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Part 1: What’s happening in Afghanistan — A peep into the past13 min read

August 19, 2021 8 min read

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Part 1: What’s happening in Afghanistan — A peep into the past13 min read

Reading Time: 8 minutes

This two-part story will take you through what is happening in Afghanistan. Don’t forget to read both pages, and both parts to really understand the issue. Part 2 is available — click on ‘next page’ at the bottom of the article.


The land-locked country of Afghanistan. Image: Britannica

If you’ve seen any of these words mentioned in the news lately, you would know that there’s trouble brewing in the Middle Eastern country of Afghanistan.

In the last few days, we have seen troubling videos and images from the mountainous country of men, women and children scurrying to leave the country, climbing onto stuffed planes, and crying for help.

The Taliban – an Islamist group that we will learn about in the course of this article – has come back in full force ever since they were ousted from power in 2001. The President, Ashraf Ghani, has fled the country, leaving it in the hands of the Taliban.

Starting with the Taliban, this article will take you through what’s happening in Afghanistan, and how it all came to be.

Let’s go back in time…

The Taliban, which means ‘students’ in the Pashto language, emerged in 1994 around the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. It was a group fighting alongside the Afghan Mujahideen (armed groups of fighters) for control over the country against the Soviet Union occupation in the 1980s. The Mujahideen did not want outside forces to control the country, and also wanted to ensure that the people strictly followed the principles of Islam.

Pashtuns, historically known as Afghans, are an Iranian ethnic group native to Central and South Asia. The group’s native language is Pashto.

Soviet soldiers a month after they invaded Afghanistan. Image: Getty Images

Why was the Soviet Union in Afghanistan?

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or the Soviet Union, was the first country to form a government based on ‘communism’, which spread to Afghanistan too when the monarchy was overturned.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

Communism is a type of government as well as an economic system (a way of creating and sharing wealth). In a Communist system, individual people do not own land, factories, or machinery. Instead, the government or the whole community owns these things. People of groups who follow this system are known as communists.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979, under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty.

This treaty, or agreement, was signed in 1978. The all-powerful Soviets agreed to help Afghanistan with economic and military aid. This benefitted the Soviets too, as Afghanistan borders Russia and was always considered important to its national security and a gateway to Asia.

Members of the Mujahideen. Image: Reuters

The year 1978 also saw a communist revolution in Afghanistan, after which the country was governed by just one party run by Nur Mohammed Taraki. Taraki was not a popular man – in fact, the people were so unhappy with him that his own party members had him killed!

Then, Russia entered Afghanistan to try and re-establish a government there that would be closer to its needs and follow the principles of communism.

Thus, started a 10-year-long war between the Mujahideen (remember them? Scroll back up to recall who they are) and the Soviets. The Mujahideen were supported by the US, which had a long-standing enmity with Russia since the Cold War.

In 1989, the Soviets were defeated and they moved out. What followed was sheer chaos.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations: As World War II was ending, the Cold War began. This was a long-drawn confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, lasting from 1947 to 1991. It was called the Cold War because the US and the USSR never actually fought each other directly!

The rise of the Taliban

Mujahideen men carrying weapons in Afghanistan’s hilly terrains. Image: Getty Images

By 1992, there was full-blown civil war, with Mujahideen commanders fighting for power and dividing the capital city of Kabul. Rocket showers became an everyday scene in Kabul, and many lives were lost.

It was in the early 1990s that the Taliban started to emerge as a big enough entity to take control from the Mujahideen. Being fighters and having military equipment sped up their process of winning control of different Afghan cities.

What the Taliban promised the people was that they would make cities safe again. The Afghan people were fed up – they had faced years and years of wars and invaders, and could not deal with the brutal tactics the Mujahideen commanders were using in their fight to gain control.

By 1996, the Taliban seized the capital and hanged the nation’s last communist president, Najibullah Ahmadzai. It declared Afghanistan an ‘Islamic emirate’ and started imposing its ultra-strict version of Islamic law or Sharia law.

Sharia law is Islam’s legal system, which is based on the Quran and the rulings of Islamic scholars. It serves as a code of conduct for Muslims to adhere by, ensuring they abide by God’s wishes in all areas of life, from daily routines to personal beliefs.

Afghan women covered from head to toe. Image: Reuters

As time went by, the Taliban’s commitment to Sharia law became unbearable for the people. Harsh social policies and a justice that was delivered in the cruelest ways started to reduce the popularity of the Taliban.

Under the Taliban, women were no longer allowed to leave their homes unaccompanied (by men), while men were forced to maintain a certain beard length. Music, dance and television were banned from society. Punishments for those who violated Taliban rules were public and severe. In one particularly gruesome incident in 1996, 225 women were rounded up and lashed for not adhering to the Taliban’s strict dress code, which requires them to be covered from head to toe. Women were denied education, and working was out of the question.

What happened next? Click on page 2 to continue the story…

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