December 4, 2007:
The Taliban began fifteen years ago as armed
Afghan religious school students, from refugee camps in Pakistan, who entered
the civil war then raging in Afghanistan. That war was being fought by tribal
and religious factions, to determine who would control Kabul (and, technically,
rule Afghanistan). At that point, most Afghans were tired of fifteen years of
Russian occupation and civil war. The puritanical and fanatic Taliban struck a
chord, and many Afghans got behind them. Most of the other civil war factions
were soon defeated or absorbed, and the Taliban ruled the country for six
years, until the United States came to the aid of the remaining anti-Taliban
factions (the Northern Alliance) in late 2001. The Taliban had made themselves
very unpopular by then, and most Afghans switched sides once more. The Taliban
were out of power within two months.
The Taliban were defeated, but
not destroyed. The refugee camps and religious schools back in Pakistan still
existed, and many surviving Afghan Taliban returned to Pakistan. Most of these
pro-Taliban areas were in FATA (the Pakistani "Federally Administered Tribal
Areas".) This was a border area, with a population of 3.3 million, containing
some of the most independent minded Pushtun tribes. However, after the Taliban
fell, most of the Afghan refugees, including many pro-Taliban ones, went home.
But many Pakistanis had adopted the Taliban philosophy (a very conservative
form of Islam). The Taliban had gotten these religious attitudes from Saudi preachers
and religious scholars, sent by Saudi religious charities dedicated to the
spread of Wahhabism, a two century old form of Islam that originated in Arabia.
The missionary effort began in the 1980s, as Saudi Arabia also sent many
weapons and much cash to the Afghans fighting the Russian occupation.
The Taliban had plenty of
allies. These included several of the Pushtun tribes in southern Afghanistan
(around Kandahar.) Many of the Pushtun tribes in FATA also support the Taliban,
as do many of the Baluchi tribes in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan). The
Baluchis mostly provide sanctuary, not fighters. The former head of the
Taliban, Mullah Omar, and his key aides, have remained hidden among the Pushtun
and Baluchi tribes along the Afghan border.
There are still several
warlords, dating from the 1980s and the war with the Russians, who continue to
support the Taliban. These are usually Pushtun tribal leaders, who maintain
their own small armies of gunmen, and maintain these forces via smuggling,
extortion or whatever else will bring in cash. These warlords support the
Taliban (most of the time) because of mutual dislike for democracy and the
Many of the drug gangs (often
run by warlords or tribal leaders) have also supported the Taliban, again
because of a mutual dislike for the central government (which is dedicated to
destroying the heroin trade.) These gangs mainly supply money, and expect that,
when the Taliban regain power, the drug business will be allowed to continue,
as it did when the Taliban were last in charge.
Finally, there's al Qaeda.
This is a small operation, which specializes in bomb attacks (suicide or
roadside). Al Qaeda has been in the region for about a decade, and have made
enemies among many of the Pushtun tribes.
In fact, the entire "Taliban
Alliance" is a very loose operation. Some factions are basically criminals (the
drug gangs and many warlords). The alliance is very fluid, with factions
leaving, and new ones joining (or old ones returning) all the time. There is no
central command, and only a general agreement on the need to overthrow the
elected government of Afghanistan, and replace it with a religious