In 2001, the Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan. However, the US-led forces took back control of the country after a swift offensive.
Kabul was the capital of the offensive that started months ago and accelerated as the Islamists took control of territory.
In 2018, the group began direct negotiations with the US. In February 2020, the two sides reached a peace agreement that required the US to withdraw and the Taliban to prevent attacks on US forces. Other promises included not allowing al Qaeda or other militants in areas it controlled, and pursuing national peace negotiations.
The Taliban continued to attack Afghan civilians and security forces in the years that followed. They also advanced rapidly throughout the country.
Rise to Power
In Pashto, the Taliban (or “students”) was an entity that emerged in the 1990s after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The majority Pashtun movement was believed to have emerged in religious seminaries, which were largely funded by Saudi Arabian money and preached a hardline Sunni Islam.
Taliban made a promise in Pashtun regions straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan to restore security and peace, and to enforce Sharia (Islamic law) once they were in power.
The Taliban quickly expanded their reach from south-western Afghanistan. They seized the bordering Iran province of Herat in September 1995. One year later, they seized Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. This was a victory over President Burhanuddin Rasbani, one of the founder fathers of the Afghan mujahideen who resisted Soviet occupation. In 1998, almost 90% of Afghanistan was under Taliban control.
Afghans, tired of the excesses of the mujahideen and infighting that followed the Soviets’ departure, welcomed the Taliban when they arrived on the scene. Their success in eradicating corruption and curbing lawlessness, and creating safe roads for commerce was what made them popular.
The Taliban supported or introduced punishments that were consistent with Sharia law. These included public executions for convicted murderers and other adulterers as well as amputations for theft-related convictions. Women were required to wear the full-covering burka while men had to grow beards.
The Taliban also prohibited television, music, and cinema and discouraged girls over 10 from going to school. They were also accused of a variety of cultural and human rights violations. One notorious example was in 2001, when the Taliban went ahead with the destruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan, despite international outrage.
Although Pakistan has denied being the architect of the Taliban enterprise many times, there is no doubt that many Afghans who joined the movement initially were educated at madrassas (religious schools in Pakistan)
Along with Saudi Arabia (UAE) and Pakistan, Pakistan was one of three countries that recognized the Taliban while they were in power in Afghanistan. It was also the country that severed diplomatic ties with the Taliban.
The Taliban threatened to destabilise Pakistan in areas they controlled in the northwest at one time. One of the most high-profile and internationally condemned of all Pakistani Taliban attacks took place in October 2012, when schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot on her way home in the town of Mingora.
A major military offensive two years later following the Peshawar school massacre greatly reduced the group’s influence in Pakistan though. In 2013, at least three of the key figures in the Pakistani Taliban were killed by US drone strikes, including their leader Hakimullah Mahsud.
In the aftermath of the New York 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Taliban in Afghanistan attracted the attention of the entire world. They were accused of being a refuge for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda group.
A US-led military coalition attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. The Taliban regime collapsed within the first week of December. The Taliban’s former leader, Mullah Mohammad Obmar, and other top figures, including Bin Laden managed to escape capture, despite one the most extensive manhunts anywhere in the world.
According to reports, many senior Taliban leaders sought refuge in Quetta, Pakistan. From there they reportedly guided the Taliban. Islamabad denied the existence of the so-called “Quetta Shura”.
Despite increasing numbers of foreign troops, the Taliban slowly regained their power in Afghanistan and expanded it. This made large areas of Afghanistan insecure and violence returned to levels not seen in Afghanistan since 2001.
When the Taliban announced plans for a Qatar office, 2013 raised hopes of a negotiated cease-fire. However, mistrust on both sides continued to be high and violence continued.
The Taliban confessed in August 2015 that they had concealed Mullah Omar’s death, reportedly due to health problems at a Pakistani hospital. This was allegedly for over two years. Following weeks of infighting, the Taliban claimed they had rallied around Mullah Mansour who had been Mullah Omar’s deputy.
Around the same time, Taliban also seized control over a provincial capital, their first since 2001’s defeat. They took control of Kunduz, a strategically important city.
Mullah Mansour, who was killed in a drone strike by the US in May 2016, was replaced by Mawlawi Hibatullah Ashundzada. He remains in charge of the group.
In the year following the US-Taliban peace deal of February 2020 – which was the culmination of a long spell of direct talks – the Taliban appeared to shift their tactics from complex attacks in cities and on military outposts to a wave of targeted assassinations that terrorised Afghan civilians.
Journalists, judges, peace activists, women at the top of power, were all targets that suggested that the Taliban hadn’t changed their extremist ideology but only their strategy.
In April 2021, Joe Biden, the US president, declared that all American forces would be leaving Afghanistan by September 21st, despite grave concerns from Afghan officials about the government’s vulnerability towards the Taliban, two decades after the fall of the World Trade Center.Media captionHibatullah Akhiundzada, a religious scholar, is the former head of the Taliban courts.
After two decades of war and defeating a superpower, they took control of vast areas of territory before overthrowing a Kabul government after a withdrawal of a foreign power.
They made it across Afghanistan in 10 days and took their first provincial capital, Kabul, on 6 August. They were at Kabul’s gates by 15 August.
They accelerated at lightning speed, causing thousands to flee their homes. Many arrived in Kabul, while others headed for neighboring countries.
The Taliban’s victory marks the end of almost 20 years of US-led coalition presence in Afghanistan.