The Taliban and the History of Terror

Dr. Chris Anyokwu


By Chris Anyokwu

The Taliban of Afghanistan are in the news again.  It’s not as if they’ve always left the limelight, either directly or indirectly.  Many people might have read about them, heard their name mentioned on CNN and other television networks or even seen depictions of them on social media, etc, etc.  What appears indubitably evident is that the mere mention of the word Taliban tends to evoke images of terror, of extreme forms of religious fundamentalism that, in turn, sanctions blood-chilling campaigns of mass butchery – the amputation of human limbs, beheadings and other grisly and horrendous acts of debasement of the primal sanctity of man.  Like beasts of the wild, they leave their trademark trail of horror on the world map, from pole to antipodes.  But if anybody was in doubt as to the fact that the Taliban means business, that doubt or its residue has been dispelled by the events of the last few days.  Following the withdrawal of the U.S. military forces from the arid country, the Taliban wasted no time in filling in the power vacuum created by the present absence of the Americans.  Let’s be clear: it’s not as if there was not a democratically-elected civilian government in the saddle at the time the Taliban struck.  All the traditional appurtenances of civic authority were in place, all right.

President Ashraf Ghani when he was fleeing from the Talibans

But they or rather the power-holders, as we have now discovered, were, for all intents and purposes, mere paper tigers.  Preying-mantises in power!  What can preying-mantises do when ravenous beasts of prey prowl the jungle?  The Taliban are the real McCoy, as the Americans would say.  At the first signs of trouble, Afghan president Ashraf Shani and other politicians took to their heels, fleeing the country in turmoil for a safe haven abroad.  In the last few days since the Taliban seized power through the barrel of the gun, they have managed to keep a firm and tight grip on the fear-crazed citizens of Afghanistan.  We all watched in utter shock and consternation footage on satellite cable television networks as hapless and desperate Afghan fellahin attempted to also flee the roiling crucible called Afghanistan as they clung on to the deporting U.S. Air Force plane at the Kabul airport.  Many died uselessly in that pinheaded suicidal attempt.   It’s sad that the Afghan National Army proved a broken reed to the people who had reposed complete faith and confidence in them to defend and protect them in any eventuality such as this.  The Afghan military, trained by the U.S. forces for about 20 years, was no match for the feral and ferocious Taliban.  How does one trouble a group of war-hardened campaigners with the prospect of death or violence?  The Taliban was a faction of the Afghan Mujahadeen.

Members of Taliban in Afghanistan’s president office

The Afghan Mujahadeen was supported by the United States of America way back during the presidency of Babrak Karmal.  President Karmal was thought to be a ponce or lickspittle of the Soviet Union, America’s sworn enemy. In order to defeat the Soviet Union and flush them out of the region, the U.S. decided to train and arm the Taliban to the teeth.  In 1992, the Afghan Mujahadeen defeated the Afghan military and took over power.  The Taliban who had always wanted to impose the strict Islamic code- the Sharia Law-went ahead to do so.  The Sharia law is considered by observers and non-Muslims to be anti-women, anti-Western values and ultra-patriarchal.  As a result of this perception, the U.S. decided to go against their erstwhile allies, the Taliban, seeking to annihilate them with their awe-inspiring arsenals and superior military might.  Again, we ask: how do you scare a merchant of death with violence or death?  The September 11, 2001 Osama Bin Laden-led terror attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and on the Pentagon leading to multiple deaths sent a clear and unambiguous signal to America that they were gods with feet of clay.  America had thereafter hunted Osama Bin Laden for years until they successfully got him in Pakistan during the administration of President Barack Obama.

Osama bin Laden

The longstanding love affair between the U.S. and the Taliban will continue to fascinate cultural historians, political thinkers and philosophers of history.  For instance, in 1985, President Ronald Reagan had held a meeting with the Taliban at the White House.  Reagan, the patron saint of the American Republican Party (a.k.a the GOP) was quoted as saying gushingly: “These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers”.  Fast-forward a bit: in 2018 President Donald J. Trump got Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar released from prison.  In 2020, Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, met with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. In 2021, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is now set to become the President of Afghanistan under Taliban rule.  Today, the International Terror Index tells us that Afghanistan is the world’s number one terrorist state.  What’s more, the country has for years been a veritable nursery of global terror, what with its franchising or/and outsourcing of terror to the length and breadth of the earth.  Consider this: Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, ISWAP and other Islamist terrorist organisations owe their ideological provenance and afflatus to the Taliban.  Small wonder, therefore, they have been able to radicalize many young people in Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, Oceania and, of course, Africa.  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, nicknamed the “Underwear Bomber” or “Christmas Bomber”, a Nigerian-born terrorist, 23 at the time, confessed to and was convicted of attempting to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on board Northwest Airlines Flight  253 en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan on Christmas Day, 2009.


Many regions of Africa have become hotbeds and flashpoints of terrorism, no thanks to the snowballing influence of the Taliban.  Libya, Mali, Niger, Chad, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Nigeria are all torn to shreds by terror.  As a matter of fact, the West Africa sub-region is said to be the target of Islamist terrorists.  The rampaging and marauding activities of herdsmen in Nigeria have kept everyone on tenterhooks.  Furthermore, Islamic terrorism has been carried out in other parts of the world, especially Europe.  The Islamic State (ISIL), Al-Qaeda and Islamist lone wolves have been carrying out their nefarious activities since the late 20th century.  Europol declared 2006 – 2010 as “Islamist terrorism” period in Europe; 2011 – 2014 as  “religiously-inspired terrorism”; 2015 – “Jihadist terrorism”.  Europol defines Jihadism as “a violent ideology exploiting traditional Islamic concepts”.  To be certain, in 2004, Europe recorded the deadliest terror attack in the infamous Madrid train bombings which claimed 193 lives.  On July 7, 2005, we had the London bombings which consumed 52 souls.  It’s reasonable to surmise that the European migrant crisis equally triggered terrorist activity in Europe.

For instance, the Jewish Museum of Belgium shooting in May, 2014 was committed by a returnee from the Syrian war.  In November, 2015, we had the Paris Attacks that claimed 130 lives.  In July 2016, terrorists also struck in Nice, France in the so-called Nice truck attack.  86 people were killed during the incident. Also in June 2016, there was a terrorist attack at the Ataturk Airport which claimed 32 lives.  And in May, 2017 in Manchester, England, just before the music concert of Grande, the Bad Guys came to town, leaving in their wake, sorrow, tears and blood.  Twenty-two lives were dispatched grievously to the Great Beyond in that hideous event.  But, truth be told, terror or violence has been with us for aeons.  Take, for example, The Crusades.  The world witnessed eight major crusade expeditions between 1096 – 1291.

The Crusades

These were a series of religious wars fought between Christians and Muslims over ownership of the Holy sites in Jerusalem.  Besides, Caucasian overlords in genocidal expeditions virtually obliterated the Red Indians from the New World.  Same experience was meted out to blacks and other so-called inferior races in Latin America and elsewhere, notably in the Middle East.  How about here in Africa?  Remember the Mfecane?  This word “Mfecane”, meaning “crushing” was used by the Nguni to describe the violent wars that tore apart Central and Southern Africa between 1820 and 1835, leading inexorably to forced migration.  However, modern historians contend that it was drought and environmental degradation that encouraged farmers and cattle herders to migrate throughout the region.  But the more likely cause of the Mfecane was the truculence and contumely of the bellicose Zulus.  The Apartheid regime in South Africa was undergirded by terror.

Beyond recorded time, let’s say in mythic fabulations such as in the Bible, and Greco-Roman mythologies, man has always been portrayed as a bloodthirsty, territorialising psychopath.  Ask Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Ask King Saul and David (the man of war).  Ask Achilles and Odysseus.  Ask Appollo, the god of war.  Or our own Ogun.  The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his book entitled God is Dead declares: “God is dead.  God remains dead.  And we have killed him.  How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?  What was holiest and mightiest of all the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?”

Friedrich Nietzsche. Credit: Famous People

For Nietzsche, man has killed God (read: conscience) and/or exiled Him from civilization.  Cut loose therefore, from the trammels of conscience, man as oversoul terrorizes the cosmos, challenging Fate.  But history has taught us an unforgettable lesson: like the myth of Eternal Return embodied in nature, empires will rise and fall; nations shall also rise and fall in keeping with the ebb-tide of historical evolution.  This conviction segues into Huntington’s thesis.  In his book The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington posits that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-cold war world.  His former student, Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man argues in similar vein.  In a CNN interview, a prominent member of the Taliban declared that their agenda was not just to seize the reins of temporal power in Afghanistan but, more crucially to impose their reign of terror upon the whole world.  He said that they were not in a hurry to do so and nothing, and nobody can stop them.  Soyinka has the final word: “The only consistency in history is WAR” (A Dance of the Forests).  So, as the Taliban unfurl their organogram of terror for Afghanistan and for the world, history waits.


Chris Anyokwu, PhD, writes from University of Lagos.