mostly Sunnis. And for me, the main reason why the Taliban hate Hazaras and Iran and why Iran and Hazaras hate Taliban is because of the one mentioned above. The enmity between the Sunni Pashtuns and the Shia Hazaras goes a long way but the Taliban brought a new edge to the conflict for they treated all the Shias as hypocrites and beyond the pale of true Islam.
The earliest clashes between the Shia Hazaras and the Sunni Pashtuns can be traced all the way back to 1893 about 100 years before the creation of the Taliban. Pashtun king Abdul Rehman, who initiated the first anti-Hazara program, killing thousands of Hazars, moving thousands more to Kabul where they lived as serfs and servants, and destroying their mosques (Rashid 68).
The first most important event that soiled the reputation of the Taliban in the eyes of the Hazaras, and their main patron Iran was the controversial death of the Hazara leader, Abdul Ali Mazari while in Taliban custody. Masud, the Mujaheddin leader launched a surprise attack against the Hazaras, sending tanks into Kabuls southern suburbs, smashing the Hazaras and driving them out of Kabul. In desperation the Hazars cut a deal with the advancing Taliban, yielding their arms and their positions to them.
But while in the custody of Taliban the Hazara leader died. The Hazaras contest that he was pushed out of a helicopter, because he tried to grab a rifle when he was being taken to Kandahar as a prisoner. But the Taliban continue to deny their involvement in it and continue to say that it was an accident. The death of Mazari, accidental or intentional was one of the first events that soiled the reputation of the Taliban in the eyes of the Hazars (Radhid 35).
There have been numerous clashes between the Hazaras and the Taliban. Probably one of the most significant clashes that took place between the Hazaras and the Taliban was in 1997. Malik who was the second in command to Dostum betrayed Dostum when a feud broke out between them. Malik went to the Taliban and asked them to help him oust Dostum. This was just the opportunity that Taliban had been waiting for. Together with Dostum and his few accomplices Taliban attacked Dostum on 19 May 1997. This created an unrest within his ranks, and soon a group of 2500 heavily armed Taliban men entered Mazara. The Taliban troops, most of whom had never been to the north before, arrogantly started disarming the fierce Hazara troops, took over mosques where they declared the imposition of the Sharia law, shut down schools and drove women off the streets.
This of course created a lot anti-Taliban feeling amongst the Mazars. On 28 May 1997, when a squabble broke out because group of Hazaras were resisting disarmament, hell broke out. First Mazar’s Hazaras then the rest of the population rose in revolt. Untrained in street fighting and not knowing the maze of city alleyways, the Taliban were easy victims as they drove their pickups drove right into dead ends. Within 15 hours some 600 Taliban soldiers were massacred and 1000 more were at the airport as they were tried to flee. Soon Malik organized his troops and then took control of four northern provinces, which the Taliban had captured.
The remaining Taliban troops were either shot dead or buried in mass graves. Encouraged by this, Masud recaptured the territory that had fallen to the Taliban just a week before. Thousands of more Taliban were either killed or captured. Meanwhile the Hazaras, spurred on by the Mazar victory also counter attacked, breaking the nine month Taliban siege of their homeland, Hazarajat. It was one of the worst defeats of the Taliban with over 3000 casualties, killed or wounded, and some 3600 men were taken as prisoners (Rahid 58-59).
This sort of massacre of the Taliban left a permanent dent in the minds of the Taliban and made them even more anti Hazaras than they already were. The Taliban responded to this brutal massacre of their forces, in 1998. It was on 12 July when it all began, the Taliban swept northwards after sweeping Dostum’s forces. They later moved on as they bribed the Uzbek officials who were guarding the western road into Mazar, leaving the 1500 Hazara force susceptible to a sudden attack. It came in the early hours of 8 August 1998, when the Hazara force found them to be surrounded. They fought till their ammunition lasted and then it happened.
Taliban soldiers entered Mazara on an unsuspecting public. What followed was a brutal massacre, as the Taliban took revenge of their losses from the previous year. The killing went on for days. The Taliban went on a frenzy, killing and shooting everyone they saw including children and women. Then the Taliban went into the houses of Hazaras and massacred entire families. Bodies were not given proper burial and were left to rot for days on the streets. Although it was impossible to get a correct body count but it was estimated that 5000 to 6000 people were killed in the massacre (Rashid 72-73).
Once in control of the north the Taliban aimed to cleanse the north of the Shias. Shias were given three choices – convert to Sunni Islam, leave for Shia Iran or die. All prayers services that were conducted by the Shia in mosques were banned. The Taliban governor general of Mazar, Mullah Niazi declared “The Hazaras are not Muslims and now we have to kill the Hazaras. Wherever you go we will catch you. If you go up we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair”. This clearly shows us that the hate between the two main groups of Muslims had reached a new level which was based on pure hate and abhorrence (Rahid 74).
The Taliban’s brutal treatment of the Shia Hazaras made Iran which is a Shia country very anti-Taliban. Iran became very critical of the Taliban and tried to stop their movement at every step. They supported anti-Taliban alliances and started interfering in the politics of Afghanistan. They funded many leaders and many kings who were anti-Taliban in a desperate attempt of restricting Taliban’s advancements. Iran declared publicly that it would support any anti-Taliban alliance and appealed to Russia, India and the Central Asian states to help them also. In fact Iran was flying 22 flights a day to Mazar carrying arms. The reaction of this sort of support of Iran to any anti-Taliban alliance was that the Taliban officials were furious and accused Iran of supporting the opposition and grew even more hostile to Iran (Rashid 61).
One of the most significant events that permanently damaged the reputation of the Taliban before Iran was the fall of Baimyan. Taliban occupied Baimyan and destroyed nearly 2000 year old Bhudda statues there. Iran responded to this by organizing a military exercise of some seventy thousand men, backed by guns and tanks along the Iran-Afghanistan border. This was followed by some 200,000 Iranian troops that were placed along the Iran-Afghanistan border. The Taliban also mobilized some 5000 fighters to prevent the Iranian invasion. Tensions between Iran and Taliban subsided when the UN Security Council sent Lakhdar Brahimi and met Mullah Omar (Rashid 76).
In conclusion, I would like to say that Taliban has been a very interesting and fascinating book. In the end everyone comes out looking bad, in this book. Every nation, every economic faction, and every ethnic group acts purely out of short-term self interest without worrying about the people of Afghanistan, whose lives they were damaging. The United States firstly supports Taliban and then tries to eliminate them because they had lost interest in the Taliban regime and it no longer served their (United States) propose.
Even Iran interfered in the life and politics of Afghanistan because they wanted to save the Shia’s there. They never really cared for the other factions of the Afghan population. Even Pakistan and Saudi Arabia interfered in Afghanistan because they wanted to protect the interests of the Sunnis there, and even they did not care about any other factions of the Afghan population there.
I think that before we can even start thinking of a secular and a peaceful Afghanistan, it is very important for all outside governments to stop interfering in the life and the politics of Afghanistan. I think that another reason why Afghanistan is so intolerant of other religions and cultures is because they are forced to be intolerant of other religions and cultures. Like the Sunnis have to be intolerant of the Shia’s and be brutal to them otherwise they will not be able to impress the Pakistan and the Saudi government which will result in a cut of their donations. For once the people of Afghanistan should once feel that they are independent and that they do not have to work under some government.
Also, while I do say that there should be no foreign influence in the politics and the life of Afghanistan, I would also say that foreign governments have to make an honest effort to develop Afghanistan. Governments have to see to it that they make sure that they are developing entire Afghanistan and not just the people they support, because then it will lead to the same situation that we have right now. The whole of Afghanistan needs to feel united; and if only one group develops and the other does not then it will lead to enmity and jealousy between the two groups. Also, by being economically self-sufficient Afghanistan will not be susceptible to foreign influence because they will not be dependent on other countries for aid and loans.
And if Afghanistan is not developed then it will lead to a big black hole which will just reach out and take the whole world with it. Which can range from illegal trade across the borders to cheap drugs on American streets to the bombings of the WTC.