The Taliban have long been criticized for restricting the rights of women, eliminating personal freedoms and terrorizing suspected political opponents. Many observers also contend that the Taliban have actively participated in the production of illegal drugs and turned Afghanistan into a refuge for international terrorists.
The Taliban's rise to power is the latest chapter in Afghanistan's ongoing civil war, a conflict that has persisted for more than two decades.
According to many analysts the Taliban movement should rather be viewed as a direct result of Afghanistan's decades-old civil war. Indeed, many historians trace the roots of the Taliban to violent power struggles that began in Afghanistan during the early 1970s.
In 1973, Afghanistan was thrown into disorder when King Zahir Shah was deposed by Mohammed Daoud, Shah's cousin and brother-in-law. Daoud remained in power until 1978, when he was killed in a violent military coup. The people who launched the coup belonged to the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), an organization that supported the establishment of a political system based on the principles of socialism.
Seeking to support the new Afghan government and protect its interests in Central Asia, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It appointed Babrak Karmal, a former premier who had been living in exile, as president. Opposition to Karmal and the Soviet occupation soon became widespread, and led to the formation of more armed rebel groups, which were known as mujahedeen, or warriors.
U.S. officials viewed the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan as a rebuke to the U.S.'s policy of containment, an effort to stop the spread of communism. Leaders such as President Jimmy Carter (D, 1977-81) and Ronald Reagan (R, 1981-89) hailed the mujahedeen as "freedom fighters" who were leading the struggle against Soviet domination. In 1979, the U.S. began providing them with arms and financing, and that assistance helped mujahedeen prevent Soviet troops from gaining control over many areas of the country.
The Taliban aimed not only to reestablish order in Afghanistan, but also to rid the country of the mujahedeen, a fractious group that was comprised mainly of people from other ethnic groups such as the Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks.
At present, the Taliban control more than 90% of Afghanistan's territory. Only Takhar and Badakhshan, two regions in northeast Afghanistan, remain under the control of the Northern Alliance.
Under the Taliban code, non-religious music is forbidden, and citizens are not allowed to own cassette tapes, televisions or movies. Men are also required to keep their hair short, and are sent to prison if they shave their beards. Children are not allowed to participate in activities such as kite flying or playing chess, since the Taliban considers them an unnecessary distraction from religious studies. People who violate those rules or who are suspected of opposing the Taliban are often subject to arrest, maiming, torture and public execution.
The Taliban also enacted laws that have severely restricted the rights of women. Among the policies that are seen as an affront to women's rights are the following:
- Women are not allowed to work.
- Girls older than eight are not allowed to attend school.
- Women are forced to wear burqa, a form of traditional clothing that covers all parts of the body, including the face.
- Women are prohibited from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.
- The Taliban's strict regulations are enforced by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which harshly punishes those who violate Taliban rules.
Although most leaders agree that the Taliban pose a threat to human rights and international security, many argue that the current regime of sanctions is an ineffective and counterproductive means of curbing their influence.
The Taliban seek to establish a puritanical caliphate that neither recognizes nor tolerates forms of Islam divergent from their own. Furthermore, supporters argue, the Taliban have proven entirely unwilling to respect basic human rights or compromise their stringent religious principles
Are economic sanctions the best means of removing the Taliban from power?
Many critics, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, have urged the international community to drop the sanctions regime, arguing that sanctions primarily affect Afghanistan's poor. "It is not going to facilitate our peace efforts, nor is it going to facilitate our humanitarian work," Annan says.
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Gerecht, Reuel. "Taking Sides in Afghanistan." New York Times (March 8, 2001)
King, Neil Jr. "U.N. Sanctions on Taliban May Hamper Effort to Bring bin Laden to Trial in U.S." Wall Street Journal (November 12, 1999)
Newberg, Paula. "More Sanctions are No Substitute for Ending a War." Los Angeles Times (January 7, 2001)
Rashid, Ahmed. "Afghanistan: Ending the Policy Quagmire." Journal of International Affairs (Spring 2001)
Saikal, Amin. "The Role of Outside Actors in Afghanistan." Middle East Policy (October 2000)
Wright, Robin. "Taliban Asks U.S. to Lift Its Economic Sanctions." Los Angeles Times (March 20, 2001)