the rise of the taliban -- 4/06/16

Today's selection -- from Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong. The roots of the Taliban are in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the aftermath:

"After the Soviet withdrawal [from Afghanistan], the West lost interest in the region, but both Afghanistan and Pakistan had been gravely derailed by the long con­flict. A flood of money and weapons had flowed into Pakistan from the United States as well as from the Persian Gulf, giving extremist groups access to advanced armaments, which were simply stolen as they were being unloaded. These heavily armed extremists had therefore broken the state's monopoly on violence and henceforth could operate outside the law. To defend themselves, nearly all groups in the country, religious and secular, developed paramilitary wings. Moreover, after the Iranian Revolution, Saudi Arabia, aware of the significant Shii community in Pakistan, had stepped up its funding of Deobandi [Sunni fundamentalist] madrassas to counter Shii influence. This enabled the Deobandis to educate even more students from poorer backgrounds, and they sheltered the children of impover­ished peasants, who were tenants of Shii landlords. These entered the madrassas, therefore, with an anti-Shii bias that was greatly enhanced by their education there.

Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan

"Isolated from the rest of Pakistani society, these 'students' (taliban) bonded tightly with the three million Afghan children who had been orphaned during the war and were brought to Pakistan as refugees. They had all arrived traumatized by war and poverty and were introduced to a rule-bound, restricted, and highly intolerant form of Islam. They had no training in critical thought, were shielded from outside influence, and became rabidly anti-Shii. In 1985 the Deobandis founded the Soldiers of the Companions of the Prophet in Pakistan (SCPP) specifically to harass the Shii, and in the mid-1990s two even more violent Deobandi move­ments emerged: the Army of Jhangvi, which specialized in assassinat­ing Shiis, and the Partisan Movement, which fought for the liberation of Kashmir. As a result of this onslaught, the Shii formed the Soldiers of the Prophet in Pakistan (SPP), which killed a number of Sunnis. For centuries the Shiis and Sunnis had coexisted amicably in the region. Thanks to the United States' Cold War struggle in Afghanistan and to Saudi-Iranian rivalry, they were now tearing the country apart in what amounted to a civil war.

The Afghan Taliban combined their Pashtun tribal chauvinism with Deobandi rigorism, an unholy hybrid and maverick form of Islam that expressed itself in violent opposition to any rival ideology. After the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan had descended into chaos, and when the Taliban managed to take control, they seemed to both the Pakistanis and the Americans to be an acceptable alternative to anarchy. Their leader, Mullah Omar, believed that human beings were naturally virtu­ous and, if placed on the right path, needed no government coercion, social services, or public health care. There was therefore no centralized government, and the population was ruled by local Taliban komitehs, whose punishments for the smallest infringement of Islamic law were so draconian that a degree of order was indeed restored. Fiercely opposed to modernity, which had, after all, come to them in the form of Soviet guns and air strikes, the Taliban ruled by their traditional tribal norms, which they identified with the rule of God. Their focus was purely local, and they had no sympathy with Bin Laden's global vision. But Mullah Omar was grateful to the Arab-Afghans for their support during the war, and when Bin Laden was expelled from Sudan, he admitted him to Afghanistan, in return for which Bin Laden improved the country's infrastructure."


Karen Armstrong


Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence


Anchor A. Knopf


Copyright 2014 by Karen Armstrong


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