The relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda was one of the hot topics of Monday night’s presidential debate. Candidate Ron Paul downplayed the dangers of the Taliban, declaring the “Taliban used to be our allies when we were fighting the Russians… The al-Qaeda wants to come here to kill us. The Taliban just says we don’t want foreigners.”
The Taliban came on the scene in Afghanistan in 1994, several years after the Soviets departed. Taliban (which translates to “students”) were made up mainly of Afghan refugees who had grown up in Pakistan during Soviet rule in Afghanistan and attended Deobandi religious schools, where they learned a strict, puritanical form of Islam. While some of the current Taliban may have previously fought on the same side of the U.S. during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, it is inaccurate to say the Taliban as a movement was ever an ally of the United States.
Osama bin Laden’s arrival in Afghanistan in 1996, after he was expelled from Sudan, allowed the terrorist leader to forge a relationship with the like-minded Afghan Islamist movement. The bond that developed between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and bin Laden became so powerful that the Taliban refused to break ties to al-Qaeda and hand over bin Laden shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban leadership refused to give up support for bin Laden, even though they were undoubtedly aware that their refusal to cooperate with the U.S. would lead to the invasion of Afghanistan.
Not only did the Taliban provide physical protection to the world’s most wanted terrorist, the organization repressed Afghan women and terrorized the country’s minority communities during their rule (1996 – 2001).
Though Paul says the Taliban’s top priority is to expel “foreigners” from Afghanistan, the real issue is whether the Taliban has severed ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorists seeking to harm the United States. Without a clear sign that the Taliban have broken their links with international terrorists and are ready to participate in a normal political process, a Taliban return to power in Afghanistan would not only bring despair to the Afghan people, it would herald the revival of al-Qaeda.
Let’s get our facts straight on the Taliban and their agenda. It is naïve and dangerous to discount Taliban links to international terrorism and its track record of pursuing ruthless policies of violence and intimidation against the Afghan people.
If the Taliban regret their decision to protect bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks; wish to renounce ties to al-Qaeda and its international terrorist agenda; and are ready to participate in a normal political process that is acceptable to the international community, then by all means, let them come forward.
But until then, let’s not forget about the 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks that were facilitated by the Taliban’s willingness to shelter bin Laden as well as the 1,700 U.S. soldiers who have fought and died courageously defending our nation from further 9/11 types of attacks.