The Taliban established a government headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar, the group's spiritual leader (and a military leader as well) until his death c.2013. Although the civil war continued, mainly with the Northern Alliance in N Afghanistan, Taliban rule ended much of the factional fighting and corrupt rule that had afflicted Afghanistan after the collapse in 1992 of the Soviet-aligned government. The Taliban also rigidly enforced puritannical laws that were influenced by Wahhabi Islam and Afghan tribal customs, and provided a refuge for Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and similar Islamic militant groups. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that Al Qaeda launched against the United States, the United States retaliated against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, providing support for a Northern Alliance offensive against the Taliban that led to their collapse and the entry of U.S. forces into Afghanistan. By Dec., 2001, the Taliban had surrendered their last urban stronghold, Kandahar, and they and Al Qaeda retreated into the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border or dispersed among the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
The Taliban subsequently survived several U.S. and NATO campaigns intended to eliminate them as a significant guerrilla force. Aided by the renewed warlordism and corruption, by tribal Pashtun ties, and by a largely moribund Afghan economy, they reestablished training camps in Pakistan, mainly in North and South Waziristan and Baluchistan, and continued to draw students from religious schools there; they also were widely believed to receive support from Pakistan's security forces, despite denials by Pakistan.
By 2003 the Taliban were again mounting ongoing guerrilla attacks in Afghanistan, mainly against government supporters and forces, school teachers, and foreign troops and aid workers; they used suicide-bomber attacks. Several times the Taliban gained control of S Afghanistan districts and towns in larger operations, though by 2014 the Taliban were less successful in battle and controlled only a few districts. They had greater success against Afghan forces after the withdrawal in 2014 of foreign combat troops, mounting a number of successful attacks, as at Kunduz in N Afghanistan in 2015, but could not always hold (or did not always choose to hold) territory they had won. Nonetheless, additional successes led by mid-2017 to effective Taliban control of roughly half the country. In 2020 the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement that called for a U.S. and NATO troop reduction and those troops ultimate withdrawal, and for the Taliban to reduce its attacks, cut ties with Al Qaeda, and engage in a prisoner swap and negotiations with the Afghan government. Some U.S. troops were withdrawn, but Taliban fighting with Afghan forces continued and prisoner swaps were limited. Since 2010 the Taliban have increasingly come to resemble a criminal organization in their dependence and focus on extortion, opium, morphine, and heroin production and trafficking, illegal mining, and the like. Most of the Taliban's funding now comes from the illegal drug trade.
The Taliban's presence in Pakistan has led to the growth of a so-called Pakistani Taliban as well. Drawn mainly from Pakistan's ethnic Pashtuns and consisting of a number of loosely allied militias who also have split into factions at times, they have become an important militant force based primarily in Waziristan but with operations in other areas, seeking to establish a rigid, extremely conservative form of Islamic law and fighting at times with government troops. The Pakistani government has accused members of the Pakistani Taliban of assassinating (2007) Benazir Bhutto. In 2009 the Pakistani military conducted major offensives again the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan. The Pakistani Taliban are believed to have been involved in plotting the 2010 attempted bombing of Times Square, New York City, and have trained foreign Islamists. A Pakistani government offense was mounted again the group in North Waziristan in 2014, leading to murderous revenge attack against a Peshawar school. Also in Pakistan are the groups known as Punjabi Taliban; these draw their membership mainly from the Sunnis of Punjab prov.
See studies by A. Rashid (rev. ed. 2010) and P. Bergen and K. Tiedemann (2013).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Central Asian History