Afghanistan and Taliban Takeover
Hello everyone and Welcome back to the Gen Z Global Affairs podcast, I’m your host, Dana. Our episode today is going to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, and the taliban takeover. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the more recent happenings in Afghanistan, but this episode will give you a little more background about the country, its history, and really how we got to this point.
So let’s start with some context about Afghanistan including its demographics, its geography, and also some of its history. A lot of people group Afghanistan in with the Middle East but it’s actually located in Central Asia. The countries that border it include Pakistan, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. It also shares a very very short border with China. The demographics of Afghanistan are very hard, in fact almost impossible to confirm because there actually has not been a national census there since 1979, which is mostly due to political turmoil and instability. As of 2022 though, the estimated population of the country is from 39 to 41 million. Afghanistan is comprised of different ethnic groups and because of their ethnic diversity, Afghanistan actually has two official languages. The larger ethnic groups include Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aimaq, Turkmen, the Baloch, and Sadat. There are also a lot of smaller ethnic groups like the Nuristani people but they make up a really minuscule portion of Afghanistan’s population. Pashtuns make up the majority of Afghanistan, and they make up about 42 percent of the population. Tajiks account for around 25-27 percent. Hazaras allegedly make up around 9 percent, and it’s said that Uzbeks also make up 9 percent, the Aimak make up around 4 percent, Turkmen make up around 3, and the Baloch make up 2 of the population. Other smaller ethnic groups combined make up around 4 percent of the population. Also just to reiterate, these are rough estimates because there hasn’t been a national census conducted in so long. I’ve heard that the Hazara population actually makes up anywhere from 9-15 percent of the population but there’s really no way to confirm this. Hopefully, our guests on our next episodes on Afghanistan will be able to give us better insight into this though. Pashtuns who make up the majority speak Pashto which is one of the official languages of the country while the Hazaras, Tajiks, and Aimaq speak Dari, which is a variety of the Persian language. Again, though these are the two official languages, many others are spoken in the country as well by other ethnic groups. So among all these different ethnic groups, there is immense tension that has unfortunately played out into acts of violence. Ethnic violence and tensions have been present for hundreds of years, and you’ll start to see why when I explain some of the country’s history. Adding to the ethnic conflict is a religious aspect as well. The majority of Afghans practice Islam, and most (so about 85-90 percent) practice Sunni Islam while the minortiy practice Shia Islam. The wider conflicts between Shia and Sunni muslims are categorized as sectarian conflicts.
Now let’s talk about the history of Afghanistan. What is now Afghanistan was a part of many different empires in ancient times but I want to start in the 1700s because that is really when the foundation of modern Afghanistan was formed. I would definitely encourage everyone to read about its earlier and ancient history though because it’s really interesting and for the sake of concise episodes I can’t really go that far back. So in the early 1700s, what is now Afghanistan was shared between the Safavid Empire which is mostly modern-day Iran and the Mughal Empire which controlled much of South Asia. In 1709 there was a rebellion against the Safavids which led to the creation of the Hotak Empire, which included parts of modern-day Afghanistan and also parts of modern-day Iran because they took over parts of the Safavid Empire. Then, a new Iranian ruler by the name of Nader Shah established the Afsharid dynasty and conquered and absorbed the Hotak Empire in 1738, so the Hotak Empire only lasted about 29 years. The new Afsharid dynasty didn’t actually last very long because Nader Shah was assassinated in 1747. After that, a man named Ahmad Shah Durrani who was a military figure in the Afsharid Dynasty left and returned to modern-day Afghanistan where he established the Durrani Empire in 1747. Ahmad Shah Durrani was a Pashtun so he had the support of pashtun tribes and he also had extensive military experience which certainly helped. This is really where we start to see the emergence of a modern afghan state. Ahmad Shah Durani’s descendants ruled after his death in 1772. Then in the year 1818, the Durrani’s lost control of Kabul because of a man named Dost Mohamad Khan who formally established the Emirate of Afghanistan in 1823 after fighting tribes loyal to the Durrani’s. So in the midst of all this, the British were really concerned that Russia would take control of Afghanistan and use Afghanistan to then take control of India, which was controlled by the British at the time. Because of this, the British actually invaded Afghanistan in 1838 and this is known as the first Anglo-Afghan War. So when they invaded they actually reinstalled the Durranis. But long story short, the British were kicked out in 1842 and Dost Mohammed Khan retook power. Decades later when he died, his son Sher Ali took power and seemed to actually lean more towards Russia which leads to the second Anglo-Afghan War. This war lasted two years, so it ended in 1880, and in that same year, Sher Ali’s nephew- Abdur Rahman who was also called the Iron emir took power and became the new leader. It’s important to note that he was largely supported by the British. So under his rule, Afghanistan essentially became a British protectorate, so the British took control of managing their foreign affairs, but Afghanistan also became a buffer between the Russian empire and british controlled india. Abdurrahman is followed on the throne by three generations of his family. Then in the year 1919, the Emirate of Afghanistan invaded parts of British India, which prompted the third Anglo-Afghan war which ended the same year. Out of this war came the Anglo-Afghan treaty of 1919 which essentially recognized the Emirate of Afghanistan as an independent state. Fast forward to 1926 and the Kingdom of Afghanistan is established and is their first king is Amanullah Khan. Then in 1928, a civil war broke out which ended a year later. And out of this came a new king named Mohammed Nadir Shah who was monarch from 1929 until his assassination in 1933. He was succeeded by his son Mohammed Zahir Shah who really focused on modernizing Afghanistan and creating new social, political, and economic infrastructure. Afghanistan’s diplomatic relations across the world were also improved, and women’s rights were expanded greatly. So King Zahir Shah’s rule was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by his prime minister who also happened to be his cousin in 1973, which effectively ended the monarchy. As you can tell Afghanistan has a very complex history which is really important to know if you want to understand how Afghanistan got to the state that is in today.
The 70s and on
So now we have gotten to the 1970s which is a crucial time in contemporary Afghanistan. After the monarchy ended, the Republic of Afghanistan was established and it only lasted about 5 years because it was replaced by the soviet-allied Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Under this new republic, the country was under a one-party rule of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. In 1979- a year after the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was established, the soviet afghan war broke out. This war, unlike the other conflicts Afghanistan faced in the past lasted a long time, it lasted about 9 years. The two sides of this conflict included obviously the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan’s army which was supported by the Soviet Union, and the Mujahadeen. The Afghan Mujahedeen was the rebel group comprised of smaller groups who ultiamely teamed up to fight their government and the soviets. The mujahedeen were supported mainly by the united states, united kingdom, china, iran, saudi arabia, and pakistan. These countries were very adament about getting soviet influence out of afghanistan because it was during the cold-war. During this conflict, the human toll was very significant, there were many cases of torture, rape, numerous massacres, and looting. So, the soviet afghan war ended in 1989 and in 1992 the Islamic state of afghanistan was established, and this state ended in 1996. After the fall of the Islamic state of afghanistan, the taliban took control and named their new state the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Taliban leadership of afghanistan officially ended in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of afghanistan.
Invasion of Afghanistan
I’ll talk about who exactly the Taliban are and how they rose to power a little later but before that I think it’s important to talk about the U.S. led invasion of afghanistan which at the time was under Taliban rule. So a man named Osama Bin Laden who im sure we’ve all heard of at this point, led a terrorist group called Al-Queda that orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.-the deadliest foreign terrorist attack the United States had ever experienced. This was sort of the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ as its called which later led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Osama bin laden was actually from saudi arabia and he was of yemeni origin. To make it short, he believed in pan-islamism which is the political movement that advocates for all muslims to live in one islamic state or caliphate. Anywho, Osama Bin Laden critized the Saudi monarchy for having relations with the west and because of that he was later forced to live in exile. He lived in quite a few places but at the time of the 9/11 attacks he was in Afghanistan and the government that was run by the Taliban gave him refuge and would not hand him over. there has been a lot of debate over whether the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan was justified and we’ll get to that topic in our next episodes with our guests. There has also been a lot of controversy regarding war crimes being committed against Afghan civilians and just the overall treatment of normal afghan civilians who were unfortunately caught between the Taliban and the United States.
After the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, U.S. troops remained in the country until 2021. While the United States and its allies were in Afghanistan, they helped establish the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan which is the Afghanistan most of us are probably the most familiar with. The first president of the new Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was Hamid Karzai, and after him in 2014 came president Ashraf Ghani. Under this new government, there was an attempt to create infrastructure and move the country in the right direction. That being said, there was also a lot of corruption in the government and it was still ineffective in pushing back against the Taliban who still controlled parts of Afghanistan even when U.S troops were there. In 2018 the Trump administration started negotiating with the Taliban which ended in an official peace agreement that was signed in 2020. The talks were actually hosted in Qatar. One of the biggest issues with this agreement is that it did not include the internationally recognized Afghan government, led by Ashraf Ghani. So that brings us to 2021 which is when the United States officially ended the war in afghanistan and pulled out all American troops from the country.
Who are the Taliban
I briefly want to also talk about who exactly the Taliban are. So the roots of the taliban date back to the soviet-afghan war, and if you remember the mujahedeen was fighting the soviets and the one-party afghan state. So the mujahedeen as I mentioned earlier was a collective group of mostly rural afghans who worked together as a sort of coalition. So the term Mujadeheen is an umbrella term for those who resisted the Soviets. The mujadeheen then started all fighting each other after they largely succeeded in driving the soviets out and out of this infighting came a group called the taliban that was mostly a group of conservative Pashtuns. So they started building their base of support in the city of kandahar and quickly took over parts of afghanistan where the populations were pashtun. It’s also important to remember that Afghanistan is a fairly tribal society in the sense that the central government in Kabul hasn’t been very important to people in rural areas so there is sort of a disconnect and that’s part of the reason why groups like the taliban have been somewhat successful. But basically, the taliban gains support by indoctrinating children from a very young age in the areas they control through religious schools which for many are the only schools they have access to. The Taliban in its early days actually also got a lot of funding from Pakistan. Pakistan gave the taliban weapons because they were worried that the taliban would attempt to have a stronghold in pakistan. The taliban was also able to have economic capital because they made profits from growing poppy and being involved in the illegal opium trade and also in the early stages of their expansion in afghanistan, they conquered mostly pashtun territories and got money from taxing things like highways. And that’s essentially how they came to rule the central government in 1996 until the U.S. led invasion in 2001. And obviously, after U.S. troops departed from Afghanistan in 2021 they were able to seize power.
Dynamics and different political groups
At this point you might be wondering if there is any organized coalition or group that opposes the taliban right now. The answer is yes, there is a group called the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan that is led by a man named Ahmad Massoud. Now the Massoud family has played quite an important role in Afghanistan, even before this. So, Ahmad Massoud’s father was Ahmad Shah Massoud who was a politician and important military commander. He played a huge role in fighting against to soviets during the soviet-afghan war and he was definely a leader in the mujaheeden- and remember the mujahedeen is in no way synonyms with the taliban as I explained earlier. So Ahmad Shah Massoud was one of the people who staunchly resisted the taliban and he was actually killed by al-queda 2 days before the september 11 attacks. And after his death the forces that he led actually helped the U.S. and its allies remove the taliban from power. So going back to the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan that is led by his son, I honestly can’t speak to how effective or popular the coalition is but its important to know about them and be aware of their existence.
So obviously the taliban now has some foreign support that has allowed them to maintain their grip. They continue to get money from illegal drug trades and from exploiting afghanistan’s natural resources. They also get donations however which has been a huge source of controversy. The taliban gets a signifacnt amount of funding from private citizens from several Arab countries of the persian Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Additionally, the governments of Pakistan, Iran, and Russia have been accused of funding the taliban. Something else that’s really interesting though is that after the taliban takeover in 2021, China and chinese companies became very interested in investing in afghanistan. But we’ll talk more about the role of foreign governments and how they engage with the taliban in our next episodes with our guests.
What now/where we are today
Finally, I want to end with the current situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is facing one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The Afghan economy is in shambles. Western aid has been suspended because western governments regard the taliban as designated terrorists. Beyond that, millions of Afghans face acute malnutrition and starvation especially with the harsh winter. Another one of the most pressing issues in country is the rights of women and girls. Women cannot leave their houses without a male guardian with them. It is also the only country in the world that does not allow girls to access education. So girls in Afghanistan have been out of school for more than a year now, and schools that operate illegally are being targeted by the taliban. There is also a resurgence of groups like ISIS-K which is Afghanistan’s branch of ISIS and they have been targeting the Shia minority in Afghanistan by carrying out horrible attacks like suicide bombing. Public floggings and executions and just really egregious human rights abuses are taking place under the talibans orders as well. The last thing that I really want to highlight in regard to the current state of Afghanistan is the treatment of the Hazara ethnic group. Hazaras are one of the smaller ethnic groups in the country and they are mostly Shia muslims unlike the majority of Afghanistan which has made them a main target of both the taliban and groups like ISIS-K. This is why you may have seen the hashtag stop hazara genocide trending. In our next few episodes our guests will discuss the current state of the country further.
With all that being said, that is all for this episode of the Gen Z Global Affairs podcast. I hope this helped you understand how Afghanistan got to the state that it’s in today. I want to end with a book and documentary recommendation for those of you who are interested in learning more about this topic in particular. For a documentary, I would recommend a documentary on Netflix called “In her hands” which is about one of Afghanistan’s few female mayors. Even though the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is fiction, I think it definitely gives good insight and its a very digestible book especially if you are on the younger side of the Gen Z spectrum, so that’s one book I would recommend. Another video that I would recommend though is on youtube and it is called Here’s who really won the war in afghanistan. This video was made by Johnny harris and it gives insight into factors that are not really discussed in the mainstream when it comes to Afghanistan discourse. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter which you can do by visiting our website genzglobalaffairs.com, and as always, if you have any questions, comments, feedback, or requests for future episodes and topics please let me know by sending an email to email@example.com Also don’t forget to follow us on social media, our handle on Instagram and Twitter is Gen Z Global Affairs!