During their five-year reign, which ended in 2001, they exiled women to their houses, outlawed music and most sports, and imposed harsh punishments on offenders. Adulterers were publicly stoned, and thieves had their hands severed. Criminals were hanged in full view of the public.
Anything that did not conform to their strict interpretation of Sharia was a target. They demolished the centuries-old Buddhas of Bamiyan because they considered human-figure art as an affront to God.
The Taliban originated from a rural, very conservative background, where religious purity and pious cultural traditions trumped all the modern world had to offer: education, technology, speech, and even the concept of choice.
They believe their prosperity was predestined by God. According to Anas Haqqani, a member of Afghanistan’s most influential family, the Taliban “triumphed over 52 [countries] It is not owing to a worldly strategy; rather, it is due to the blessing of faith.”
As a result, governing the country would have only one source of inspiration. Anas’ uncle, Khalil Haqqani, a minister in the interim administration, addressed a tribal conference in Kabul: “The goal was to establish a clean Islamic government in Afghanistan, one based on justice and governed by divine principles. It will be based on a single book, the one written by God and his prophet. The holy Quran is that book.”
The Taliban also regard themselves as the forerunners of a national movement in which Afghans rebelled against an alien culture imposed by invaders. According to Anas Haqqani, the West “must not try to impose its culture and thoughts/beliefs on Afghans.” A sobering message for the many Afghans who have respected their liberties over the last two decades.
The Taliban actually believe they have defeated America, which is hugely empowering for their worldview. Haqqani compared the Taliban to George Washington, saying CNN that he had “liberated [his] motherland; conquered the British; and earned freedom from them.” Our seniors are heroes for their country here.
Claiming popular ancestors
The Taliban’s spokesman claimed on August 15 as the organisation stormed into Kabul that they might have startled the rest of the world, but not themselves, “since we have roots among the people.”
This is true in their southern heartlands and among small farmers. Less so in the cities, particularly Kabul. Despite the corruption and nepotism of US-backed regimes in Afghanistan, Afghans’ health, income, and education have improved by practically every indicator in the 20 years since the Taliban took power. A thriving independent media communicated a diverse variety of viewpoints, and private universities thrived. A generation of Afghans experienced freedom.
And there was a huge show of talking to former President Hamid Karzai and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in the days after they deposed the previous government. In Kabul, tribal gatherings took place.
The reality has been rather different. The talks with Karzai and Abdullah fell down. Veteran hardliners staffed the caretaker government. There were no women in government or public office; the Ministry for Women was renamed the Ministry for the Protection of Virtue.
Protests were immediately crushed – and made illegal unless approved by the Ministry of Interior. Afghan sportswomen flocked to the exits by the dozens.
In response to the insecurity they had created, the Taliban provided the promise of protection. Their most recent release is titled “Security and Stability Prevail Across Afghanistan.”