War and Conflict

The War on Terror

What was the Taliban?

It was the ultraconservative faction that ruled Afghanistan from late 1996 until December 2001, when its government crumbled following a U.S.-led military campaign. The Persian word taleban means “students”; the group was made up of Afghan refugees who, during the Soviet invasion (1979–89), had fled their country for Pakistan, where they attended conservative Islamic religious schools. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and amidst the unrest that ensued, the Taliban rose to prominence. They gained control of the nation region by region, eventually taking the capital of Kabul in 1996.

While in power, the group put into force strict laws based on a fundamental interpretation of Islam. The Taliban excluded women from Afghan society, and it allowed the nation to become a training ground for Islamic terror groups such as al Qaeda. Very few nations of the world recognized the Taliban government. Its human rights abuses, principally the complete disenfranchisement of women and girls, were decried by the international community. But the breaking point came after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland: When the American government requested that the suspected mastermind of those attacks be extradited from Afghanistan to the United States, the Taliban refused. The group was forcibly ousted in the brief military campaign that followed. In December 2001 the United Nations (UN) convened a conference in Bonn, Germany, where leaders of anti-Taliban ethnic factions decided on a post-Taliban transitional government, led by Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai. (The Pashtuns are the dominant group in Afghanistan, representing about 42 percent of the population. The next largest group is the Tajik, which represents about 27 percent of the population in the highly fragmented nation of 28.5 million people.) Attendees also agreed to a UN-led peacekeeping operation. Though ethnic rivalries and sporadic conflicts continued under the transitional government, Afghanistan made strides in building a stable, democratic government. One encouraging sign of reform came in March 2005, with the appointment of Habiba Sarobi, the first woman to become a provincial governor in Afghanistan history. Sarobi was chosen by the president for her post, which she assumed in late March.


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