The Taliban emerged in early 1994 from the Sunni religious schools (called madrassat) near Quetta, Pakistan, at a time when factional fighting and resulting lawlessness were at their height. Originally a small band of warriors from the majority Pashtoon tribe, their numbers swelled as they met with increasing success. Their take-over of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, in April 1994, was welcomed by its citizens, who had long suffered under corrupt and brutal mujahadeen commanders. The Taliban (the name derives from the Arabic word for student) quickly established order in Kandahar, disarming all factions and the general population. The Taliban leader of the faithful, amir ul-momineen, Mohammed Omar, is a former mujahadin and is a mullah from Kandahar.

A Pashtoon city, Kandahar has accepted the Taliban's strict version of sharia (Islamic law), which is more or less consistent with local traditions. Today it is peaceful.  But for the Taliban, sharia law means public executions after trials which pay scant attention to any notion of due process. It means the gruesome spectacle of the Minister of Health personally amputating the hands and feet of suspected thieves. Young Pashtun men joined the Taliban - seeing it as a vehicle to reassert Pashtun power in Afghanistan.

The Taliban subsequently swept through south-western Afghanistan, and arrived in Herat, close to the Iranian border, in September 1995. Here their reign has been less welcome. Most Herat residents are Tajik, and accustomed to a more liberal tradition. They particularly reject the Taliban prohibition on education for girls. As Dari speakers, they view the Pashto-speaking Taliban as an occupation force. Many Heratis have sent their families into exile in Iran, where they hope their girls can be educated, or at least avoid the harshness of the Taliban regime.

On 27 September 1996 the Taliban Islamic militia took control of Kabul.  Little resistance was offered by retreating government forces. Outbreaks of violence occurred as the Taliban implemented their particularly extreme version of Islamic law. Many who dared show defiance to the Taliban were arrested, beaten and detained, including some local staff working for aid agencies and media organisations. Women and girls bore the brunt of the new restrictions which included a ban on their employment and education. Kabul University was closed and the entire staff of the High Court was suspended, from judges to cleaners. Women were also ordered to remain at home and to wear the burqa in public. Some women, former teachers, organised secret schools in their homes. With so many of their rights violated, the women of Kabul provide an extreme example of discrimination. For this reason the European Parliament called upon members of the international community to show its support for Afghan women.

The Taliban version of Islam is extremely dogmatic and strict and is more closely derived from Pashtunwali, the Pashtun tribal code, than with an interpretation of the Koran. Initially welcomed by many war weary people the Taliban unchecked abuse of power, increasing dogmatism and 'gender apartheid' by the denial of basic human rights of Afghan women and girls has lead to increasing despair.





copyright WAI 2000