CBC Report: “Afghanistan under the Taliban”
2 June 2011
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan- Today marks a full ten years since Coalition forces entered Afghanistan, long deemed ‘unconquerable.’ It is a reputation well-deserved- Afghanistan has, since antiquity been known as the ‘Graveyard of Empires.’ Britain and the Soviet Union learned that lesson dear when they attempted to use Afghanistan in their power politics. Afghanistan then was wracked by a coalition of warlords which tore the country apart as each tried to dominate the country. The devastating 9/11 attacks, however, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans, turned the world’s attention towards this hitherto-unknown patch of mountain , now known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, or the Taliban (Pashto: طالبان , ṭālibān "students").
Who exactly are the Taliban?
- The hardline Islamic Taliban movement swept to power in 1996 after the civil war that followed the Soviet-Afghan war, and have been in power ever since
- Once in power, they imposed a brutal version of Shari’a law, such as public executions and amputations, forced men to wear beards, and banned women from public life.
- Men had to grow beards and women to wear the all-covering burka; television, music and cinema were banned
- And most importantly, prior to 2001 they harbored the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
Immediately afterwards the 9/11 attacks, the United States demanded that the Taliban release the terrorist Osama bin Laden into United States custody. Against all expectations, the Taliban handed over the leader of Al-Qaeda, sparking waves throughout the fundamentalist Muslim world and also surprising the American government, which had not expected the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. The Taliban further surprised the world when they acquiesced to United States demands to enter their country and set up bases. The world began to recognize the Taliban- or, by their official name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, with much of the European Union and the rest of the Americas following suit.
But just because the Taliban has hosted American military presence within its nation doesn’t mean it’s easy to travel there. Getting access to Afghanistan took a full year- both from weary United States officials and from the elusive Emirate themselves. But in mid-May, we were flown in from the United Arab Emirates to Kandahar. Kandahar was a dusty city, grim in scope and patrolled by young men with beards and Kalashnikovs. Our escorts were drawn from that pool, although they seemed to be made of sterner stuff and were more well-dressed. Two sat with our crew in the car, while the others led us on a motorbike towards the Sangin area.
There, waiting for us, was Mullah Baddar, whose name means “someone who’s always on time.” And indeed, the Mullah seemed to live up to his name. He was also the governor of Helmand province, and a punctual man. Throughout the visit we were accompanied by a Taliban media team who controlled what we saw.
We were not allowed to film anything to do with opium. The opium trade is synonymous with this region - Afghanistan produces about 90% of the world's opium - and helps fund the Taliban.
“The Americans”, Baddar says, “recognized our Emirate in 2004. The rest of the world, including your country, Canada, followed suit. That is, the part of the world that follows the Americans.”
Baddar stops and points in the general direction of the North. “You do know what’s out there, right?”
When we don’t respond, Baddar smiles. “The Northern Alliance. Massoud and his band of followers continues to resist in the north. One day, they will be defeated.”
The veracity of that statement can be questioned. Although it is true that much of the Western world has recognized the Kandahar government, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the so-called Lion of Panjshir, who escaped an al-Qaeda assassination attempt in 2001, resists Taliban attempts to dislodge him and has the official recognition of the Russian Federation, Iran, and India under the banner of the old Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (1992-1996).
“What of the attacks, lately, on the bases?”
Baddar turns around and gives me a wry look.
"That will be taken care of.”
It is strange to say that the escalating attacks by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a contemporary of the Lion of Panjshir, as well as by al-Qaeda, can be “taken care of.” The latter were definitely incensed when their leader was given up by the Taliban, and to quote its new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, “the Taliban have shirked their duty as defenders and upholders of the Islamic faith.” The Taliban responded by declaring a fatwa against al-Qaeda, which has only intensified public dissent against the Emirate. Indeed, a record-breaking number of former Taliban soldiers have defected to join either the Northern Alliance or al-Qaeda in fighting against their former beneficiaries.
That is not to say that the Taliban’s rule itself has been completely beneficial. Human rights in Afghanistan are, despite U.S. President Obama’s urgings, practically nil. The Taliban are notorious for their sexism and violence against women, as well as their draconian usage of capital punishment such as cutting off thieves’ hands and feet and stoning women who commit adultery; practices that have not ceased despite the decade-long Coalition occupation. However, the government has begun to allow photos and radio, as long as they are used for government purposes. The Emir himself is scheduled to be meeting with President Obama in what is considered a historic first for the Taliban.
As we return to Kandahar, Mullah Bandar sees us off. “If only you lived in Afghanistan,” the governor says, “you would see that our country is a good country.” He patted me on the back and said, “Go, and bring good tidings of our country to the West.”
Now, as I’m in Dubai awaiting a flight back to Montreal, I realize that the Western description of the Emirate has become less straightforward and full of contradictions. In an effort to maintain power the Taliban have changed significantly while still being rooted in their past- they feel they have to adapt to the modern world while still thinking their way of Islamic law is the best way of governance.
But they now face a new challenge. Massoud, al-Qaeda and Hekmatyar have threatened the Taliban’s control, and popular discontent has been noticeably observed by foreign intelligence agencies. Corruption is noted along the Taliban’s lower echelons, a legacy of the foreign aid that flowed in post-Coalition basing in Afghanistan. How will the Taliban cope with the shift? Will they be able to survive? Or will they be swept to the dustbin of history?
Yet one thing can be learned from all of this- Afghanistan is no longer the Graveyard of Empires.