Academic journal article Harvard International Review

Harsh Rule: Recognizing the Taliban

Academic journal article Harvard International Review

Harsh Rule: Recognizing the Taliban

Article excerpt

While most nations have refused to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, for all practical purposes, the Taliban rule the country.

As of late January 1999, the Taliban regime controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan, and faced only minimal opposition by a small resistance faction in the northern tip of Afghanistan. Currently, only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Taliban, and have representatives in the Afghan capital of Kabul. The way the Taliban rose to power, the group's fundamental ideology, and its recent conduct all help explain the world community's negative reception of this group.

The Taliban are a fairly recent phenomenon in Afghan history, having arisen in the turmoil following the end of Soviet-Afghan hostilities in 1989. Although the majority of its members are Pashtun, the largest of the several ethnic groups that comprise modern Afghanistan, a common ethnicity is not what spurred the movement and its brand of Islamic extremism.

The Taliban movement had its roots in the Sunni Muslim religious schools of Pakistan, where many Afghans studied during Soviet occupation, and in Kandahar, Afghanistan, an historic center of Islamic thought and study. Indeed, the word Taliban comes from the Arabic word for students. Initially small and composed mainly of students and academics, the Taliban movement grew quickly because of its promise to bring order and peace to a country ravaged by civil war after the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet forces. Pakistan, which like the Taliban is predominantly Sunni Muslim, was the first state to support the group, as it believed that the movement would bring security and stability to its northern border. Saudi Arabia, also a Sunni-majority country, shared Pakistan's view and soon began to aid the Taliban.

By early 1995, the Taliban had emerged as a significant military and political force from their home base in Kandahar. Within a six-month period, it had taken over 12 of Afghanistan's 31 provinces, controlling a third of the country. From this power base, the Taliban secured control of Kabul on September 27, 1996, and by the end of that year had eliminated all significant opposition.

The Taliban's ideological basis for government is based on a strict and harsh interpretation of the Koran. It differs greatly from all mainstream Muslim regimes, and can only be compared to the Iranian government of the late Ayatollah Khomeni. The Taliban instituted a Hammurabian penal code with modern-day enforcement methods.

For instance, a person found resisting the government can face public hanging from a slow-rising crane. Murderers are executed as well, but in this case a family member of the victim, armed with an AK-47, generally acts as the executioner. Theft is reprimanded by amputation of the hands or arms. This harsh penal code, however, has failed to apply to Taliban soldiers who have looted, stolen, and coerced men and boys into military service. …

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