The Taliban

‘Taliban’ is Pashto for ‘student’. According to the Taliban themselves, the movement emerged when Mullah Omar gathered a group of religious students around him during the Afghan civil war in the beginning of the 1990s, in order to free the war weary population from corrupt war lords.

What is certain is that the Taliban was from the beginning a both political and military organisation and that it first emerged in Afghanistan in 1994. Aided by massive support from sympathisers in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Mullah Omar and his troops managed to take control of the entire Afghan territory within the next two years – and hold on to it until 2001 (read more here).

The ideology and politics of the Taliban are based on an extremist reading of the Sharia, Islamic law, in combination with the traditional customs of the Pashtun tribe from which the Taliban springs. The Taliban attitude towards women is, for instance, closely related to tribal tradition (read more here).

To understand what this has meant in practice, one can look at the laws and decrees to the right, which were among those published by the Taliban’s notorious ‘Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ after the takeover in 1996.

The end of ostracism?

After the international intervention in 2001 ousted the Taliban from power, it continued as an insurgency movement which has remained powerful in particularly the southern and eastern provinces.

This continued leverage has meant that both the Afghan government and its international supporters (such as Denmark) have been forced to reconsider their dream of an Afghan future in which the Taliban is completely absent and have instead begun negotiating with the insurgents.

A 2013 opinion poll seems to suggest that most Afghans agree with this strategy: 63 percent declare that they have no sympathy whatsoever with militant rebels such as the Taliban – but the same amount of people believe that governmental moves to negotiate with those groups may help improving the stability of the country. Hence, it is likely that the Taliban will also in future play a role in the development of Afghanistan.

Idols KABUL, DECEMBER 1996: "To prevent idolatry. In vehicles, shops, hotels, rooms and any other places, pictures and portraits should be abolished"
With reference to the Islamic prohibition against portraying living beings, the Taliban has destroyed major national treasures from pre-Islamic Afghanistan.
The most famous and controversial example is from 2001, when the movement blew up two Buddha statues in central Afghanistan. The statues were more than 1500 years old and 38 and 53 metres tall respectively; they were the largest Buddha representations in the world.

Foto: Tahir Bakhtiary
Women KABUL, NOVEMBER 1996: "Women, you should not step outside your residence ... In case women are required to go outside the residence for the purposes of education, social needs or social services they should cover themselves in accordance with Islamic Sharia regulation"
The Taliban policy on women was, essentially, to keep them away from the public space.

Innumerable decrees from the Taliban era specify how, for instance, women cannot to go the tailor's to have their measurements taken, cannot use public transport on their own and cannot go to the river to wash their clothes. Nor could they work outside of the house, unless they worked in the hospital.

The many prohibitions meant that women almost lived in a kind of house arrest – they had no way of maintaining themselves and their families and their social lives were extremely limited. That made everyday life near impossible, especially for the well-educated and Westernised women and the many war widows and single mothers.

Photo: Jens Kjær Jensen
Narcotics KABUL, DECEMBER 1996: "To eradicate the use of narcotics. The shop should be locked and the owner and user should be imprisoned and punished"
Among the positive developments in Afghanistan under the Taliban was a drastic decrease in the production and use of opium and heroin, as the regime was dedicated to eradicating those 'un-Islamic' drugs.
However, both production and use have sky-rocketed again since 2001 and the Taliban has been a contributing factor, as they now use the drugs trade to finance their armed insurgency.

Photo: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein
Games KABUL, DECEMBER 1996: "To prevent keeping pigeons and playing with birds ... To prevent kite-flying ... To prevent gambling ..."
Between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban banned most forms of games and competitions, considered un-Islamic activities.

A range of pastimes, especially popular with men and boys, were affected – keeping birds, cock fights, kite flying, chess and card games.

However, in the countryside most of those activities continued largely unperturbed by the decrees.

Photo: Tahir Bakhtiary
Music KABUL, DECEMBER 1996: "To prevent music. In shops, hotels, vehicles and rickshaws cassettes and music are prohibited ... To prevent music and dances in wedding parties"
”Lack of music is slowly turning the Afghan people into a dead nation, their weddings and funerals are performed in the same manner”.

Those were the words of Afghan representative Naim Majrouh during a conference on music and censorship at the Danish Institute for Human Rights back in 1998.

Music holds a special place in the hearts of the Afghan people, and it is for instance custom to sing at weddings and childbirth ceremonies.

Thus, the Taliban restrictions on music were a heavy blow – but not heavy enough to kill the love of music in the country. When the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, the Afghan people celebrated by filling the air with the sound of the radios and tape recorders that they had been hiding for years.

Photo: Jens Kjær Jensen