The Afghan Taliban, who refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan currently waging war (an insurgency, or jihad) within that country. Since 2016, the Taliban’s leader is Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.
From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban held power over roughly three quarters of Afghanistan, and enforced there a strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. The Taliban emerged in 1994 as one of the prominent factions in the Afghan Civil War and largely consisted of students (talib) from the Pashtun areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan who had been educated in traditional Islamic schools, and fought during the Soviet–Afghan War. Under the leadership of Mohammed Omar, the movement spread throughout most of Afghanistan, sequestering power from the Mujahideen warlords. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was established in 1996 and the Afghan capital was transferred to Kandahar. It held control of most of the country until being overthrown after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in December 2001 following the September 11 attacks. At its peak, formal diplomatic recognition of the Taliban’s government was acknowledged by only three nations: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The group later regrouped as an insurgency movement to fight the American-backed Karzai administration and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the War in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have been condemned internationally for the harsh enforcement of their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, which has resulted in the brutal treatment of many Afghans, especially women. During their rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban and their allies committed massacres against Afghan civilians, denied UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians and conducted a policy of scorched earth, burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes. According to the United Nations, the Taliban and their allies were responsible for 76% of Afghan civilian casualties in 2010, 80% in 2011, and 80% in 2012. Taliban has also engaged in cultural genocide, destroying numerous monuments including the famous 1500-year old Buddhas of Bamiyan.
The Taliban’s ideology has been described as combining an “innovative” form of sharia Islamic law based on Deobandi fundamentalism and the militant Islamism and Salafi jihadism of Osama bin Laden with Pashtun social and cultural norms known as Pashtunwali, as most Taliban are Pashtun tribesmen.
The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (the ISI) and military are widely alleged by the international community and the Afghan government to have provided support to the Taliban during their founding and time in power, and of continuing to support the Taliban during the insurgency. Pakistan states that it dropped all support for the group after the September 11 attacks. In 2001, reportedly 2,500 Arabs under command of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden fought for the Taliban.
Until his death in 2013, Mullah Mohammed Omar was the supreme commander of the Taliban. Mullah Akhtar Mansour was elected as his replacement in 2015, and following Mansour’s killing in a May 2016 U.S. drone strike, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada became the group’s leader, who is also the current leader of the group with Haqqani Network’s Siraj Uddin Haqqani as his deputy.
Afghan Taliban have their own war reporters who regularly capture video footage and images from the battlefield in Afghanistan and then upload the content on Twitter, Facebook and Telegram. On Telegram, Afghan Taliban members and supporters run several transmission channels. But the official media network of Afghan Taliban is Al-Emarah Media, which operates several channels under it. It posts Taliban publications and news in multiple languages, including in Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, and English.
Afghan Taliban have their own websites which are designed attractively and are full of all kinds of content such as news stories, statements, religious sermons, photos, videos, audio messages, guerrilla war guidelines and training manuals. Since mid-2005, the militants have maintained a multilingual website that has repeatedly changed service providers to avoid being shut down. On April 9, The Washington Post reported that, for more than a year, a Houston-based firm had unwittingly hosted a site claiming to be the voice of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (the name of Mullah Omar’s regime, deposed by the 2001 U.S. invasion) before it was identified as such. It was updated with official messages and battlefield reports that were clearly and incredulous pieces of propaganda. Taliban spokesmen are known for exploiting captives through propaganda such as Private Bergdahl who was captured in June 2009. Three videos of the missing private have been released, including one at Christmastime. In April 2010, a seven-minute video of the POW followed.
Email is another way of effective communication for the Taliban insurgents. Through email, they communicate with reporters, news agencies, newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV channels for taking responsibility of attacks and providing official statements and other information. Email interviews are also provided. Sometimes, clarifications and statements about some issues are sent to Pashto websites through email.
On the streets of the Afghan capital Kabul and the Pakistani frontier city of Peshawar, cheap, mass-produced DVDs feature footage of coalition atrocities: mud-brick Afghan villages leveled by allied attacks and ordinary citizens allegedly killed by coalition fire. Also popular is a montage from the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, part of a running effort to portray the current foreign troops as “invaders.” Other discs show Taliban executions of so-called traitors and spectacular attacks against coalition forces.
The Taliban also circulate their propaganda and literature in the form of hard copy in all areas of Afghanistan that are under their control. This also include night letters. The Taliban method for night letters usually entails a warning delivered under a gate or nailed to a door in the dead of night. During the run-up to the Afghan parliamentary elections in September 2010, the Taliban intimidated villagers in certain areas from voting. People in the villages would not vote because the Taliban left letters at night warning they will cut off the finger of anyone if they find it marked with the indelible ink used to prevent multiple voting. Each year Taliban also circulate messages by its Emir on special occasions like Eid, etc among the public.
The Taliban have several Pashto, Urdu and Arabic magazines openly published and distributed in Peshawar and the adjacent areas. These colorful magazines are often printed on expensive foreign paper and distributed free. They are published by different groups within the Taliban and are full of extremist propaganda, distorted facts, photos of victims, lengthy interviews with insurgent commanders, and articles on different political and religious topics. These magazines publish only news stories and newspaper articles that back their own claims.