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1996 - Taliban take over Kabul

Taliban take over Kabul - militant Islamic fighters seize the Afghan capital, executing the former president Najibullah, marking the start of five years of strict Islamic rule

The Taliban - literally "the Seekers" - was founded in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar by graduates of Pakistani religious colleges. Their aims were to end the political chaos that had been ongoing in Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and to impose a strict interpretation of Islam.

Their ascent to power began in the mid-1990s, when a 30-truck convoy from Pakistan was nabbed by an Afghan warlord in southern Afghanistan. A small band of Taliban militants came to the rescue, freeing the convoy and executing the hijackers in the desert.

With that initial public appearance, the Taliban emerged as a reformist force to be reckoned with -- honest, fierce, and devoutly Islamic.

In southern Afghanistan, there was a law and order crisis. There was rampant warlordism, and the Taliban came in as a cleansing force to establish law and order and wipe out the warlords and impose Islam. The Taliban's efforts were initially embraced by the war-ravaged Afghans. But soon their promise to end the chaos of war and warlords resulted in the imposition of a strict interpretation of Islamic law. They decreed amputations and executions for criminals, imposed severe restrictions on women, and banned television, considered a symbol of Western decadence.


The Taliban was basically a group of politically inexperienced young students, but their rapid spread was enabled due to the training and financial support they got from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. Ironically, the Taliban was also endorsed by the United States,who initially perceived the Taliban as a stabilizing force, one that could ensure the flow of Middle Eastern oil to the West.

In May 1996, Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden, who had used some of his family fortune to assist the Afghan fight against the Soviets, was exiled from Sudan under international pressure for his alleged terrorist activities. He returned to Afghanistan, where he was later embraced by the Taliban, to whom he reportedly gave $3 million to boost its flagging military efforts.

Bin Laden's entry into Afghanistan was the impetus for a turning point in the Taliban's ideology. In exchange for safe harbor, he infused the movement with money and is said to have promoted an intensified turn towards radicalism in his many training camps.

In late September 1996 Taliban forces launched an attack on Kabul, and stormed the presidential palace.  The bodies of former Afghan president Mohammed Najibullah and his brother Ahmadzai swung from a traffic post in a busy Kabul road. The men were beaten, executed and hung by Taliban fighters, their bodies dragged behind a car throughout the city.

On 27 September Taliban forces seized Kabul from the famous Afghan military chief Ahmad Shah Massoud and his troops, a victory that would mark the start of five years of Taliban rule in Kabul and large parts of Afghanistan. The Taliban would remain in control until 2001, when they were driven out by the U.S. military and Massoud’s Northern Alliance.

By the time the Taliban arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul had already turned in ruins. Years of fighting among different groups of mujahedin and the Taliban had left the city completely destroyed.

In its efforts to control the country the Taliban became as brutal as its predecessors - killing civilians, burning houses, and destroying crops in the villages and towns it had conquered. As a result, the Afghan people became far less supportive of the ruling government.


Further Reading


MPEC - The Taliban’s Rise to Power in 1996

Culture & Conflict Studies - The Taliban

Magnum - Wonder and Violence in Daily Afghan Life in 1990s

NPR - Afghanistan's Long And Distant War'

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