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In late 2001, the rolling hills to the west of Afghanistan’s Maidan Shahr had been scarred with the black eruptions of excessive explosives, as the previous couple of Taliban fighters had been pounded by Northern Alliance artillery and American bombers. Then, as abruptly as a thunderclap, silence fell on the battlefield.

Long columns of black turbaned fighters instantly started to stroll peacefully in the direction of their enemies and, strolling into their ranks, had been requested, “What happened?”

One Talib fighter smiled broadly and defined: “We turned our turbans.”

Without the slightest disgrace, or doubt, their leaders had determined that they’d slightly be on the profitable facet than die a pointless dying. And in order that they’d surrendered, many opting to hitch the forces of the opposition.

But this doesn’t imply the hard-core gave up on the Deobandist interpretation of Islam that had helped carry them to energy in 1996, which additionally sat comfortably with their largely ethnic Pashtun tradition.

The ideology initially grew amongst college students, Talibs, of Islamic colleges largely in exile in Pakistan, the place refugees sought shelter from the failed Soviet invasion on their nation in 1979. Fueled by cash from the Arabian Gulf and backed by patrons inside Pakistan’s intelligence businesses, Talibs distilled their model of Islam right into a purist cult.

With Afghanistan torn by warlords, corruption and hatred, that cult was seen by many in Kandahar as the harsh law-and-order various to the horror they had been residing by means of. The Taliban rose up of their heartland in 1994, and in two years, they had been in a position to cost by means of a lot of the remainder of the nation and take energy.

And now, 25 years on, they’ve carried out it once more.

Afghanistan’s authorities was at all times weak, intensely corrupt, depending on overseas forces for its survival, riven by faction combating and polluted by warlords.

So when the Afghan National Army was abruptly deserted by the U.S. and its allies earlier this 12 months, the solely query was: When will its commanders flip their very own turbans?

In 2001, the Taliban had been pushed from energy by the Northern Alliance and collections of different warlords as a result of many Afghans had uninterested in their medieval interpretation of shari’a regulation, uninterested in being dominated by the southern Pashtuns, and above all, very indignant at the destruction of the extraordinarily profitable opium commerce.

Worth round $4 billion a 12 months, it was — and is — Afghanistan’s essential export, and a enterprise that drew in rival chieftains (khans), the police, militia, Pakistani spies, trucking mafias and the Kabul elite.

In stamping it out, the Taliban made bitter enemies at dwelling, simply because it made harmful foes of the remainder of the Western world by offering al Qaeda with sanctuary earlier than, throughout and after Osama bin Laden ordered the 9/11 assaults on America.

But the Taliban had by no means had an curiosity in worldwide terror. Its assist for al Qaeda was grounded in shared historical past. Bin Laden and his cronies had fought alongside the Afghan mujahideen, who’d resisted the Soviet occupation after 1979. They had been previous comrades, allowed to arrange coaching camps and allowed to stay under the Pashtunwali, a convention of cultural regulation that, amongst different issues, protects visitors.

During the Taliban insurgency of the final 20 years, its management — which NATO, the U.S. and Kabul authorities say is backed by Pakistan — watched overseas forces get caught in the quagmire of Helmand. They hemorrhaged, blood, treasure and public assist for a distant and pointless conflict.

Two disastrous choices in Helmand — first to invade it and second to attempt to destroy the opium commerce — assured {that a} peaceable farming province producing gigantic wealth would develop into a battleground and graveyard for overseas forces. The drug khans may very well be relied on by the Taliban to do most of the combating towards NATO. All the Talib needed to do was assist out sometimes.

The lesson for the college students of guerrilla conflict was that, fairly quickly, the West would lose its abdomen for the battle. Since NATO had the watches, the Taliban had the time, as they appreciated to say — all they needed to do was wait.

And take a tithe from the drug manufacturing that their fall from energy allowed.

According to quite a few western intelligence sources concerned in drug eradication makes an attempt, the Taliban didn’t primarily draw their funding from medicine. Experts and the UN preserve that they’d various sources of funding, together with non-public donors in the Gulf, from unlawful mineral extraction and from taxes in areas they managed.

Their return to energy is a terrifying prospect for ladies. When final they dominated, females had been forbidden to attend faculty. They had been shrouded in burqas, condemned to life at dwelling and seen as male possessions. An ultra-conservative interpretation of how pre-modern Pashtun lived was swept away amid an explosion in feminine schooling.

Women in the capital, Kabul, had been in a position to begin companies, participate in politics, even in provincial governments and run ministries.

Small marvel that liberal Afghans are operating for the airport now.

Their solely hope could relaxation with the actuality that the Taliban could, conceivably and doubtless solely in the quick time period, provide concessions on girls’s rights and even some safety of free speech.

In a few of the provinces the place they’ve dominated over the final 20 years, they’ve tailored their public relations, permitting restricted feminine rights and, above all, earned a fame for judicial probity that the central authorities system by no means achieved.

Now nearing energy, the Taliban management could choose to comply with a “Talib-Lite” method.

It’s nearly sure that they’re going to provide no succor to Islamic State militants who’ve largely changed al Qaeda as the main international model behind worldwide Islamist terrorism. Over the final 5 years, the Taliban have efficiently stamped out most makes an attempt by ISIS rivals to achieve floor.

While the pro-western authorities was in energy, its intelligence leaders performed up the al Qaeda risk — however there’s little proof that the Taliban have provided it energetic assist.

There’s each motive to imagine that, as there is not any upside to selling worldwide terror and no ideological assist for it inside their motion itself, a resurgence of al Qaeda under the Taliban is unlikely — although a UN report just lately warned the two teams stay “closely aligned.”

The Taliban are sweeping again to energy. But they know that it’s because so many have turned turbans that may be turned once more.



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