Who are the Taliban?

And why are they so radical.

Question:

1. The core of the radicalizm in Afghanistan and Pakistan is located in Afghani southern provinces and Pakistani border tribal areas, mainly inhabited by Pashtus. What is the reason and history behind this very radical form of Islam and hatred against everything foreign developed in these areas?

2. Do you think that in the near future can we see more moderation in this areas and what needs to be done to achieve that?

Answers:

Robert Canfield, Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology in Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

1. You may know that the opposition to the communist government that took power in 1978, and was supported by the Soviets, defined itself as a Islamic movement, partly because among the Afghans there was so much diversity and their only grounds of cooperation was Islam, but also because the Pakistani government fostered Islamists when they handed out American money/support for the resistance. So the Afghan-soviet war contributed to the radicalization of some afghan groups. Also, the Arabs and others who came to help were mostly people who wanted to join the holy war against the “godless” Soviets. And the leadership of Pakistan (Zia, etc.) had decided that they should emphasize Islam as their political identity owing to their dispute with India over Kashmir (their claim to Kashmir was based on the identity of the Kashmiri population as Muslims). So several kinds of groups came together in the name of Islam during that period. Osama bin laden was the most notable among the Arabs and when the war was over there was a group of especially intense Muslims associated with them, many of them too radical to go home. They were not typical of the Muslim populations generally. anyway – in a long series of events that purged this group even more, to produce a core group that were intensely committed to a militant Islam (see Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower) – the Al Qaeda took form, made up of extreme Islamic militants. They were forced to return to Afghanistan in 1996 owing to American pressure on Sudan (where OBL had fled from Saudi Arabia), and when they returned they arrived at a time when a local group of Pushtun Islamic students, Taliban, with very narrow agendas – to bring order to a largely chaotic Afghanistan – were coming to power; they had just taken Kabul. So a Pushtun group, the Taliban, merged with Al Qaeda. Both groups saw themselves as true Muslims trying to solve local problems in the name of Islam. The tribal areas of Pakistan had provided many of the troops for this movement and so there was a close tie with the people there. And the Pakistani intelligence service had been cultivating conservative tribal elements there for years, because they wanted to have a fund of available troops for the war in Kashmir. The Pakistani support for the Taliban and for the Pushtun young men of the tribal areas of Pakistan (FATA), where the government had never had control, contributed to the formation of the Taliban (See my contribution to the book by Crews and Tarzi: The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan). But the talibanism has grown so that now there are two kinds, those that attack Afghanistan and want to establish a Sharia law in Afghanistan, and mainly want to drive Americans out, and those who want to establish Sharia law in Pakistan. The fighting in Pakistan is actually only against the Taliban who want to take a dominant position inside Pakistan. Idoubt if the Pakistanis will try to subdue the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan (after all, they are their own creation) the Pak military see Afghanistan as in league with India and so regard the afghans as pro-India and thus the enemy.

2. No. And I’m not sure what will help. You might look at some of the things written on my blog in the last few weeks. http://rcanfield.blogspot.com/

Abdulaziz Sachedina, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

1. It is important to keep in mind that western governments’ involvement in Pakistan raises serious questions about the corruption that prevails in both Pak and Afgh. Western govts, for their national interests, have not supported political or social justice in these areas. It is in the vacuum of social programs to improve the living standards of the people that the locals become radicalized. Their actual target is their own government which is supported by the western arsenal, which in turn, is unleashed against the population. Islam, in all these cases, is a political tool that is used by all sides to justify their atrocities against the civilians and innocent bystanders.

2. Not unless the situation improves in terms of social justice. The level of corruption is so widespread that one has to be in the area to sense it. It is in such a dire situation that Saudi Arabian type of “militant” Islam becomes a desirable tool to combat the ungodly rulers and their surrogates. Surely, moderation will not come by using helicopter bombers and threatening the lives of ordinary folks. See what is unfolding in occupied territories in Israel.

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