Who Are the Taliban?

Photo Courtesy: KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban is an ultra-conservative religious and political militant organization that attempts to enforce Sharia law and Islamic government throughout the Middle East and in other lands. The group is known to excommunicate or kill those who do not follow their radical interpretation of Islamic beliefs.

The Taliban’s origins are closely linked to the Cold War; in the late-1980s, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Afghan Mujahideen (various groups of rebels and guerrilla fighters) battled the Soviets for many years – eventually turning the tide of war with money and weapons offered by the U.S. These same resources emboldened the founders of the Taliban to seize control of Afghanistan in the 1990s.  In 1996, the Taliban occupied the city of Kandahar, hanged Communist President Najibullah Ahmadzai, and declared that Afghanistan was an Islamic emirate.

America would later engage the Taliban in a full-scale war in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

What Do the Taliban believe?

The Taliban is a religious dictatorship. Those under Taliban rule are not free to practice their own religion, nor can they criticize the regime’s governing policies. The Taliban applies a severe interpretation of Islam and the Qu’ran; the group believes that Islamic law must be strictly followed.

The group’s ideological foundation revolves around the strict interpretation and enforcement of Sharia Law, which does not honor politics or political parties. The Taliban believes that the world is divided into infidels and believers or followers of the Islamic faith. They use this ideology and their radical religious interpretations to justify their attacks and suicide bombings. They believe that such attacks are part of their jihad, or holy war, and a fundamental component of their beliefs.

The Taliban supports and implements severe Islamic punishments, including public executions of convicted adulterers and murders and amputations of those convicted of theft. Under Taliban rule, men are required to grow beards, and women are forced to wear burkas to refrain from showing any skin. Television, cinema, and music were strictly banned by the Taliban when they were in power in the 1990s. 

What Is the Taliban’s Recent Activity?

In August 2021, the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan after the United States and the United Kingdom withdrew their military forces. Ashraf Ghani, the former president of Afghanistan, was forced to flee the country as Taliban fighters launched successive assaults on such as Kabul and Kandahar. The Afghan army also lies in shambles, with some Afghani soldiers fleeing the country by stowing aboard an American supply aircraft. The Taliban have pledged to respect women’s rights, but have also executed a woman for not wearing a burka that very day. Haibatullah Akhundzada is the current leader of the Taliban and the third Supreme Commander of the organization.