Capital : Kabul. Area : 647 500 km². Officials languages : Persian (Dari) and Pashto. Population : 31 889 923 inhabitants. Currency : Afghani. President : Hamid Karzai.
The Taliban are a Sunni Muslim and ethnic Pashtun movement that ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when their leaders were removed from power by a cooperative military effort between the Northern Alliance, United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Committed fundamentalist insurgents, often described as "Taliban" in the media, originating in the Frontier Tribal Areas of Pakistan, are currently engaged in a protracted guerrilla war and terrorist campaign against the current government of Afghanistan and allied NATO forces.
The Taliban movement was headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar. Beneath Mulla Omar were "a mixture of former small-unit military commanders and Madrasah teachers" and then a rank and file most of whom had studied in Islamic religious schools in Pakistan. The overwhelming majority of Taliban movement were ethnic Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, along with a small number of volunteers from Eurasia to China. The Taliban received valuable training, supplies and arms from the Pakistani government, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence, and many recruits from Madrasahs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, primarily ones established by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.
Although in control of Afghanistan's capital (Kabul) and much or most of the country for five years, the Taliban regime, or "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," gained diplomatic recognition from only three states: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Human rights abuses denied it United Nations recognition and most world's states, including Iran, India, Turkey, Russia, USA and most Central Asian republics opposed the Taliban and aided its rival (Afghan Northern Alliance).
While in power, the Taliban implemented the "strictest interpretation of Sharia law ever seen in the Muslim world," and became notorious internationally for their treatment of women. Women were forced to wear the burqa in public. They were allowed neither to work nor to be educated after the age of eight, and until then were permitted only to study the Qur'an. Women seeking an education were forced to attend underground schools, where they and their teachers risked execution if caught. They were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a female chaperon, which led to illnesses remaining untreated. They faced public flogging in the street, and both men and women faced public execution for violations of the Taliban's laws.