The U.S. decision to drop an 11-ton bomb, known as the “mother of all bombs,” in Afghanistan against an ISIS target brought back into focus that entire war and the fact that, aside from the problem of ISIS, there has still been a problem in Afghanistan of the Taliban.
How did the Taliban become so significant over the last number of years since the 9/11 attacks? It’s important to remember that the Taliban are as much a problem as the terror organizations that have congregated on Afghan soil. Taliban policies since the late 1990s involved a number of acts which they undertook which have undermined not just the security of the Middle East but also the security of the world. Of course it was the Taliban who gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and to al-Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks. They were originally located or protected by the regime in Sudan, but then in the mid-90s, bin Laden moved to Afghanistan where the Taliban had taken control and offered him a location for his training camps. It was there that bin Laden planned and implemented the horrible attack on the United States – against New York and against Washington, D.C.
One thing we’ve learned from this entire experience is that the West must not allow terror sanctuaries to grow, to thrive, and to be used to plan attacks against the West. That is the first lesson from the experience the West has had with the Taliban.
There’s a second experience with the Taliban that should be recalled. In March 2001, the Taliban decided to dynamite Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan that were 2,000 years old. These statues were located along the Silk Route and they were treasured by adherents of Buddhism, but all of a sudden the Taliban decided to attack these religious sites. The Taliban attack actually induced a debate in many radical Islamic circles about whether it was the right thing to do. At first, for example, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, thought it would be a mistake for the Taliban to attack the Buddhas because it would set up Muslims to be assaulted in Buddhist countries. Later, Qaradawi and others said, “You know what? The attack on these pre-Islamic sites was the right thing to do” and there was even a discussion about destroying pre-Islamic sites in Egypt like the pyramids and the Sphinx.
It isn’t surprising that the derivatives of al-Qaeda that have grown, like ISIS, have been attacking pre-Islamic religious sites all over the Middle East, destroying the heritage of mankind in tens of cities that were once manned and lived in by ancient empires – the Persians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians. This tendency to attack religious sites of other faiths is a very dangerous trend that really had its first modern example with the attacks of the Taliban, and they remind us of the disastrous effects of the Taliban in the years that came afterward.
A third feature of the Taliban presence in Afghanistan is an opportunity we have to learn what are the exact relations between Shiites and Sunnis. Taliban, of course, are radical Sunnis and almost everybody who starts learning about the Middle East begins thinking that Sunnis are at war with Shiites, and that’s how you understand the politics of the Middle East. But it doesn’t always work that way because the Taliban today are equipped and even trained by Iranian forces. Iran is an essential ally of the Taliban despite the fact that the Taliban are radical Sunnis and the Iranians are radical Shiites.
So if there are those who think that they could allow Iran to expand its influence around the area of the Middle East and South Asia and it won’t affect them because their enemies are essentially Sunni, they’re making a big mistake, because an expanded Iran will also enhance Sunni radicalism as it has with the Taliban in Afghanistan.