KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban is the Pashto word for “seekers of knowledge.” The group emerged as a clerical movement in response to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 and subsequent anarchy and violence in the country. The group swept through Afghanistan, and by 1998, controlled 90 percent of the country.
The Taliban’s efforts were established on Pashtun tribal customs and the Hanafi Islamic jurisprudence. The Hanafi School is the largest of the four Sunni Islamic jurisprudences and, historically, makes legal decisions and laws on the basis of reason, logic, opinion, analogy and preference.
In 1996, the Taliban captured Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. It quickly established a new status quo, declaring Afghanistan an Islamic emirate, naming Mullah Mohammad Omar “commander of the faithful” and beginning a campaign of moral policing. The new government created the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which enforced a strict and controlled version of sharia law.
Immediately after assuming power, the Taliban shut down all avenues for women to advance academically and professionally. Women were forced to cover themselves from head-to-toe in burqas. Girls were no longer allowed to attend school and women were not allowed to work.
The gravest humanitarian concern for women under the Taliban was health. Women were not permitted to visit a doctor without a male escort. In 1997, the Taliban announced that hospitals would be segregated by gender. Services to women were suspended at every hospital in Kabul except one, a poorly funded and equipped hospital for women. After international uproar, the Taliban opened beds to women in other hospitals, but only in a very limited fashion.
After decades of widespread conflict and violence in the country, Afghanistan’s standard of living was incredibly low.
In the late 1990s, the United Nations tried to run a humanitarian campaign in the country. However, the Taliban government would not allow certain actions, like education to girls over the age of eight and education of anything but the Quran, to be taken because of its interpretation of Sharia law. This made interventions by the U.N. close to pointless.
Human rights abuses were not limited to women. Men were subjected to imprisonment, torture and disappearance because of political and religious views. Association to those with dissident views and crimes like insufficient beard length were also punishable.
The Taliban had popular support when it came to power in Afghanistan. Even with a long record of human rights abuses and violence, the Taliban still retain some support among the Afghani population, who see the government in Kabul as complicit in the corruption of government officials, security forces and militias around the country.
After 9/11 and the subsequent invasion by the United States into Afghanistan, most of the Taliban retreated to the tribal border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan had long sheltered Taliban and other terrorist-linked groups and people and continued to do so throughout much of the 2000s.
From its place in Pakistan, the Taliban has run an insurgency that has wreaked havoc in both Afghani politics and the broader international combat mission. Even after publishing a code of conduct for its insurgents, Taliban forces have continued to kill large numbers of civilians in their attacks. Insurgents are now blamed for more than three-fourths of all civilian deaths in conflict in Afghanistan.
Even though it may no longer be in a position to destroy the government in Kabul, the Taliban insurgency remains resilient. With the withdrawal of American and international armed forces, the Taliban threaten to increase instability in the region and set back humanitarian gains in Afghanistan, especially for women.
– Caitlin Huber
Sources: Oxford Islamic Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, The Taliban’s War on Women, The New York Times