The Taliban first came to prominence in the autumn of 1994. Their leader was a village clergyman, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who lost his right eye fighting the occupying forces of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Their target was the feuding warlords known as the mujahideen who had forced Soviet troops out of the country. The Taliban promised to restore peace and security and enforce Sharia (Islamic law), once in power. Their early popularity was largely due to their success in stamping out corruption, curbing lawlessness and making the roads and the areas under their control safe for commerce to flourish. By 1998, they were in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan.
The Taliban were overwhelmingly Pashtun, the ethnic group that forms the majority of Afghanistan's diverse population and also inhabits the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan in neighbouring Pakistan. Even now, the resurgent Taliban draw considerable sympathy from fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan. Some of their fugitive leaders are able to find refuge across the long and porous border in NWFP, Balochistan and the semi-autonomous tribal areas.
Once in power, the Taliban set up an authoritarian administration and their policies, particularly on human and women's rights, brought them into conflict with the international community. Only three countries recognised the Taliban regime. But what was to bring much greater conflict was the Taliban's role as host to Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement. The August 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left more than 225 people dead prompted Washington to demand the expulsion of Bin Laden, whom the US held responsible for those bombings and other attacks. When the Taliban refused to do so, then-US President Bill Clinton ordered a missile attack on a Bin Laden camp in southern Afghanistan. As further punishment, the US persuaded the UN Security Council in 1999 to impose sanctions on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Following the attacks on the US of 11 September 2001 the US reiterated its demand that the Taliban hand over Bin Laden to face trial for his role in the attacks on US soil. But again refused to expel him. On 7 October 2001, a US-led coalition intervened militarily in Afghanistan and by the first week of December the Taliban regime had collapsed. Mullah Omar and most of the other senior Taliban leaders, along with Bin Laden and some of his senior al-Qaeda associates, survived the American onslaught. Mullah Omar and most of his comrades have evaded capture despite one of the largest manhunts in the world. On 1 May 2011, President Obama announced
bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan in a firefight with US forces.
Recent years have seen the re-emergence of the Taliban as a fighting force in Afghanistan and a major threat to its government. Since losing power in 2001, the Taliban have been launching guerrilla operations against the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and US-led forces, killing large numbers of soldiers and civilians. Most of the violence has been in the south and east of Afghanistan, but the Taliban, supported by al-Qaeda, has mounted attacks in other provinces across the country. Although the group has suffered high casualties as a result of concerted offensives by foreign and Afghan troops, the attacks it has carried out have increased markedly in number and become ever more deadly.
The violence is one of the main reasons why the central government still exerts little control beyond Kabul and certain provinces. There are also major problems in trying to crack down on the group's activities in the lawless tribal area on Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. In December 2008, it was claimed that the Taliban had a permanent presence in nearly three-quarters of Afghanistan.
Early in January 2010, Taliban commanders held secret talks in Dubai with the United Nations to discuss peace terms. On 28 January 2010, more than 70 countries and organizations met at a major conference in London and Afghan President Hamid Karzai stated he intended to reach out to the top echelons of the Taliban with a Peace Initiative. The Taliban, however, declined to take part in the March 2010 preliminary Kabul peace talks. National peace talks were held in June 2010 at Jirga, where a set of goals designed to forge sustainable peace were adopted. President Karzai later announced the first step in achieving the aims of the summit: the creation of a commission to review the cases of all suspected Taliban militants held in custody, with those held without sufficient evidence to be immediately released. Another international conference was held in Kabul on 20 July 2010, where the international community again expressed its commitment to what has come to be referred to as the "Kabul process" (the transition to full Afghan leadership and responsibility).
In January 2012, the Taliban announced they would open a political office in Qatar for the purpose of negotiations "with the international community" in what was seen as a potentially significant move towards peace.
See also: "“Just Don't Call It a Militia” Impunity, Militias, and the “Afghan Local Police”", Human Rights Watch, 12 September 2011
A former anti-Soviet group in the 1980s and led by one of the most prominent families in Aghanistan's Khost, the Haqqani network commands fewer fighters than the Taliban, who they are allied with, but has been described by US military leaders as "the most resilient enemy network out there". The network operates along the border with Pakistan, where the escalating campaign against them, including drone attacks, has reached. A series of "exploratory" talks had taken place between the Haqqani and the US administration prior to the most recent attacks.
On 16 April 2012, the Haqqani launched a series of coordinated attacks on Kabul, which President Karzai described as an "intelligence failure for us, and especially NATO", and which showcased the group's evolution into a fierce militant force.
See also: Jeffrey A. Dressler, "The Haqqani Network: From Pakistan to Afghanistan", Institute for the Study of War, October 2010 (see pdf below)
Many foreign private military companies – the exact number is not known – are operating in Afghanistan.
In August 2010, President Karzai announced that private security firms, accused of operating with impunity in the country, must quit, but later watered down his decree.endorsement of tribal elders and community leaders to negotiate a 10-year strategic partnership with the US.
Last updated: 17 April 2012