A Chance for Peace in Afghanistan: The Taliban's Days Are Numbered

A CHANCE FOR PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN

THE TALIBAN'S DAYS ARE NUMBERED

By Peter Tomsen

The Taliban movement, depicted by Ahmed Rashid ("The Taliban: Exporting Extremism," NovemberffiDecember 1999), has passed its high-water mark. It is now disintegrating, echoing the rapid rise and fall of similar religious movements in Afghan history. With the Taliban's demise, Afghanistan faces a new challenge: who will fill their place?

As Rashid notes, the Taliban emerged in the mid-1990s, when their radical leader Muhammad Omar succeeded in melding religious fervor with the tribal patriotism of Afghanistan's largest group, the Pushtuns. Omar and the other militant mullahs from rural southern Afghanistan in the Taliban leadership were assisted by the powerful Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), the extremist Pakistani religious party Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), and radical Arab Muslims, including members of Osama bin Ladin's terrorist network. Together, these forces unleashed a powerful coalition that sallied northward from the Pushtun belt that borders Pakistan, ultimately gaining control of 90 percent of the country. The Taliban were initially welcomed by an Afghan population tired of war and disgusted by Kabul's inept, corrupt mujahideen government, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani.

THINGS FALL APART

Since their seizure of Kabul in 1996, the semiliterate Taliban mullahs have proven singularly incapable of governing the areas they control. Their rigid Islam, blending aspects of anti-Sufi and anti-Shia fundamentalism from India, Pakistan, and the Persian Gulf states, is alien to the moderate Islam practiced by most Afghans. Early on, the Taliban's authoritarianism and intolerance alienated non-Pushtun Afghans, who make up more than half the population. More recently, the Taliban have begun to alienate Pushtuns as well. The flow of thousands of extremist Pakistani and Arab Taliban supporters into Afghanistan has fueled the resentment of the local populace.

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