Public enemy number one or “not all are bad people” in the words of the Taleban’s chief opponent, General Dostan of the Northern Alliance?
The Taliban are better known in Afghanistan for doling out the Sharia, the Koranic Law, in its most crude and raw form. Public beheadings, mutilations, and floggings in packed football stadiums have become commonplace.
However, General Abdul Rachid Dostan of the Northern Alliance, the main armed opposition group fighting the Taliban regime in the north of the country, has declared that there are Taliban and Taliban. “Not all of the Taliban are bad people; there are many who can provide good services to the people. In general, they are Pashtun, a group which should be represented (in a future common government)," he declared in an interview with Der Spiegel.
The Taliban were born in refugee camps in Pakistan during the intervention of Soviet forces, at the request of the beleaguered president of Afghanistan, Najibullah. Financed and trained by Osama Bin Laden, some say with the complicity and even active involvement of the CIA, the majority are from the Pashtun tribe, although there are several thousand Moslem fighters from other nations, from Saudis and Kuwaitis to Uzbeks and Pakistanis.
In 1994, they swept to victory against the Mujaheddin force Hezb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, after being initially used by the Pakistani authorities to protect a trade convoy to establish a route between Islamabad and Central Asia. Excellent fighters, they beat off attack after attack and captured Kabul in September, 1996. Originally accepted as liberating heroes by a population oppressed by numerous drug and warlords, the Taliban began by fighting corruption and imposed a degree of normality to the daily lives of the citizens of Afghanistan.
Aided by the Pakistani secret services and, some say, by money from the Pakistani mafia, the Taliban soon freed themselves from any yolk with Islamabad and became a force friendly with Pakistan, but strictly autonomous. However, other Moslem states aided the Taliban as they swept across the country from south to north in a number of brilliant military successes. Saudi Arabia, for example, provided important quantities of arms and money until mid-2000.
The ideology of the Taliban is based on an obscure sect, which developed in India during the nineteenth century, mixed with Pashtun lore and Saudi Wahhabism. This is the western term for a sect founded within Islam by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703/92), which defends the position of a Unitarian God (Wahid), banning the praying to any prophet, angel. or saint. Wahhabism preaches a literal and strict interpretation of the noble Qu’ran and adherence to the doctrine of predestination.
The fact that the Taliban are made up of the majority Pashtun is important, since during civil war, the northern minority Uzbek and Tajik warlords were in Kabul, but their strongholds were, and are, isolated regions in the northern 10% of the territory that they hold today. The advent of the Taliban, going back the Pashtun lands, was ,therefore, a foregone conclusion. During the Clinton administration, the Taliban were seen as an important counterweight to Iran in the region, but there was a diplomatic correction due to their policy on women, refusing to allow them access to education, forbidding girls from going to school, and prohibiting women from working.
This radicalism, mixed with violence, earned the Taliban mistrust even among some Pashtun tribespeople and open revolt in non-Pashtun areas since 1996. For example, women were recently denied the right to health care.
Today, the regime faces its hardest test in what would logically appear to be its death throes. Isolated diplomatically, Pakistan being the only country to recognize this regime, and facing a massive military operation from within, and outside, its borders, and its representative in the United Nations being former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Taliban now take to the mountains.
This may be the worst nightmare for the international force intervening in the country, as the Soviet Union itself witnessed. Osama Bin Laden, who has issued declarations expressing surprise that the American troops are much worse than the Soviets, seems to be ready and waiting for phase three.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru LISBON PORTUGAL