Bringing the Taliban to Power
By conducting a proxy-war on behalf of the Western nations and Saudi Arabia against the Soviet military, Pakistan morphed into a central hub that attracted a multitude of Islamists from Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, China and Indonesia. But “Jihadistan,” as Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of physics who teaches in Lahore and Islamabad, described it in “Pakistan’s Army: Divided It Stands” (Viewpoint Online, 2 September 2011), is now a hugely messy place, not the bastion of anticommunism and antiatheism that it once was. Even those workers who helped to create it—like the famous Colonel Imam and Major Khalid Khwaja—ended up losing their lives, he points out.
“¦the United States and Saudi Arabia reportedly poured $7.2 billion of covert aid into the jihad against the Soviets, the vast majority of which was channelled by the ISI to the most radical religious elements.
These developments, laid out in depth by Abul Hasaan, were a major ingredient in bringing the Taliban, indoctrinated with the Wahhabi version of Islam, to power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. During the 1980s, the United States and Saudi Arabia reportedly poured $7.2 billion of covert aid into the jihad against the Soviets, the vast majority of which was channelled by the ISI to the most radical religious elements. After the Soviets withdrew, returning commanders, mujahideen groups and common criminals fought for control of Afghanistan.
In 1994, when it had become evident to Islamabad and the ISI that the anarchy in Afghanistan was counter-productive to their design to secure Afghanistan as “strategic depth,” they formed the Taliban. During the Afghan-Soviet war, a network of madrassas funded by Saudi Arabia sprang up near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. These schools served a strategic purpose: students were indoctrinated with a militant religious ideology designed to make them more fervent in the fight against the Soviets. It was in this network of schools that the Taliban was born.
ISI supported the Taliban largely because the government in Kabul had historically been hostile to Pakistan and Pakistan wanted its northern neighbour to be an ally. The Taliban’s fundamentalist religious ideology was a primary factor in convincing Pakistani planners that the group could serve as their proxy, thus providing the sought-for “strategic depth.” At the same time, the ideological reasons for the ISI’s support for the Taliban were also significant: militant Islamic ideology within Pakistan’s military and ISI had increased significantly over time.
The Islamic forces of Pakistan created and nurtured this syndrome in the madrassas where the Taliban received their education. Since the chief thrust of this education is on Islam and the need for jihad (holy war) to establish an Islamic government”¦
The Taliban’s power grew rapidly in Afghanistan because they were effective fighters and they promised an alternative, albeit a ruthless one, to the prevailing lawlessness. Within two years of the group’s founding, it captured both Kandahar and Kabul. In doing so, the Taliban was aided by the Pakistan army and the ISI. “The ISI helped the Taliban take the key cities of Jalalabad and the capital, Kabul,” the Christian Science Monitor reported (Marquand and Baldauf, “Will Spies Who Know Tell the U.S.?” 3 October 2001), “and continued to back them as they secured about 95 percent of Afghanistan.” U.S. News and World Report (Schaffer, “The Unseen Power,” 4 November 2001) further explained the close working relationship between the ISI and the Taliban: “ISI operatives permeated the regime, helping uneducated Taliban leaders with everything from fighting the opposition Northern Alliance to more mundane tasks like translating international documents.”
Beginning from a minor local movement in Kandahar Province in 1994 that had few weapons and little money, with the help of massive covert Pakistani financial and military support, the Taliban rose to power and took over Kabul in 1996. By then hosting Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, the Taliban became an integral part of the Sunni fundamentalist establishment and its international networks, and Afghanistan became a place where extremists from around the world could meet safely, share ideas, develop strategies and receive training. Moreover, Pakistani extremist groups functioned as umbrella organisations for other international terror groups that sought shelter in Afghanistan.
In “China, Pakistan, and the ‘Taliban Syndrome’”(Asian Survey 40, no. 4, July–August 2000), analyst M. Ehsan Ahrari calls this phenomenon the “Taliban syndrome”—the movement to create an Islamic order in Afghanistan based on a blend of strict observance of Islam from Saudi Arabia’s salafiyya (puritanical) tradition. The Islamic forces of Pakistan created and nurtured this syndrome in the madrassas where the Taliban (“students” in Farsi) from Afghanistan received their education. Since the chief thrust of this education is on Islam and the need for jihad (holy war) to establish an Islamic government, the Taliban members become firm believers and fervent practitioners of this training. The “Taliban syndrome” also refers to the role of radical Islamists in the domestic and foreign policy of Pakistan and other contiguous states. Since this syndrome recognises no borders, it zealously seeks to establish an Islamic form of government anywhere in the region, Ansari notes.