Afghanistan: March 14, 2002


Afghanistan is something of a no-man's land in Central Asia. Although it has had one (or more) kings thousands of years, the situation became rather more complicated when Russia invaded in 1979 (to prevent the overthrow of a newly formed communist government.) There followed a ten year war that left over a million Afghans dead and several million more exiled in Iran and Pakistan. 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 for several years, controlling less and less territory. The Taliban, a faction founded and run by religious school students and faculty, arrived on the scene in the early 1990s, and soon managed to come to control some 80 percent of Afghanistan's territory. But the Taliban were 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) backed the Northern Alliance faction. The Tajik are 25% of the population and the Hazara 19%. Both groups are wary of the Pushtuns, but will work with them if they do not feel threatened. The Taliban pushed their rivals out of Kabul in 1996, and each Summer took more Afghan territory under their control. The main stronghold of the Northern Alliance was the Panjsher valley, a region some 50 kilometers north of Kabul and, with associated territories, stretching east to Pakistan and northwest to Tajikistan. The existence of the Northern Alliance, and the radical fundamentalism of the Taliban has prevented international recognition of the Taliban as the rulers of Afghanistan. This situation quickly reversed in late 2001 when the United States and its allies formed an coalition with the Northern Alliance to run the Taliban out of power. This took about three months, mainly because the rigid and puritanical Taliban rule had become unpopular even among the Pushtun tribes. For the last few years of Taliban rule, they had to rely on foreign volunteers (mainly from the al Qaeda terrorist organization) to do the fighting against the Northern Alliance. But even after a new interim government was formed, the Taliban still had armed supporters in southern and eastern portions of the government.


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