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Terrorism is an incredibly hard word to define. Due to its largely elusive nature, the definition of terrorism is constantly evolving and changing over time, as are the forms and methods it manifests itself in. The dictionary definition of terrorism is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. This definition is by no means inaccurate, and encompasses the intrinsic characteristics of terrorism. I believe, however, that this definition excludes important facets of terrorism as we know it today, such as the use of fear and terror as a mechanism to achieve its goals. In addition to this, I think that the dictionary definition neglects to mention that terrorism often focuses on the pursuit of radical religious and social reforms, not solely political aims. I would define terrorism as: The use of violence and coercion by a unified group in order to instill fear and terror amongst its victims so that they are forced into submission, allowing the group in question to achieve its radical, political, religious, and/or social aims.
Today I am choosing to write about The Taliban, an organization of great notoriety and infamy. An extremist offshoot of the Mujahedeen, guerilla warriors that primarily opposed the Soviets during the Soviet- Afghan war, The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist. The Taliban were founded on October 10th 1995 in Afghanistan. Due to the extreme political and social turmoil the country was experiencing at the time, the Taliban were able to rise to power quickly and efficiently. Afghanistan had never been able to establish more than a puppet government after the Soviets withdrew from their country, aiding the Taliban further in their near effortless rise to power. Afghanistan had once been ruled by a constitutional monarchy, and under this government the country had been stable and prosperous. Afghanistan had been making great strides towards modernization since its founding in 1926, and economic prosperity within the country allowed many to thrive.
In 1973, however, Afghanistan’s king, Zahir Khan, was overthrown in a coup d’etat by his cousin Daoud Khan. The coup was performed in retaliation to the King’s new agenda which prevented relatives of the King from holding cabinet positions, and former King Zahir Khan, who had been in Italy receiving surgery at the time of the coup, was exiled there. Afghani citizens assumed that Daoud Khan would name himself the new king of Afghanistan, but instead he appointed himself as president of the republic he was to establish. Daoud ruled until 1978 as a centrist, moderate president, but was overthrown by a left-wing, communist militant group. The democracy was destroyed and the power was then spilt into 2 communist parties that ruled over the tumultuous country. The new government was wildly unpopular amongst Afghan citizens, but forged close ties with the Soviet Union, at that time the largest communist power in the world. The communist parties, with the support of the USSR, implemented extensive social reforms, and prevented all efforts of domestic opposition through violence. 27,000 political prisoners were executed during this reign. The communist rule was bitterly resented by the devoutly Muslim and largely anticommunist population.
Despite government efforts to suppress any form of retaliation, a group of guerilla warriors colloquially known as “holy warriors” or “freedom fighters” began opposing the communist regime. Formally known as The Mujahedeen, this militant group gained the support and funding of the United States due to their ardent opposition to the communist regime that had taken over the country. Largely due to American support, the USSR soon recognized the Mujahedeen as a forceful threat to the communist presence in Afghanistan. Subsequently, Afghanistan was invaded in December 1979 by the Soviet 40th Army to support the communists and oppose the Mujahedeen. The Afghan communist faction was appointed a Soviet leader to oversee their actions, and the faction quickly grew to over 100,000 soldiers. Soviet forces tried to quell efforts of the Mujahedeen through bombings, executions and the torture of prisoners, but these methods only angered the population and fueled the resistance. In a world torn by the Red Scare, The Mujahedeen gained the support of many anti-communist world powers in their fight against the communist superpower that was the USSR. Their guerilla tactics ultimately forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and the soviets withdrew after 9 years in Afghanistan. The Mujahedeen, however, was never successful in establishing a functional government, and 7 years later in 1996, the Taliban took over.
The Taliban acted as the official government of Afghanistan from 1996-2001, when the American military in conjunction with Afghan opposition forces ousted them as a governmental force, and the Taliban became an insurgent force within the region.
The Taliban formed their ideology as a radical and fundamentalist combination of Islamic law and Pashtun tribal codes. Under this extremist interpretation, the Taliban outlawed many practiced and activities formerly considered lawful and routine to Islam life, such pork, almost all forms of consumer technology, female sport, alcohol, kite-flying, television, music, internet, and art forms such as paintings or photography. In addition to these parameters, men were also forbidden from shaving facial hair and required to wear a head covering, and were subjected to beatings if they did not abide by this requirement. Afghan sports stadiums became routine venues for public executions and punishments. Girls were forbidden from going to school and women were forbidden from working outside of their houses. In addition to this, women ran the risk of being beaten or killed if they left their house without being accompanied by a male relative, or having their finger cut off if it’s nail was decorated with nail polish. Because of their combined Islam and Pashtun ideologies, many practices of the Qu’ran were violated under Taliban rule, resulting in widespread religious disapproval.
The Taliban have been extremely successful in achieving their goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their presence and influence have dominated civilian lifestyle and national government to an extreme extent. So extreme, that they have faced large opposition and intervention from western forces such as the United States military. Following the Taliban’s attacks on US soil on September 11th, 2001, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with the Taliban, which had formerly been recognized as a legitimate government in these countries. The Taliban also offered asylum and support to the even more extremist offshoot group, al-Qaeda, and their leader Osama bin Laden, who had fought in the Mujahedeen and provided financial support to the Taliban. The Security Council of the United Nations intervened in this relationship in 1999, when they demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden for trial and cease their support for terrorism. The Taliban, however, did not respond to this international cry for justice, but instead continued terrorist activities, primarily in Afghanistan, and refused to hand over Bin Laden.
Today, the Taliban is ruled by Mullah Akhtar Mansour, and is a largely Pashtun (as opposed to Hazara, the other ethnic group of Afghanistan) movement. They operate prominently in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but their influence and presence is widespread across the Middle East. The Taliban still exist as a magnum force in many Middle Eastern countries. Although Bin Laden was assassinated by US forces, the organization is still in action. Currently, however, the Taliban is facing not only opposition from the vast majority of the western world, but also from the relatively new terrorist group, ISIS, which has risen to great prominence in recent years.
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