Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban faction is once again the subject of worldwide condemnation, announcing its destruction of Buddha statues dating back to the third- and fifth-centuries. Carved from the face of a mountain in central Afghanistan, the statues, one reaching a height of 170 feet, were remnants of a period in early Afghani history when Buddhism flourished under Kushin and Ephthalite domination. In spite of their historical significance, the statues were considered “idolatrous” by Afghanistan’s Islamic fundamentalist regime. Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil recently announced that the destruction of Afghanistan’s many smaller Buddha statues is 80 percent complete, with plans to eradicate the remaining underway.
The Taliban have consistently used extreme measures in their quest to build a strict Islamic state in Afghanistan. While the highly publicized plight of Buddhist monuments there has given the international community a glimpse into the tactics used by Taliban leaders to promote their horrific values and intentions, western media has offered little insight into how the Taliban came to be.
War raged in Afghanistan from 1979-1987 as U.S.-trained and financed Mujahideen guerrilla forces fought a Soviet-backed Marxist government. U.S. foreign policy bent on preventing “the spread of communism” prompted American leaders to pump $5 billion worth of arms into Afghani terrorist forces between 1980-1986, and $50 million in covert aid. Beckoned by a 1978 Friendship Treaty, Soviet troops entered Afghanistan in 1979 to support the Afghani government.
With generous trade deals and economic aid from the USSR, Afghanistan had initiated an ambitious development program including the construction of irrigation networks, schools, roads, factories and hydroelectric plants. Socialist reforms offered Afghani citizens improved living standards, social change and availability of technologies even during the war. However, Soviet troops withdrew in 1987 in part from heavy casualties, leaving Afghanistan vulnerable to the Mujahideen, or “freedom fighters.” Political instability and violence ensued, leading to the Mujahideen’s forceful takeover of Afghanistan in 1992. A split within the Mujahideen in 1994 led to the emergence of the Taliban, a splinter group favoring the imposition of strict Islamic law, who captured the capital of Kabul in 1996.
Upon their bloody rise to power, the Taliban forbade women from working outside the home. Females are now prohibited from attending school, and are not allowed to leave their houses without a head-to-toe garment called a burqa. Taliban officials have established laws requiring the windows of all houses occupied by females be painted over, while Afghani women cannot appear in public without a male family member.
Women who violate these laws are subject to on-the-spot punishment by Taliban militiamen, usually in the form of beatings.
Trapped at home, 35,000 widows in Kabul are hard pressed to support their families. According to one Afghani humanitarian official, 40 percent of cash aid spent in Kabul is now directed at women’s needs that were non-existent before the Taliban’s rise to power, when women constituted much of the workforce.
Marital infidelity is a crime worthy of death under Taliban edicts, and television is a western evil bared from every household and school. Afghanistan now boasts one of the shoddiest medical care systems in the world, providing only one hospital for every 500,000 citizens, and one physician per 7,001 inhabitants.
Afghanistan’s education system is ruined, as the majority of its teachers-women-are imprisoned within their homes. The Afghani economy suffers from a 240 percent monetary rate of inflation, and has declined sharply from internal instability and a crumbling infrastructure. UN-imposed sanctions for the Taliban’s refusal to extradite Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born millionaire suspected of financing terrorist activities directed at the U.S., have aggravated the economic deterioration.
In late March, a famine striking several districts in northern Afghanistan prompted hundreds of families to flee into Pakistan amid reports of widespread death. They join more than 2.6 million other Afghani exiles, the largest single refugee group on earth.
Contemporary Afghanistan is a sharp contrast to that of yesteryear. The socialist policies that once promoted gender equality and economic growth have been reversed as the Taliban imposes Islamic social customs and laws so archaic, many have been rejected even in fundamentalist Iran. The U.S. government took the lead in financing and training the Mujahideen and should concede its responsibility for the Taliban dictatorship. Afghanistan represents the worst scenario of American interference in a foreign state, causing incomprehensible misfortune for all Afghani citizens.
U.S. leaders are well advised to cease their strategic and economic ambitions within nations in strife to prevent another such tragedy.