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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International aid agencies were fearful of even working in Kandahar as the city itself was divided by warring groups. Their leaders sold off everything to Pakistani traders to make money, stripping down telephone wires and poles, cutting trees, selling off factories, machinery and even road rollers to scrap merchants. The warlords seized homes and farms, threw out their occupants and handed them over to their supporters. The commanders abused the population at will, kidnapping young girls and boys for their sexual pleasure, robbing merchants in the bazaars and fighting and brawling in the streets. Instead of refugees returning from Pakistan, a fresh wave of refugees began to leave Kandahar for Quetta.

For the powerful mafia of truck transporters based in Quetta and Kandahar, it was an intolerable situation for business. In 1993 I travelled the short 130 miles by road from Quetta to Kandahar and we were stopped by at least 20 different groups, who had put chains across the road and demanded a toll for free passage. The transport mafia who were trying to open up routes to smuggle goods between Quetta and Iran and the newly independent state of Turkmenistan, found it impossible to do business.

For those Mujaheddin who had fought the Najibullah regime and had then gone home or to continue their studies at madrassas in Quetta and Kandahar, the situation was particularly galling. 'We all knew each other ---Mullahs Omar, Ghaus, Mohammed Rabbani (no relation to President Rabbani) and myself ---because we were all originally from Urozgan province and had fought together,' said Mulla Hassan. 'I moved back and forth from Quetta and attended madrassas there, but whenever we got together we would discuss the terrible plight of our people living under these bandits. We were people of the same opinions and we got on with each other very well, so it was easy to come to a decision to do something,' he added.

Mullah Mohammed Ghaus, the one-eyed Foreign Minister of the Taliban said much the same. 'We would sit for a long time to discuss how to change the terrible situation. Before we started we had only vague ideas what to do and we thought we would fail, but we believed we were working with Allah as His pupils. We have got so far because Allah has helped us,' said Ghaus.

Other groups of Mujaheddin in the south were also discussing the same problems. 'Many people were searching for a solution. I was from Kalat in Zabul province (85 miles north of Kandahar) and had joined a madrassa, but the situation was so bad that we were distracted from our studies and with a group of friends we spent all our time discussing what we should do and what needed to be done,' said Mullah Mohammed Abbas, who was to become the Minister of Public Health in Kabul. 'The old Mujaheddin leadership had utterly failed to bring peace. So I went with a group of friends to Herat to attend the Shura called by Ismael Khan, but it failed to come up with a solution and things were getting worse. So we came to Kandahar to talk with Mullah Omar and joined him,' Abbas added.

After much discussion these divergent but deeply concerned groups chalked out an agenda which still remains the Taliban's declared aims ---restore peace, disarm the population, enforce Sharia law and defend the integrity and Islamic character of Afghanistan. As most of them were part-time or full-time students at madrassas, the name they chose for themselves was natural. A talib is an Islamic student, one who seeks knowledge compared to the mullah who is one who gives knowledge. By choosing such a name the Taliban (plural of Talib) distanced themselves from the party politics of the Mujaheddin and signalled that they were a movement for cleansing society rather than a party trying to grab power.

All those who gathered around Omar were the children of the jihad but deeply disillusioned with the factionalism and criminal activities of the once idealised Mujaheddin leadership. They saw themselves as the cleansers and purifiers of a guerrilla war gone astray, a social system gone wrong and an Islamic way of life that had been compromised by corruption and excess. Many of them had been born in Pakistani refugee camps, educated in Pakistani madrassas and had learnt their fighting skills from Mujaheddin parties based in Pakistan. As such the younger Taliban barely knew their own country or history, but from their madrassas they learnt about the ideal Islamic society created by the Prophet Mohammed 1,400 years ago and this is what they wanted to emulate.

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

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