19 years ago Afghanistan was in a critical situation, there was chaos and the peoples’ future was uncertain. Unemployment was widely spread across the country and there was a serious drought that led people to pray for rain in the desert out of desperation. In the 1990s Afghans started leaving their country in droves, but the majority was not able to head to the West. Millions remained in Iran and Pakistan and were mostly referred to the immigration department and Western embassies to be granted asylum, especially Shiites (Hazaras) were receiving severe punishment over their religious affiliation.

More than four million Afghans migrated to Iran, Pakistan, and the West when the Taliban took power. The Brain drain  was immense, as intellectuals were fleeing the country. At the same time, armed opportunists in Afghanistan started to extort ordinary citizens. Every day was a bloody day in the Afghanistan; corpses were lying in the streets and often remained there for days.

All this, of course was a consequence of Taliban rule. But who are the Taliban? What are their goals? I will use my personal experience as an Afghan to give you some insights.
They are a group of dissident composed of mostly badly educated clerics, who oppose the Afghan government. They take their cues from the  Hanafi and the Wahabi schools of Islam. Their narrow-minded interpretation of Islam is still dominant in Saudi Arabia and was spread with a lot of money from there to the Hindu Kush during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

The Taliban were new and unfamiliar to Afghans until 1995, when they started to capture Afghan city after city in the power vacuum left by the Soviets after 1989.The Taliban managed to seize almost the entire country in less than five years.  This is when great misfortune came to the Afghan people.
Taliban are narrow-minded and merciless, they set up uncommon and strict rules for everyone to follow. To give you a few examples, it is forbidden to shave beards or listen to music. Women in particular are targeted, they can no longer work outside of their homes or even walk outside unaccompanied by men. Essentially women were deprived of their common civil rights. They are treated as second class human beings.

The destructive power of the Taliban went unnoticed by the international community for many years. After driving out the Soviets, Washington lost all interest in the country. This changed only after the bombing of the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in 2001. On 11 September 2001 the international community realized the threat the Taliban posed with their support of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

By the end of 2001 the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, which includes mostly non-Pashton forces, commenced fighting Taliban with the strong support of the West. Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other minority tribes joined the fight.

With the first victory, a new page was turned in the history of Afghanistan. The Taliban were defeated, beards were shaved, music was turned back on, women headed to work – life changed. Afghans started learning foreign languages and new technologies, and a number of positive developments were seen in other fields of the country.

This new era was enjoyable for Afghans; hundreds of schools and universities were opened in major cities of the country with the financial support of the international community. Girls were once again allowed to attend schools and many young people who had studied abroad, returned home to share their experience and knowledge.

In 2002 the economy started to gain steam. A decade after the Taliban’s dark regime had collapsed, peoples’ hopes for the future were raised.

Ashraf Shejah, a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif and an educated young Afghan, currently works with the German Organization for International Cooperation (GIZ). He believes that Afghans remember the Taliban’s inhumane actions while they were in power, and thus they will never let them come back again.

Habibullah Yamin is working as a Medical Doctor at a military hospital in Northern Afghanistan. He is both, a doctor and a military officer and should the need arise,  he will drop his scalpel and take up his gun to fight the Taliban.

Like these two, many in Afghanistan have taken a vow: Never again will they let the Taliban come back to plunge the country into terror and totalitarianism!

Afghans now are more aware and smarter than ever,  as they all have tasted the flavor of freedom.
To get here,  thousands of Afghan and Western lives were lost. The United States took the most casualties among the intervening nations,  and spent more than 800 billion dollars on Afghan infrastructure and the education of  the ANSF.

Recent media reports show new attacks by the Taliban in Kabul and the countryside. Does this mean the Taliban will return? Will Afghanistan turn into a lost victory like Iraq?
Well, the attacks are real, terrorist networks launch some destructive actions and insurgency pops up here and there, but a lasting defeat of the new Afghanistan is not at all likely. Regular people have turned hostile to the Taliban’s violent  philosophy. Despite some support these terrorists still  receive, they will not win the war.

Recently Mullah Omar leader of Taliban died and within hours was replaced by Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. Mansour is a former affiliate of the Hezbi Islami (Islamic Party) faction, which is lead by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord who was engaged in attacks against Kabul residents in the 1990s. His appointment has sparked much speculation over the future of the Taliban and the impact it would have on the upcoming peace talks.

The Taliban elected Mullah Mansour to fill their leadership gap while Afghans got more optimistic following the death of Mullah Omar. Recent bombings show that they wish to continue their campaign of violence against innocent people.
According to the experts, Afghanistan must get stronger; policy changes are needed in three main areas:

– inclusive development,

– government

– and resource management.

Therefore it is necessary that the Americans will not make the same mistake again. They shouldn’t  abandon Afghanistan to the forces of evil and terror.

This is the will of most Afghans and it is in the national interest of the United States of America as well. Afghanistan is still full of women in burqas, the full-length shroud that covers even the face, but now many of the burqa-clad women are out on their own or only with other women.Change is slow in Afghanistan, but it is coming.