Afghanistan, which may be a crucial target of U.S. forces, isnotoriously diverse. Almost two dozen language groups exist in thatcountry, which is divided religiously among Sunni, Shia and IsmailiMuslims, along with a few historically accepted Hindus (and now a tinygroup of Christian converts from Islam, most of them fearful andsecretive).
Indeed, the Muslims are subdivided in their orientationstoward Islam and even Islamic radicalism comes in several varieties Scarcely any Muslim in Afghanistan would have approved of the bombingsof Sept. 11. Most Afghans' commitment to Islam has never beenparticularly shrill, perhaps because Afghanistan was never undersustained colonial domination.
The places where radical Islamic ideologies developed, notably Egypt andIndia, were long subject to European control. The radical Islam thatexists in Afghanistan was imported during the anti-Soviet struggle ofthe 1980s. And the Islam of the notorious Taliban is something else, acreation of special circumstances after the Soviet- Afghan war. The term "Afghan" originally referred to a particular ethnic type, whoare otherwise known as "Pushtun" or (in Pakistan) "Pathan." These "trueAfghans" speak Pushtu (Pashto) and are organized tribally, at least inmany rural areas. The elite of the country have typically been of Afghanextraction.
Some of the peoples in the country have resented and resisted Pushtundomination and call themselves by their ethnic and linguisticidentities, "Hazara," "Uzbek," "Tajik" etc., to distinguish themselvesfrom the Pushtun. They nevertheless identify themselves as "Afghan" topeople (like most Americans) who know little about internal Afghanistanaffairs.
Mujahedeen means "holy warriors" and was claimed, especially after 1980,by those people who opposed the Afghan Communist government and itsSoviet sponsors. Seven of the many mujahedeen organizations weresupported officially by Pakistan and the CIA, which tried (with onlymoderate success) to orchestrate the resistance activities against thecommunist regimes.
The mujahedeen were able to force the Soviets out of Afghanistan in 1989and eventually to bring down the Afghan Communist government in 1992.Between 1992 and 1996 they fought fiercely among themselves over controlof Kabul. Elsewhere in the country they carved the landscape into theirown respective fiefdoms, effecting a widespread collapse of socialorder.
The Taliban arose in the context of that disorder. They are the productsof the Islamic schools that were set up among the Afghan refugees duringthe war. Most of the schools were small and taught by local mullahs, butthey were a useful escape from the refugee camps as they provided foodand lodging for the boys that their own families could scarcely muster. The Taliban are mostly Pushtun and generally they have littleunderstanding of the other groups in the country. In truth, they knownothing about the history of Afghanistan, even of the recent Soviet-Afghan conflict.
Centered on the religious schools and their dormitories, the Taliban("students") had a different understanding of the world from theirfamilies in the refugee camps. Journalist and author Ahmad Rashid callsthem "orphans" of the war whose essential anchorage was the "puritanIslam" they were taught. Most of the Taliban speak only Pushtu and Urdu--an indication that in fact they are (at least culturally) Pakistanis, not Afghans.
Arab-Afghans, including Osama bin Laden, joined the resistance againstthe Soviets. They were accepted among the Pushtun parties, especiallythose favored by the Pakistanis and Saudis, but were rebuffed by thePersian speaking parties of the north. Many of them were trained duringthe war and dispersed into other parts of the Arab world after the war,where they became active in radical movements.
In recent years, however, as the Taliban have been fighting what is leftof the mujahedeen, now known as the Northern Alliance, many Arab-Afghanshave become allied with the Taliban. These Arab-Afghans are the onlyelements in the country that have any affinity with or commitment to thedestruction of Western society and culture. It remains to be seen which, if any, of them were involved in thebombing on Sept. 11.