Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Who are ‘the Taliban’?

BBC correspondent Alastair Leithead tries to explain for a television audience:

... gradually over the last few years the Taliban have been growing in strength. We say ‘Taliban’, it’s a shorthand term, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same people who are [were] in government here. It’s a combination of criminal, of al Qaeda, of other groups of drug lords. It’s a hugely complicated picture across Afghanistan as to exactly who these insurgents are.

On the other hand, the picture doesn’t seem nearly so complicated in general news reporting. Regarding the recent attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a “militant attack” at a parade, it was reported that:

The extremist Taliban said it had carried out the attack, in which three militants were also killed.

And regarding a later “suicide blast” outrage:

A man claiming to be a Taliban commander for the region said a Taliban loyalist had carried out the attack.

“We claim responsibility for the blast in Khogyani,” said the man, who identified himself as Qari Sajad. “It was a suicide attack carried out by one of our friends named Abdullah.”

One may wonder how rigorously the bona fides of someone claiming to be “a Taliban commander” are assessed. On the other hand, we all know ‘Abdullah’... don’t we?


The first US Marines of a new expeditionary force were deployed in Afghanistan’s troubled Helmand province yesterday, promising more aggressive tactics and implying criticism of the British operation there. ...

The extra US force in the south will make it easier for the Americans to press their allies to adopt common tactics, primarily those refined over the past few years by US forces against the Taliban and other groups.

Those “other groups” — whoever they may be — seldom seem to emerge from behind the blanket “shorthand” expedient of “the Taliban”.

Hopefully the NATO command in Afghanistan will have a better idea of exactly who they’re fighting in this “generational” conflict, than we punters back home, who only have the benefit of shorthand reporting.



Blogger Caz said...

A potted history Jacob:

1994 - The Taliban (meaning "students") arose under the leadership of a former mujahedeen fighter, Mohammad Omar. Drawing support from ultra-conservative Islamic schools, and composed primarily of Pashtuns (Afghanistan's largest ethnic group), the Taliban vows to bring Islamic law to Afghanistan.

1996 - The Taliban took Kabul and established the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Under Omar's leadership, they revive traditional punishments like stoning and amputation. They put limits on girls' education, refuse to let women work, and basically ban anything that might promote vice, including movies, cameras, television, and music. They also play host to Osama bin Laden.

1998 - The Taliban extended its reach by capturing Mazar-e Sharif, a northern city populated mainly by ethnic Uzbeks. The Taliban then controled most of Afghanistan, but still faced a fight from the "United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan"--a.k.a. the "Northern Alliance"--a coalition of mostly non-Pashtun militias. It also faced opposition from the United States. The Taliban refused to extradite bin Laden, and the U.N. imposed sanctions the following year.

2001 - On September 9, the Taliban assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. Then came September 11. After the attacks in America, the United States demanded extradition of bin Laden. The Taliban refused, and U.S. forces followed. By early December, American and Northern Alliance soldiers had toppled the Taliban. But Omar and other Taliban leaders escape. They regrouped along the border with Pakistan- their original base - and fight on.

2004 - A loya jirga ("great council") produces a new constitution, signed into law by interim president Hamid Karzai. Presidential elections followed, and Karzai wins in a landslide. The following year, Afghanistan convened its first democratically elected legislature in more than 30 years. Yet the government's control over many parts of the country remained weak, and Taliban attacks continue to this day.

4/5/08 11:28 AM  

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