Afghanistan: Who Are The Taliban And What Do They Want For The Country?

Following the withdrawal of US forces, the Islamist group has surged all through the country with military outposts, major cities and towns falling under its control.

The Islamist group have seized control of Afghanistan’s capital and claimed they will respect women’s rights.

According to the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, the group is committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia and referred the country as the ‘Islamic Emirate.’ He also stated that thousand of schools will continue to operate and affirmed women will have the right to work and be educated up to university level.

Who are the Taliban?

Formed in 1994, the Taliban were made up of former Afghan resistance fighters, known collectively as mujahedeen, who fought the invading Soviet forces in the 1980s.

After the Taliban gained control of much of the country in 1996 and imposed its own strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law. Women had to wear head-to-toe coverings, weren’t allowed to study or work and were forbidden from traveling alone. TV, music and non-Islamic holidays were also banned.

But after sheltering Osama bin Laden and key al Qaeda figures in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Taliban would fall after a US-led military coalition launched an offensive on 7 October 2001.

Since they were ousted from power, the Taliban have been waging an insurgency against the allied forces and the US-based Afghan government.

The Taliban are led by Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a senior religious cleric from the Taliban’s founding generation and was named as the Taliban’s leader in 2016 after the group’s previous leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan.

Another key player in the Islamic group is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban co-founder, who was released in 2013 after being captured in 2010 in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Baradar heads the group’s political committee, and recently met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

What do the Taliban want?

The fundamentalist group wishes to restore Sharia to Afghanistan and those unable to leave the country will have to adapt to a way of life they have not seen in two decades.

During their last rule between 1996 and 2001, women could not work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their face and accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes. Also, music, TV and cinema were banned.

However, the group has claimed to be committed to the peace process, an inclusive government, and willing to maintain some rights for women.

According to the spokesperson, women would still be allowed to continue their education from primary to higher education and diplomats, journalists and non-profits could continue operating in the country.

“That is our commitment, to provide a secure environment and they can carry out their activities for the people of Afghanistan,” he said.

But earlier this month, fighters from the group walked into the offices of a bank in Kandahar and ordered nine women working there to leave.

The gunmen escorted them to their homes and told them not to return to their jobs. Instead, they explained that male relatives could take their place, according to three of the women involved and the bank’s manager.

The incident is an early sign that some of the rights won by Afghan women over the 20 years could be reversed.

Amin Saikal, the author of “Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival,” said the Taliban did not want Afghanistan to become a pariah state, and wanted to continue receiving international aid. But, Saikal said: “As far as their ideological commitment is concerned, they have not really changed.”

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