I would say that, whether one calls it victory or not, the mission must be to destroy or permanently cripple the Taliban. The term taliban means students
, from talib
, a seeker, and by extension, a student. Afghanistan descended into civil war in 1963 (that's right, over 40 years ago), and the eventual "winners" were the Marxists, or at least they were the only ones left standing and sufficiently well-organized to form a government. At that point, many people began to get out of Dodge, and in the south and southeast, that meant Pathans (Pushtuns, whichever name you prefer) sent their sons into Waziristan (the oft referred to "tribal area" which straddles the Afghan-Pakistani border), or into Pakistani cities. There they were educated in the madrasahs. Madrasah has become a dirty word in the western world, although it is an old, old term, and within the Muslim world it is politically and ideologically neutral--it just means a school.
However, Saudi Arabia finances a great deal of foreign aid in the Muslim world, and a favorite project of theirs is to build, staff and fund schools. Wahabism, a conservative Sunni sect, is the variety of Islam the Saudis export with their school projects. The Revolutionary Guard of Iran are, like almost all Persians, Shi'ite Muslims, as are Hezbollah, and some other notorious groups, usually labelled terrorists. The Wahabis are the fundamentalist Sunni equivalent of a group like Hezbollah. They taught a conservative form of Sunni Islam in the madrasahs of Pakistan, which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But times change, and so do ideologies.
Most Afghan students in the Pakistani madrasahs were Pathans (or Pushtuns, if you prefer the contemporary rendering), and this teaching was not much different than the conservative form of Sunni Islam which obtains among that population. According to the CIA Factbook, 80% of the Afghans are Sunni Muslims, and just over 40% of the population of Afghanistan are Pathans. So, from the point of view of the situation prior to the Soviet invasion, it was not unusual that Pathans were overwhelmingly the majority of refugees to Waziristan and Pakistan, and it was not unusual that they would be educated in Saudi-funded, Wahabi-run schools.
With the Soviet invasion in 1978, the students of the madrasahs were "radicalized." It had been bad enough that a secular, Marxist regime ruled Afghanistan, now the godless commies themselves, and hated foreigners into the bargain, had invaded the country. Mohammed Omar became a member of the mujahideen, a "holy warrior" against the Soviets. He was wounded by shrapnel during a battle, but when and where that was is in dispute. While recuperating, he was educated in a Pakistani madrasah. When the Soviets finally withdrew, Omar, already enjoying a legendary reputation among the majahideen, gathered young, radical Wahabi Pathans around him, and formed the Taliban, the Students. They were based in Kandahar--where the Canadians and the English are currently fighting--near where Omar had been born and grown up. The Pathans are the largest single ethnic group, and Omar, now known as Mullah Omar, and soon to declare himself an amir
, a chieftan or leader, in his case, Amir al-Mu'minin
, Commander of the Faithful, at least at first, commanded the loyalty of the Pathans. He is still commonly referred to as Mullah Omar. (Mullah
is a religious teacher and leader.)
During the chaos of the civil war, and the war against Najibullah's Marxist regime and the Soviet army, warlords had taken control of many parts of the country. They extended their hold in the power vacuum after the Soviet withdrawl. When the Taliban organized under Mullah Omar, they quickly seized armored vehicles of the former government, and especially self-propelled artillery. This gave them an enormous advantage in the continuing civil war which erupted again after the Soviet withdrawl, especially when combined with the authority Mullah Omar commanded among the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. By 1996, the Taliban had taken Kabul, and declared an Islamic government. The Afghan people initially welcomed the Taliban, because Omar's first move, and a canny one, was to put the warlords out of business. But they also imposed Islamic law and custom on the country, for example cutting off the hands of those convicted of theft, stoning aldulterers and executing drug users. They imposed the hijab
on women, and at their most extreme, executed women found wearing cosmetics in public. Girls were not allowed to be educated with boys, which effectively meant that they got no education at all. Women were allowed to work in few places, almost exclusively in the medical profession, and then only in treating other women. After, by then, over 30 years of civil war, a great deal of the adult population of Afghanistan were widows, and the new Taliban program effectively prevented them from working to support their families. All western influences were prohibited, including motion pictures, television and almost all forms of music. "Polytheism" was outlawed, and a great many art objects in museums and private hands were destroyed.
For all that the Taliban did some good (primarily by putting the warlords out of business and attacking the drug trade, although they didn't care about heroine exported to the infidel and decadent West), they did a great deal more harm. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi Wahabi, so there is no surprise in his warm welcom in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Mullah Omar was not simply a religious bigot, he was an ethnic bigot, too. All of the other ethnic groups combined outnumber the Pathans, but no single group is as large, and they were never united and organized against the Taliban. Under Mullah Omar, the government's party line was that the other ethnic groups were degenerate, especially the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkmen of the northeast, who were charged with supporting the Soviet invasion. The "Northern Alliance" (a newspaper term) was a very loosely, largely unorganized assembly of ethnic groups in the northeast, principally lead by the Uzbeks. Even having formed some kind of organized, they were unable to oppose Mullah Omar's government. They must have been deliriously happy when they learned that the United States and NATO would invade.
The Taliban cannot be tolerated if the Afghanistan is to have a unified, effective government, and if ridding that region of a major source of terrorist militancy is to be a goal of ours. Unfortunately, as i pointed out earlier, Baby Bush and his Forty Thieves of Baghdad were already planning the invasion of Iraq less than a year after the invasion of Afghanistan, and they simply installed many of the old warlords before rushing off to their new adventure.
As much as we need to defeat, and if possible, destroy the Taliban, we also need to get rid of the warlords (the best thing the Taliban ever did), and try to set up a relatively corruption-free and efficient government there. In order to destroy the Taliban, we need not only to succeed militarily, we also need to usher a successful government into power.