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Ideology in the Afghan Taliban

Authors: Anand Gopal and Alex Strick van Linschoten

Affiliation: Afghanistan Analysts Network

Organization/Publisher: Afghanistan Analysts Network

Date/Place: June 2017/Afghanistan

Type of Literature: Research Report

Number of Pages: 43 


Keywords: Ideology, Taliban, Afghanistan, US Invasion, anti-Soviet Jihad, Sufism


This research report was written by Gopal, an academic and journalist who specializes in Afghanistan, and Van Linschoten, a linguist and researcher covering the Taliban. The report was commissioned by the Afghanistan Analyst Network, a German-based conflict studies non-profit covering Afghanistan from Kabul. The report’s findings challenge long-held myths about the Taliban which circulated in American media immediately after the 2001 invasion. Gopal and Van Linschoten collected and digitized all official publications they could find issued by the Taliban under the Taliban Sources Project. Based on these documents and interviews, the report challenges three conventional myths about the Taliban. First, that the Taliban’s ideology is a mechanical, literalist interpretation of Islam that has not changed in over thirty years. Second, that the Taliban’s ideology was born in Pakistani refugee camps, and represents a phenomenon alien to Afghan society. Third, that the Taliban’s ideology represents a form of Deobandism (or, in some variants, Wahhabism) that stands in opposition to Sufism and other religious tendencies prevalent in Afghan society. Instead, they show that the Afghan Taliban’s ideology is a) the result of a sophisticated internal logic that has changed in subtle but important ways over the years, b) the origins of the Taliban’s ideology lie in the southern Pashtun village, not the Pakistani refugee camp, and 3) their thinking is heavily infused with Sufism. The report offers the first analytic look at the ideological formation of the Taliban through firsthand accounts. The authors argue that most Taliban members were not trained in Pakistani madrassas but rather in hujras, informal guestrooms in village mosques. Perhaps the most devastating conclusion of the report is that the Taliban are not simply an arm of the Pakistani state promoting non-indigenous forms of piety, but rather a home-grown resistance movement to American occupation.

By: M. Üveys Han, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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