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Qureshi, Emran . "Taliban." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Jan 25, 2022. <>.


Qureshi, Emran . "Taliban." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Jan 25, 2022).


The Taliban, an Afghan Islamic militia movement that coalesced in 1994 amid the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal (1989), grew to control most of Afghanistan's major cities and provinces. Ruling until 2001, they have been described as the product of a society at war for over twenty years in which 1.5 million people were killed and the country devastated.

The English word “Taliban” is from the Pashto tālibān (students), which comes in turn from the Arabic ṭālib (student): many of the early recruits into the movement were Afghan refugee students at Islamic religious schools in Pakistan.

The Reign of the Taliban.

The new militia's first success was a skirmish that led to the capture of a munitions dump at Spin Boldak close to the Afghan-Pakistan border in October 1994. Shortly thereafter, the Taliban seized Kandahār, Afghanistan's second-largest city. This was followed by assaults on Herāt in March 1995, and in September, Herāt fell to the Taliban. After a ten-month siege and bombardment of Kabul, the capital city fell on September 26, 1996.

Mullah Muhammad Omar Akhund, a Pashtun of the Hotak tribe, is the leader of the Taliban. Shortly before the siege of Kabul in April 1996, he claimed the right to the caliphal title of Amīr al-Muʿminīn (Commander of the Faithful). To signify the religious dimension to the movement, he appeared in public on one occasion wearing what was reputed to be the cloak of the Prophet Muḥammad.

Human Rights Watch and others have documented massive violations of human rights under the rule of the Taliban. Among these was the killing of civilians and noncombatants in the northern city of Mazār-i Sharīf. In August 1998, the Taliban attacked the city and its largely Hazara Shīʿah population, killing an estimated two thousand civilians. On January 8, 2001, in Yakaolang, approximately 170 Hazara Shīʿah were massacred by the Taliban.

Pakistan recognized the Taliban regime on May 25, 1997, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates did so a year later. During that period Saudi Arabia provided financial support to the Taliban through Pakistan. There was initially also limited Western political support for the Taliban, as some U.S. diplomats believed that the Taliban would bring peace to a country wracked by internecine violence.

The Taliban sheltered the Saudi radical Osama bin Laden and his followers who had been in Jalālābād since May 1996. Capitalizing on his financial support, Osama bin Laden increasingly gained ideological influence over the Taliban movement. Initially Afghan-oriented, the Taliban became part of bin Laden's anti-Western global jihād.

In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist statues at Bāmiān, despite intense worldwide opposition. The regime also ordered the smashing of other ancient sculpture in the country's museums, claiming statues were idols. In May 2001, it was decreed that the few Hindus residing in Kabul should wear an identifying yellow patch.

In the aftermath of al-Qaʿida's attacks on 9/11 against New York and Washington, the Taliban regime was attacked militarily by the United States. On October 7, 2001, the United States launched Operation Endur-ing Freedom with a massive aerial bombardment of Taliban and al-Qaʿida infrastructure. Under the intense bombing by the United States and a ground assault by Northern Alliance fighters, the Taliban collapsed almost immediately.

The Ideology of the Taliban.

The genealogy of the movement can be traced to the anti-Soviet jihād in Afghanistan and to Afghan refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan. The political scientist William Maley suggests that their values were “not the values of the village, but the values of the village as interpreted by refugee camp dwellers or madrassa students who typically had not known normal village life,” and moreover, a worldview that “conspicuously omitted the pragmatic moderation which historically had muted the application of tribal and religious codes in Afghan society” (Maley, The Afghanistan Wars, p. 223).

The Taliban, drawn primarily from Pashtun tribes, professes an Islamic ideology, but Pashtun ethnicity played a role in the Taliban's chauvinism and in the construction of ideological boundaries between it and the country's non-Pashtun ethnic groups such as the Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbeks. Pashtunwali, the Pashtun tribal code, informs the Taliban's highly traditional and patriarchal interpretation of Islamic ideology.

The avowed goal of the Taliban is to implement a pure Islamic state that extirpates foreign influences deemed to be un-Islamic. The Taliban's primary religious and ideological influence is a form of Deobandī Islam. This particular Deobandī understanding of Islam is derived largely from the Jamʿīyatul ʿUlamāʿ-i Islām (JUI) in Pakistan.

In the 1980s, the JUI had established hundreds of religious seminaries in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan where Afghan refugees were offered a free education alongside Pakistanis. With a lack of centralized religious authority, numerous JUI factions emerged, the most prominent of which was that led by Samīʿul ḥaqq.

Haqq's principal madrasah is the Darul Uloom Haqqania, which is located in Akora Khattak in the NWFP, Pakistan. Haqqania trained eight cabinet ministers of the previous Taliban regime. ḥaqq has also recruited Pakistani students from Haqqania to fight for the Taliban. During one Taliban military campaign in 1997, the entire student body was sent to join the militia. The Taliban has maintained ties with other militant Pakistani Isla-mist groups, including the Sipah-e Sahaba, a virulently anti-Shīʿī organization, which joined the assault on Mazār-i Sharīf in 1998.

Shortly after taking Kabul, the Taliban enforced the most drastic interpretation of sharīʿah law ever seen. Among the more controversial acts of the Taliban were bans on all music, movies, television, women's magazines, pigeon keeping, and kite flying. Women were not to wash clothes in streams. Tailors were not to take measurements of females. Men were to grow beards, and Western-style haircuts were forbidden. Dancing and singing, common at Afghan wedding celebrations, were proscribed. Television sets, radios, cassettes, and photographs were destroyed.

Taliban and Women.

The Taliban's treatment of women provoked an international outcry. They rigorously enforced a rule that women had to wear a garment called a chadari (chador) or burqa, which covered them from head to toe.

The Taliban's religious police (Ministry for the Enforcement of Virtue and Suppression of Vice) banned girls from going to school and women from working. According to one estimate, the Taliban, after capturing Kabul, shut down sixty-three schools, affecting 103,000 girls and 148,000 boys, and closed Kabul University. Illiteracy, a grave problem in Afghan society, was made worse. The most pronounced effects were on women in urban areas, such as Kabul, Herāt, and Mazār-i Sharīf, where women were most involved in education, and enforcement of the ban was most rigorous.

The Taliban issued a series of decrees, forbidding women to work outside their homes and prohibiting them from traveling except when accompanied by a male family member. It is estimated that 40,000–150,000 working women in Kabul alone were negatively affected by the prohibition. The Taliban later issued decrees segregating women and men into separate hospitals. From September 1997, this policy was enforced by the Ministry of Public Health, which meant that half a million women in Kabul could use only the Rabia Balkhi hospital with thirty-five beds and limited facilities; there was no running water, electricity, or surgical equipment. Women and their children were denied access to other hospitals even in medical emergencies. Women could be examined by male physicians only when a male family member was present. Women without a male family member, and war widows faced onerous obstacles to health care. Many war widows—an estimated fifty thousand in Kabul alone—were reduced to begging in order to provide for their children. Women who did not comply with these policies faced threats, harassment, and beatings.

Pakistan's Support for the Taliban.

Support for the Taliban came from a variety of Pakistani institutions including the military, the intelligence services, political leaders, and religio-political parties such as the JUI.

The Pakistani military's support for the Taliban was predicated on their desire to maintain what was called “strategic depth” and also to have a stake in the turbulent internecine Afghan conflicts roiling the country during the early 1990s. Pakistani military support was to prove vital to the success of the Taliban. They received arms and munitions that came from the Pakistan Army's XI Corps based in Peshawar, as well as command-and-control support. Hundreds of Pakistani military officers provided logistical, planning, and intelligence support to the Taliban.

After 9/11, intense U.S. pressure was brought to bear on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who publicly distanced himself from the Taliban. The Taliban lost its Pakistani financial, material, military, and intelligence support and were now seemingly abandoned.

Resurgence of the Taliban.

Since the defeat of the Taliban by the United States and its local allies in November 2001, the Taliban has undergone a resurgence, increasingly described as an “insurgency.” The insurgency exists on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There are many reasons offered for its success: the inability of the new Afghan state to provide materially for its citizens, rampant systemic corruption, the presence of foreign troops, the deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of foreign troops, and the continued covert support of the Pakistani military, which believes that the Afghan state is insufficiently attuned to the needs of Pakistan. Since 2006, Taliban fighters have adopted techniques used in Iraq, such as suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Taliban movement has taken root in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and in 2002 the Muttahida Majlis-i Amal (MMA), a coalition of Islamist parties openly sympathetic to the Taliban, won provincial elections in the NWFP, and has issued edicts similar to the Taliban's. Pakistani journalists have called this phenomenon the “Talibanization of Pakistan.” As democracy continues to elude Pakistan, paramilitary jihādīs who use rhetoric and violence similar to those of the Taliban have a more visible and entrenched presence in Pakistan.



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