Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Taliban by Abdul Salam Zaeff

There is a common misconception that "the Taliban" only came into being in 1994. In fact, the word Taliban is the plural form of Talib, meaning 'student'. As such, as long as there have been madrassas, there have been religious students or Taliban. The Taliban mostly eschewed politics, but beginning in the late 70s the government of Afghanistan tried to draw them in by pressuring them to be involved in land reform, or by threatening them in other ways.

As an ideology, Communism never had broad popular appeal. This was especially true in southern Afghanistan where, once the government implemented substantive land and social reforms that infringed on local marriage customs, land ownership and education, active resistance began on a small scale in 1979. The people were even more concerned with the government's suppression of local figures of authority. The Khans, Maliks, Sayyeds and Mullahs all started to disappear; in many cases imprisoned and executed. The murder of a teacher in a small village provoked demonstrations which were cruelly repressed by government forces in the area. Soon small resistance bases were established and massive numbers of Afghans were fleeing to Pakistan, among them myself and many members of my extended family.

At the time, the Taliban groups were somewhat set apart from the other mujahedeen, because they followed certain rules and habits which the other fighters considered too strenuous, or ascetic. Fighting alongside the Taliban in the jihad against the Communists and their Soviet supporters meant more than just being a mujahed. The Taliban followed a strict routine in which everyone who fought alongside us had to participate, without exception. We woke before sunrise to perform the morning prayer in the mosque. Afterward we would sit together and recite Surat Yasin Sharif* every morning in case we were martyred that day. Some would leave for the front, others would tend to prisoners, the wounded or spend some time studying. Apart from dire emergencies, during operations or enemy assaults, our mujahedeen were engaged in study. Senior Taliban members would teach the younger seekers, and the senior Mawlawi (clergy) would instruct older Taliban members. In this way, a common and illiterate mujahed could become a Talib within two or three years. I carried out both duties on the front; I would learn from my instructor and I would teach others the basics of reading and writing.

We all studied, and so I was able to continue my religious education. People who didn't want to study went to fight under other commanders. Not all fronts worked in this manner, but we were Taliban and this was our way. We wanted to stay clean, to avoid sinning, and to regulate our behavior.

The Taliban constituted the only legitimate authority on the shari'a in the greater Kandahar area and were best known for the formal justice system and and mediation services that provided to all the groups in southern Afghanistan.. These courts would adjudicate on issues small and large, from petty theft to murder and represented the apex of religious scholars' influence in the region prior to the later best- known Taliban movement which rose up after the withdrawal of the Soviets, the subsequent collapse of the central government and the anarchic period of gang warfare, mass theft, corruption and rape that followed.

The exact numbers and strengths of various factions and jihadi fronts during the war against the communists are still vigorously debated to this day but everyone still alive and with an opinion agrees that the Taliban played a significant role in the greater Kandahar area. Mujahedeen groups there worked in a much more co-operative manner than others elsewhere in the country. Everyone also agrees to the ferocity of the war in southern Afghanistan at that time. The human, social and agricultural costs of the conflict were massive. By 1987 even the City of Kandahar itself was one big ruin and the Soviets had been forced to withdraw their troops from the country.

By 1992 the Afghan government also started to lose its grip on the country and plans were laid to hand over Kandahar to the mujahedeen parties. The forces of the Taliban, however, were excluded from these deals and the other commanders rushed in to grab whatever they fancied. From this point on no rules obtained. Anything was possible, from robbery, murder to rape. Workshops, mills, factories and industrial-commercial assets of every variety were seized and sold off. Soon the first clashes between various topakiyaan (gunman) factions took place; no more law, no more order. By April 1993 these clashes were indiscriminately killing scores of civilians.

During this period I and many of the Taliban commanders had returned to our homes and banded together to study and teach in the districts outside Kandahar. It soon became evident that we would have to do more than that to secure Peace and the Rule of Law. Thus, the second phase of our jihad began, under the elected command of Mullah Omar.

Verily We shall give life
To the dead, and We record
That which they send before
And that which they leave
Behind, and of all things
Have We taken account
In a clear Book
(of evidence).

1 comment:

  1. My Life With The Taliban by Abdul Salam Zaeff, edited by Alex Strick Linschoten and Felix Kuehn; Columbia University Press, 2010