I never planned to write this piece and I actually find it quite surprising that I’ve reached this point and that I feel I can actually say this; it is possible to see the Taliban as human beings. Let me say what I’ve said before. I’ll never ever ever condone violence whether its committed by America, the UK, the Taliban, ISIS, your brother, your sister or you. It’s not ok. But it is ok to understand the reasoning behind it and understand how and why someone has been driven to do such awful things. And with the Taliban, it’s clicked. I completely get it.
Afghanistan has been constantly screwed. It’s been the epicentre of conflict for as long as I can remember and probably for as long as my parents can remember too. The Soviets screwed it, they screwed it then NATO-led forces screwed it. Now, it’s just a screwed up mess. Ok that sounds harsh. But its also very true. Afghanistan is the most bizarre yet fascinating example of why extremist groups exist. Its quite simple actually; there is no better option and, without it, the country falls apart and everyone bribes, tricks or kills each other. Law and order doesn’t really exist and it’s basically a free for all for the important and rich who all seem to hate each other or at least hate someone important in some way or another enough to want to steal everything they have or kill them. It’s quite literally a place where you have to take things into your own hands.
Roll it back to 1989. The Soviets failed to take control of Afghanistan – bye bye off they go. They leave the Mujahideen with no mutual enemy (bit like at the end of the WWII when the Soviets no longer had a mutual enemy with the West). So naturally, what happens? They start fighting each other. Afghanistan is a deeply religious country and even deeper tribal country. The largest tribe is Afghanistan is the Pashtuns at about 30-40% (depending on the year you look) of the population. Other majority tribes include the Tajiks, who make up the second majority as well as the Hazara, Uzbek, Aiman, Turkmen and Balcoh tribes. And surprise, surprise, some of them don’t get on. So, after the Soviets left, chaos sort of reigned. The Hazaras went on a sort of killing rampage and killed a lot of Pashtuns and so the Pashtuns sort of took things into their own hands and formed the Taliban. The Taliban – translating as ‘the students’ – decided it was time for some good old Sharia, Islamic (Sunni) rule.
The Hazaras have always been considered outsiders in Afghanistan – it is said that they are descendant of the Mongol invaders from the 13th Century and, it also doesn’t help that they’re Shia. They had long suffered at the hands of Pashtuns and other tribes in Afghanistan. In recent years, they have been considered a ‘puppet’ of Iran. So, this also helped when the Taliban needed some funding – cue Saudi Arabia, staunch Shia haters.
So, the Taliban. They were fed up with random murders, random conflict, lawlessness, corruption and invaders, and so took things into their own hands, fighting their way across the country, introducing Sharia law as they went. Many individuals across Afghanistan were fed up and so joined this new movement, introducing regime and structure into Afghan society. Many of the people who joined the Taliban were simple, village people who were quite frankly, tired of Afghan politics.
After 9/11, when the Americans invaded along with NATO to ‘rid of al Qaeda’ and find Osama bin Laden, they also set their sights on defeating the Pashtun Talib government who allowed al Qaeda to train in their country (due to Pashtun tradition of giving your guests a warm welcome). Funnily enough, a lot of people originally saw this as good – as an opportunity to actually improve the country. Some of these, were in fact Taliban members. Many simply gave up their guns, their regiments and retired to their houses, looking forward to a hopefully peaceful future. Promises were made in return for turning yourself in with your weapons that you could live in peace yet of course, these promises weren’t kept.
The Americans (especially) made a colossal mistake with who they chose to get into bed with. They worked with local rich, corrupt men who had plenty of enemies, enemies that they pretended were the Taliban. Of course, when America and NATO came swooping in, the Taliban simply disappeared. There wasn’t really anyone to fight for the first few years. So, these new rich, corrupt friends of America, fooled the commanders and army into thinking their enemies were Taliban. This meant America and NATO often became involved in local feuds – killing random civilians who were their new friend’s enemies or sending them to Guantanamo. It all became a bit absurd and no one was safe. The Americans never seemed to question their new friends ‘intelligence’ and simply just did it.
This created the sort of society that the Taliban grew out of; corruption. Corruption has been a prominent part of Afghanistan for a long time as I’ve mentioned before. The majority of your standard Afghan citizens simply did not care who was running the country, as long as it was safe and free of corruption. And under American occupation, it was neither of those things. This provided the perfect opportunity for the Taliban to make their comeback and not only that, but recruit. For many, it wasn’t about Shari’a law – most couldn’t even read and probably couldn’t even tell you a singe verse from the Quran but it was about law and order and if that meant upholding or enforcing that rule, then so be it. For many families, it was the difference between being unemployed or employed but constantly having to pay bribes or live in the shadows vs. being employed and important.
The violence and the horrors and the treatment of women will never be ok. But is there really that much difference between the US treatment of people and the Taliban? Controversial, perhaps but also very much true. Many do not condone the violence of the USA yet they see military figures, certain political figures as human. So why is it so hard to see the Taliban in the same way?