Excerpt from Taliban by Ahmed Rashid, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia

by Ahmed Rashid

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  • First Published:
    Mar 2001, 288 pages
    Mar 2001, 288 pages

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When the resistance began around Kandahar it was based on the tribal network of the Durranis. In Kandahar the struggle against the Soviets was a tribal jihad led by clan chiefs and ulema (senior religious scholars) rather than an ideological jihad led by Islamicists. In Peshawar there were seven Mujaheddin parties which were recognised by Pakistan and received a share of aid from the CIA pipeline. Significantly none of the seven parties were led by Durrani Pashtuns. In Kandahar all seven parties had a following, but the most popular parties in the south were those based on tribal ties such as the Harakat-e-Inquilab Islami (Movement of the Islamic Revolution) led by Maulvi Mohammed Nabi Mohammedi and another Hizb-e-Islami (Party of Islam) led by Maulvi Younis Khalis. Before the war both leaders were well known in the Pashtun belt and ran their own madrassas or religious schools.

For commanders in the south party loyalty depended on which Peshawar leader would provide money and arms. Mullah Omar joined Khalis's Hizb-e-Islami while Mullah Hassan joined Harakat. 'I knew Omar extremely well but we were fighting on different fronts and in different groups but sometimes we fought together,' said Hassan. Also popular was the National Islamic Front led by Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, who advocated the return of the Durrani ex-King Zahir Shah to lead the Afghan resistance ---a move that was strongly opposed by Pakistan and the USA. The ex-King was living in Rome and continued to be a popular figure amongst the Kandaharis, who hoped that his return would reassert the leadership role of the Durrani tribes.

The contradictions within the Pashtun Mujaheddin leadership were to weaken the Pashtuns as the war progressed. The ulema valued the historical ideals of early Islamic history and rarely challenged traditional Afghan tribal structures like the Jirga. They were also much more accommodating towards the ethnic minorities. The Islamicists denigrated the tribal structure and pursued a radical political ideology in order to bring about an Islamic revolution in Afghanistan. They were exclusivists which made the minorities suspicious of them.

Thus Harakat had no coherent party structure and was just a loose alliance between commanders and tribal chiefs, many of whom had just a rudimentary madrassa education. On the other hand Gulbuddin Hikmetyar's Hizb-e-Islami built a secretive, highly centralized, political organization whose cadres were drawn from educated urban Pashtuns. Prior to the war the Islamicists barely had a base in Afghan society, but with money and arms from the CIA pipeline and support from Pakistan, they built one and wielded tremendous clout. The traditionalists and the Islamicists fought each other mercilessly so that by 1994, the traditional leadership in Kandahar had virtually been eliminated, leaving the field free for the new wave of even more extreme Islamicists ---the Taliban.

The battle for Kandahar was also determined by its own particular history. Kandahar is Afghanistan's second largest city with a 1979 pre-war population of about 250,000 and twice that today. The old city has been inhabited since 500 BC, but just 35 miles away lies Mundigak, a Bronze-Age village settled around 3,000 BC, which was once part of the Indus Valley civilization. Kandaharis have always been great traders as the city was located at the intersection of ancient trade routes ---eastwards across the Bolan Pass to Sind, the Arabian Sea and India and westwards to Herat and Iran. The city was the main crossing point for trade, arts and crafts between Iran and India and the city's numerous bazaars have been famous for centuries.

The new city has changed little from that laid out in grand proportions in 1761 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of the Durrani dynasty. The fact that the Durranis from Kandahar were to create the Afghan state and rule it for 300 years gave the Kandaharis a special status amongst the Pashtuns. As a concession to their home base, Kabul's kings absolved the Kandaharis from providing manpower for the army. Ahmad Shah's mausoleum dominates the central bazaar and thousands of Afghans still come here to pray and pay their respects to the founder of the nation.

From Taliban. Copyright © 2000 Ahmed Rashid. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Yale Univ. Press.

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