Afghanistan is something of a no-man's land in Central Asia. Although it has
had one (or more) kings for thousands of years, the situation became rather more
complicated when Russia invaded in 1979 (to prevent the overthrow of a three
year old communist government.) There followed a ten year war that left over a
million Afghans dead and several million more exiled in Iran and Pakistan. After
the Russians left in 1989, various factions that had been fighting the communist government and the
Russians now began fighting each other. To the surprise of many, the communist
government remained in power until 1992, controlling less and less territory as
the rebels closed in. Once Kabul was captured, the various rebel factions began
fighting each other. In 1994, the Taliban, a faction founded and run by religious school students
and faculty based in Pakistan (and supported by the Pakistani army), arrived on the scene. By 1996, the Taliban captured the capital and
soon controlled some 80 percent of Afghanistan. But the Taliban are mainly from the
Pushtun ethnic group (38% of the population and historically the dominant
group), while many of the minorities in Afghanistan (Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and
Turkmen) have backed an opposition called the Northern Alliance. The Tajik are 25% of the
population and the Hazara (Mongols, a reminder of the medieval Mongolian
invasions) 19%. Both groups are wary of the Pushtuns, but will
work with them if they do not feel threatened. The Taliban began making annual
attacks into northern, non-Pushtun, areas in 1997. These attacks were repeated
each year, despite a UN and American embargo to protest Taliban providing refuge
for Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorist organization. The rest of the
world wasn't happy with the Taliban tolerating a thriving heroin trade in
Afghanistan either. Most Afghans were no longer happy with the Taliban either.
It seems the Taliban represented religious conservatives from a few of the
Pushtun tribes. The rest of the tribes didn't want to be forced to abide by the
customs of those tribes. But the Taliban insisted, and used of thousands of
foreigners, recruited and trained by al Qaeda, as enforcers.
Then came September 11, 2001. The next month, the US sent in a few hundred
army Special Forces troops and CIA agents, supported by a few hundred air force
and navy bombers, to help out the Northern Alliance. By the November, the
Taliban were out of power, and al Qaeda was smashed and scattered.
But the conservative Pushtun tribes that spawned the Taliban are still there,
as are many of the Taliban members and their supporters.