Taliban fighters seen from the back of a vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021 | Photo: EFE / EPA / STRINGER

After a series of quick wins in recent days, the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan by marching in the country’s capital, Kabul on Sunday, nearly 20 years after its regime was toppled by US military forces and the United States. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Find out what the Taliban are, how the fundamentalist group came into being, and how it came back to power.

What are the Taliban?

The Taliban are an Islamic fundamentalist group that ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, losing power after the US invasion of the country. The majority of its members are of the Pashtun ethnic group, which represents more than 40% of the Afghan population.

The group emerged in 1994, during a time of civil war in Afghanistan, following the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and the fall of President Mohammed Najibullah in 1992.

Some of its members, such as the founder and first leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, fought against the Communist invasion and participated in the overthrow of Najibullah, but most were students of Islamic schools, which contributes to explain the name of the Taliban, which means “Islamic student seeking knowledge,” according to writer and subject matter expert Ahmed Rashid.

The birthplace of the Taliban is Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city, captured by the group in late 1994. At that time, the country was virtually disintegrated, divided into warlord strongholds. Violence and crime were rampant. In this context, many Afghans supported the Taliban in the hope that, under their command, they would enjoy relative peace and stability. In 1996, the fundamentalist group conquered Kabul, declaring Afghanistan an Islamic emirate.

To move forward, the Taliban disarmed the population, murdered rivals and “infidels” and implemented their vision of Sharia law, horrifying Afghans, regional governments and the West. During his reign, women could rarely leave the house, even for shopping, and when they did, they had to be covered from head to toe in long burqas; girls’ schools have been closed; all forms of entertainment, such as music, games, sports and movies, were prohibited.

According to Rashid, in his book Taliban, the group saw themselves as the purifier of a social system gone bad and an Islamic way of life compromised by corruption and excess.

During the five years that they ruled Afghanistan, the Taliban allowed terrorist groups to use the country to plan attacks on foreign soil. One of those groups was Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, which planned and carried out several attacks on the United States, the worst of which was the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

With the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, US troops overthrew the Taliban regime. But, as history later documented, it was not the end of the group that, twenty years after its defeat, returned to control the country.

the resurgence

With the arrival of US troops in Afghanistan, several Taliban leaders fled to Pakistan, where they were supported by the country’s security authorities. An example of the group’s presence in the neighboring country is the fact that Mullah Omar died in 2013 in Karachi, Pakistan, according to the Afghan government installed after the US invasion.

The terrorist group was responsible for the 2012 attack on Pakistani Malala, the student who would become a vocal advocate for women’s right to education. At that time, the Swat Valley, where Malala lived, was dominated by the Taliban.

In Pakistan, the Taliban were able to reorganize. The long-standing US presence in Afghanistan has served to recruit “soldiers” unhappy with US “colonialism” as well as corruption scandals within the US-backed Afghan government. Fear was also part of the group’s strategy, which murdered residents who had enlisted in the army or police, local journalists or civilian leaders.

In this way, the Taliban began to gain strength slowly, across the interior, village by village, according to Robert Crews, an Afghanistan expert at Stanford University, told the Washington Post. As of 2017, according to a BBC News study, they controlled more than ten districts of the country.

In 2019, the power the Taliban had over much of the country was already undeniable. Under Donald Trump, the US government struck a deal with the fundamentalist group in early 2020, committing to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in exchange for an end to attacks on US positions in the country and a peace dialogue. with the Afghan government.

The Taliban did not keep their pledge but, in the face of pressure from American voters to “end endless wars”, President Joe Biden followed through on the plan and promised to withdraw American troops by the 31st. August.

As NATO soldiers left their positions, the Taliban stepped up their offensives. In July, they claimed to control 85% of Afghan territory. In each conquered city, the Taliban recruited prisoners whom they released and took weapons and equipment from the local authorities.

At the beginning of August, they took large and important cities like Kandahar, and this Sunday they did not even wait for the Americans to finish evacuating their diplomatic personnel to march on Kabul.

This has been interpreted by international political analysts as a humiliation for the United States. Add to this the fact that the Americans spent years training the Afghan security forces who in many cities did not even fight to defend the government. The American weapons that were handed over to the Afghan government are now in the possession of the Taliban.

Some men make up the leadership of the Taliban, such as Haibatullah Akhunzada and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, however, the most likely to assume the presidency of Afghanistan is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founders of the Taliban who until then ruled. the group in the peace negotiations. intra-afghan