How to get to ISI Pakistan


Guido Steinberg

To person

Dr. Guido Steinberg is an Islamic scholar and works for the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) in Berlin. From 2002 to 2005 he was a terrorism officer in the Federal Chancellery.

The Taliban movement emerged in the early 1990s as an organization for Pashtun-Afghan refugees in Pakistan. In 1994 she conquered large parts of Afghanistan. Since their overthrow, the Islamists have been operating from Pakistan.

Armed Taliban warriors in Zabul Province, south of Kabul in Afghanistan. (& copy AP)

Afghan Islamists founded the Taliban movement in the early 1990s. From autumn 1994 they conquered large parts of Afghanistan. They gave refuge to jihadists from all over the world, including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and numerous Central Asian and Pakistani groups. When the Taliban refused to extradite bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US attacked Afghanistan and overthrew it. Since 2002, the Taliban have been fighting the new Afghan government and the multinational troops stationed in Afghanistan from Pakistan.

1. The emergence of the Taliban movement

The Taliban movement (Pashto and Dari for "students") emerged in the early 1990s as an organization of Pashtun-Afghan refugees and veterans of the war against the Soviet Union who had returned from Pakistan. Its Pakistani parent organization was the Community of the Scholars of Islam (Jam‘iyat-i ‘Ulama'-i Islam, JUI). The JUI is part of the scholarly movement of Deoband (named after the place where it was founded in North India), which emerged in British India in the second half of the 19th century and established a network of religious schools across the subcontinent.

When the Muslim state of Pakistan seceded from the Indian Union in 1947, the majority of Deobandis rejected its establishment. The JUI, on the other hand, supported the separatism of state founder Ali Jinnah. At the end of the 1960s, the now Pakistani organization split. The wing, which is still more important today, concentrated its activities on the Pashtun areas of the North-Western Frontier Province (since April 2010 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Balochistan.

The JUI is an influential force in the Pashtun areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border and has built up a dense network of religious educational institutions there. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, many Afghans fled to the areas across the Pakistani border. The schools of the JUI mainly took in Pashtun refugees and, after the Soviet troops withdrew in 1989, became a training center for the Taliban.

In Afghanistan itself, shortly after the withdrawal of the Soviets, civil war broke out between rival Mujahideen groups. Pakistan had supported these organizations in order to be able to influence the future politics of the neighboring country. Ideally, a pro-Pakistani government should come to power in Kabul. When the outbreak of civil war made it clear that the mujahideen groups were not a suitable partner, the Pakistani army needed a new ally. To this end, their military intelligence service, ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), recruited Pashtun refugees from the JUI schools and built up a powerful militia. This is how the Taliban became an instrument of Pakistani foreign policy.

The Taliban conquered Afghanistan in an unprecedented triumphal march. After first appearing in the Kandahar Province of southern Afghanistan in the fall of 1994, they quickly captured the Pashtun territories in the south and east of the country. As early as 1995, they were on the verge of Kabul and took the western Afghan metropolis of Herat. The warring mujahideen in Kabul united under pressure from the Taliban. Nevertheless, they were unable to hold Kabul and withdrew to the north in 1996. Under the leadership of Ahmed Shah Masud (1953-2001) they held out as the "Northern Alliance" until the American-British invasion in 2001.

2. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (1996-2001)

After almost 17 years of war, the Taliban offered the war-weary Afghan population the prospect of peace and order. This explains their rapid triumph against the alliance of the civil war parties, which had driven the country into complete ruin after 1989. The Taliban came up with the demand for the introduction and enforcement of Islamic law, the Sharia, according to the ideas of the Deobandi scholars. In practice, the puristic Deobandi scholarship was combined with the Pashtunwali legal and honor code of the Pashtun tribes.

In the areas they controlled, the Taliban relentlessly enforced their codes of conduct. Men had to wear beards, music and television were banned, as was most sports. A religious police set up based on the Saudi Arabian model monitored compliance with these do's and don'ts. Violation could result in flogging, flogging or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense. The worst restrictions, however, fell on women, who were largely banned from the public eye. The Taliban closed all girls' schools and banned women from working.

After the capture of Kabul, the Taliban proclaimed the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in September 1996. In the same year their charismatic leader Mulla Mohammed Omar (born approx. 1959) gave himself the title "Ruler of the Believers" (Amir al-Mu'minin). Mulla Omar, who resided in Kandahar, was already the undisputed leader of the Taliban at that time and ruled together with a small leadership circle of influential functionaries, the so-called Shura (= Consultation) Council. Any opposition was brutally suppressed; the governance of the Taliban was authoritarian with totalitarian features - although the state administration was quite chaotic.

The Taliban emirate was only recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The clear sympathy of many conservative Gulf Arabs was due to the similarity of the Taliban's religious and political ideas with those of the Saudi Arabian Wahhabiya. The partly state and partly private support from the Gulf states for the Taliban turned out to be a serious mistake, since the Taliban allowed Arab jihadists as well as Central Asiatic and Pakistani jihadists to set up their headquarters and training camps on Afghan territory. One of these groups was Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. Only state support from the Taliban made it possible for al-Qaida to become the international terrorist organization that struck even in the heart of the United States on September 11, 2001.