Afghanistan is one of the poorest and most troubled countries in the world. The land that occupies Afghanistan has a long history of domination by foreign conquerors and strife among internally warring factions. At the gateway between Asia and Europe, this land was conquered by Darius I of Babylonia circa 500 B.C., and Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 329 B.C., among others. In recent years, war and lawlessness had destroyed much of the country; millions of people went into exile and brought its economy to a standstill. This paper looks to explore the recent history of Afghanistan, how the Taliban came to power, and the impact their Islamic laws had on the Afghanistan society including their treatment of woman.
During the imperial days Afghanistan became a buffer zone when both Britain and Russia agreed that an incursion into Afghanistan would be considered a declaration of war against each other. Both respected this arrangement. After Britains departure from the region, Russians increased their influence in Afghanistan with help and support from India, which wanted to keep Pakistan carved out of British India in 1947. Meanwhile, the Russians believed that the Americans, who replaced Britain as the new superpower, were too far away from this region to get physically involved. So in 1979, when the pro-soviet communist regime in Kabul showed signs of weakness, the Soviet Union sent its troops into Afghanistan. They faced no resistance and captured the entire country in a few days. However, the Soviets were mistaken about the United States response to their invasion. The Americans did not like the Soviet presence in Afghanistan as it could have allowed the Soviet Union to have undue influence in South Asia and the oil rich Middle East. In engaging the Russians in Afghanistan, the Americans also saw an opportunity to avenge their defeat in Vietnam.
The Pakistanis were equally keen to prevent the Russians from strengthening their position in Afghanistan, particularly because of the theory, which was popular at the time, that Moscow wanted to reach the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Many in Islamabad believed that after consolidating themselves in Afghanistan, the Russians would make a move to take over Pakistani city of Karachi, the nearest seaport for the former soviet Central Asia. Pakistan also wanted to end Indian influence in Afghanistan because India had used its Afghan allies for stirring troubles in the Pakistani provinces of Northeast Frontier and Balichustan. The tribes living in these two regions have ethnic affinities with the Afghan tribes, and India and its Afghan allies were supporting secessionist movement in these two provinces.
What followed was a ten year long guerilla war. The United States gave billions of dollars, through a secret CIA operation, to revolutionary militia forces called the mujahideen (soldiers of God) . Thousands of people including more than 50,000 Russians were killed . With U.S. weapons and Pakistans support, the Afghan mujahideen forced the Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan in 1989. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union pulled out, different factions of the mujahideen entered into a civil war.
Afghanistan Civil War
The Afghan civil war was been one of the deadliest and most persistent conflicts of the second half of the twentieth century. Nearly 2 million Afghans have been killed and 600,000 to 2 million wounded . More then 6 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, producing the worlds largest single refugee population since 1981, while at least 2 million more Afghans were internally displaced . Thus, more than 50 percent of Afghanistans indigenous population (estimated at 15 to 17 million persona at the wars beginning now estimated to be as many as 22 million) became casualties killed, wounded or made homeless by the war .
In 1996 the Taliban emerged as the controlling force of the civil war. The result has been the ruin of the country and society and very nearly the destruction of the people and their culture. Also because of the civil war the education system and other modernizing sectors of Afghan society were completely disrupted.
Who Are TheTaliban?
The bulk of the Taliban forces came from the Baluchistan madresahs on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border. The Taliban is actually made up of young men and boys who were raised in refugee camps. They were recruited from the refugee camps into ultraconservative religious schools in Pakistan. Most of these students came from rural areas in Qandahar, Helmad, Zabul, Frah, and some from Nimroze and Gazni. Becoming refugees in Pakistan for long periods of time caused these students to be disconnected from their social, cultural, and economic bond with Afghanistan. These young Afghan refugees were easy targets for those who wanted to plant seeds of their political ideologies.
The primary support system of the Taliban came from Pakistan, they provided military aid and personnel, and Saudi Arabia provided the financial support. In addition, because Afghanistan is one of the worlds two largest producers of opium, became a large source of revenue for the Taliban. Finally, the biggest potential for financial support comes from the wealth of the petroleum industry.
The state formation by the Taliban movement was based on their interpretation of the Islamic principal of Khelafat. In accordance with the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahed, the leader of the movement, is amir-ul-mumanin (the leader of the believers), which makes him respectable among all Muslims in the world . In Afghanistan, the amir-ul-mumanin also is the khalifah, who rules the territory under his control in accordance with Islamic law, sharah. All Muslims and non-Muslims who live in such territory are obligated to obey the Khalifah. A khalifah is selected by a small council of leaders who have religious capacity and communal trust. According to the Taliban, establishing an Islamic state means enforcing the Shariah in the land of Afghanistan and bringing security and peace to the people.
Life Under the Taliban
Upon seizing control of Kabul (the capital of Afghanistan) in September 27, 1996, the Taliban has instituted a system of gender apartheid, which has placed women into a state of virtual house arrest. On September 30, 1996, Wakil Ahmed, Taliban spokesperson, stated to reporters in Kabul that woman should not report to work, they should stay home . In a similar line of order, another source for the Taliban stated: In the area under the Taliban government every kind of wickedness and immorality, cruelty, murder, robbery, songs and music, TV, VCR, satellite dish, immodesty be purdagi, traveling woman without a mehraum immediate blood related person shaving-of-or trimming the beard among male adult, pictures and photographs, interest, have all been totally banned.
To implement these decrees, the Taliban formed an organization called Amr-e-Bil Maropuf Wa Nashi Anil Munkar, the General Department for the Preservation of Virtue and Elimination of Vice. This organization had thousands of informers. The young member of this organization patrol the streets with long sticks, making sure that the people go to mosque at the time of daily prayers, woman are covered from head to toe with a garment (bughrah) and men have not shaved their beards.
The Taliban enforced numerous law decrees according to their interpretation of Shar ah . To make sure that these decrees were implemented in Afghanistan, the established religious police. The main objective of the religious police is to carry out what is decided in the court of law of the country and conduct punishment. In accordance with the Taliban, the Ameer-ul-muminneen is a political leader who has legitimate authority over the people living in a territory controlled by his followers . Obeying Ameee-ul-Mumineen is farth (gods demand and must be practiced), and it is based on the law of god. Because the principal root of obeying the Ameer-ul-mumineen is the law of god, anyone who refuses baiat (oath to obey), and opposes him, will be called a rebel according to shaiah. It would be a fardh to execute him.
Taliban Islamic Law
Under Taliban Islamic law, gambling, betting, pigeon flying, dog-racing, sodomy were strictly forbidden. Thieves were subjected to surgical amputation of their hands and arms and adultery was punished by stoning to death in the eyes of the public. During the Taliban rule men who were convicted of sodomy by Taliban Shari’a courts were placed next to standing walls by Taliban officials and then buried under the rubble as the walls were toppled upon them as form of punishment . Alleged murderers have been executed in public by the family members of the murdered persons. Convicted men have had their hands amputated on allegation of theft, and there have been cases of men and woman being flogged by Taliban officials because of allegations of adultery
Verdicts for these punishments have been passed by Taliban’s Shari’a courts which reportedly lacked the minimum requirements for a fair trial. Judges in these courts, many of whom were virtually untrained in law, reportedly base their judgements on a mixture of their personal understanding of Islamic law and the prevalent Pashtun code of honor. According to Amnesty International reports that such courts often decide a dozen different cases of alleged criminal activity a day, in sessions which may take only a few minutes. There were reportedly no provisions for defendants to be assisted by a legal counsel, the presumption of innocence was dispensed with and verdicts were final, with no mechanism for appropriate judicial appeal. Also it has been frequently reported that testimonies and statements of convicts accepting their sentences before they are carried out have been extracted under torture. Some convictions appear to have been based solely on the allegations of the complainants.
Taliban Public Executions
On 25 February 1998 a stone wall was felled on three men who were convicted, by the Taliban Shari’a court of sodomy with young boys . The stone wall was toppled on them using a battle tank before thousands of spectators at Kotal Morcha north of city of Kandahar. On 30 March 1998, hundreds of people watched an elderly Afghan using a dagger killing an alleged murderer at the southwestern town of Spinboldak close to the Pakistan border . Mahmood, the alleged murderer, was reportedly arrested about a year ago accused of murdering a young man named Jalil. He was sentenced to death by a Taliban Shari’a court and the order for the execution of the sentence was given by the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. According to reports in the Pakistani newspapers, a Taliban official asked if Jalil’s father was willing to forgive Mahmood. When he refused, the Taliban official gave him a large knife and the man slit Mahmood’s throat amid chants of religious slogans. Some spectators were reported to have fallen unconscious after seeing the event.
Taliban Public Amputations
On 27 February, three Afghan doctors from the Ministry of Public Health surgically removed the right hands of two men, Hamidullah from Paktiya province and Habibullah from Kapisa province in front of an estimated 20,000 spectators at the Kabul Sports Stadium . The men were alleged to have stolen goods worth 19 million Afghanis ($500) from a Kabul shop. A Taliban official said they had confessed their offence without any pressure but as in previous cases, this claim has not been confirmed by independent sources. The doctors who had reportedly covered their faces, carried out the amputation after the prisoners were given an anaesthetic, became unconscious and lay on the ground. They cut off the two men’s right hands from the wrist with a sharp lance. According to a Reuter report, a Taliban fighter carried one amputated hand around and said: “Anyone committing theft or adultery will face such punishment. Look at this, it is the hand of one of the thieves.”
On 27 February 1998, a woman was given 100 lashes for alleged adultery at the Kabul Sports Stadium in front of some 30,000 spectators . According to Reuters news agency, a Taliban speaker read out the verdict of a Shari’a court, saying that Sohaila, a single woman from Kabul, had confessed to adultery and would be flogged at the stadium.
Afghan Woman inder Taliban
In 1996 when the Taliban militia took control of most of Afghanistan, women were forced to beg on the streets to simply feed their children because only a tiny percentage of women were allowed to work. Also, girls were banned from attending school after the age of eight and women could not leave their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative. If and when a woman did leave, she must be covered from head to toe with only a small opening to see and breathe through. Medical access is extremely limited because male doctors could not treat women and there are very few female physicians in Afghanistan. Finally, the Taliban required women to paint their window opaque so that the women inside cannot be seen from the street. There were many severe and even deadly consequences for disobeying the Taliban law. Women and girls in Afghanistan were threatened with violence in every aspect of their lives, both in public and private, in the community and the family. Violence against women in the family including physical abuse and underage marriage is widely reported. Forced and underage marriage also occurred when women and girls were given in marriage as a means of dispute resolution by informal justice mechanisms. Rape of women and girls by armed groups continues to occur. The prevalence of violence against women and girls constitutes a grave threat to their right to physical and mental integrity. According to Amnesty International’s research there was a threat to the right to life of women and girls from violence in the family; women and girls have been killed and driven to suicide while the state has failed to take action. Significant numbers of underage marriages, incidents of physical abuse in the family and other forms of violence were reported to Amnesty International. The vast majority had not been reported to the criminal justice system, and almost none had been subject to investigation or prosecution. Women were largely unsupported when suffering violence, and had very few means to leave violent situations.
Islam and Woman
The Taliban claim to follow a pure, fundamental Islamic ideology, except the oppression they place upon women has no foundation in Islam. Within Islam, women can earn, control and spend their own money; they can also participate in public life. Both the Organizations of the Islamic Conference and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have refused to recognize the Taliban as an official government in Afghanistan. Prior to the Taliban seizing control, women led very different lives. Many were educated and employed, 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women as were 50% of the students. 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of civilian government workers and 40% of doctors were all women .
Through western eyes could there be a more blatant oppression of woman then the chadri (erroneously called a burqa) — a veil that conceals the even the eyes of its victims. The situation of woman under the Taliban in Afghanistan was perhaps worse than anyplace in the Middle East (though Saudi Arabia and Yemen are close). However, exaggeration of the Talibans misdeeds and cruelty allowed them to dismiss all western complaints as based on propaganda. Physicians for Human Rights, who published a harsh report, after they discovered that the Taliban applied their edicts unevenly, and the situation differed drastically from one locale to another. Interestingly, they found that 90 percent of the woman in area of Afghanistan not controlled by the Taliban wore the chadari anyway, and 80 percent of all surveyed Afghan women did not regard the Taliban dress code as an imposition .
Downfall of Taliban
On September 11, 2001 four planes in the United States were hijacked by Islamic terrorists including some who were trained in Afghanistan Taliban controlled territory. Two of the planes crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New
York, one into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and one crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside. At least 3,000 people are killed. These terrorist attacks have led to major decisions by the United States to conduct operations against terrorists wherever they may reside. Osama bin Laden, the apparent mastermind behind the September 11th incidents. The United States Military and the Afghan northern front from led a coalition of nations to over throw the Taliban. Today the Taliban is no longer in power in Afghanistan.
The Taliban rule marked the darkest period of Afghan history. Today, optimism has come back to the Afghanistan people, despite suffering two decades of civil war and languishing under the Taliban regime since September 1996. The Taliban zealots clearly had a distorted image of static Islam of which they forced their obsolete beliefs of living on the Afghan people. As a result of the September 11, 2001 horrible terrorist attack against the United States, the entire global community which was led by the U.S., returned to Afghanistans rescue and deposed the Taliban. The cruel, inhuman and degrading Taliban punishments which violated international norms of humanitarian law have come to an end. The free world must realize that humanity cannot afford the blunder of leaving a country such as Afghanistan untouched to be ruled by fanatical rulers. It is the collective responsibility of the global community to learn from this tragedy and never let if happen again.
A Bumper Crop. The Economist, October 12,2002
Afghanistan Relives Its Past.Japan Times, July 16,2002
Afghanistan Flagrant Abuse Of The Right To Life And Dignity, in Amnesty International Online
Library,01 April 1998;available from http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA110031998?open&of=ENG-AFG; accessed 08 February 10, 2004.
A Job Half Done In Afghanistan.The New York Times, May 15,2003,
Baldauf, Scott. and Tohid, Owais.Taliban Appears to be regrouped and well
funded. Christian Science Monitor, May 8,2003,
Baldauf, Scott. and Tohid, Owais. Where taliban go to find warm beds and
results. Christian Science Monitor, December 11,2003,
Black, Andrew.Talibans Rise Was Fueled By International Community.The
Press Association Limited, September 30, 2003
Goodson, P. Larry. Afghanistans endless war.United States of
America:Univeristy of Washington Press, 2001.
Hilton, Elizabeth.Just Poppycock.The Guardian, December 11, 2003
How The Taliban Erased History; One Year After Taliban Forces Savaged Afghanistans Two Celebrated Buddahs, The Story Of Their Destruction Has Emerged. Washington Post.March 16,2002
Kramer, Martin.The Camera and The Burqa.Middle East Quarterly, March 1,2002
Nojumi, Neamatollah.The rise of the taliban in afghanistan.New York,NY:Palgrave, 2002.
Taliban Comeback in Afghanistan. Mideast Mirror October 10, 2003
Tompkins,Richard. Analysis:Afghanistan 2 years later. United Press International, September 14, 2003,p8