The “New” Taliban: A Changing of Ideology or Strategy?

By Shakiba Mahryaar

This article was originally written five months after the collapse of Afghan government. However, due to security threats, I could not publish it. Now, it is almost two years since the return of the Taliban. As I have said before, and even now, nothing has changed within the Taliban’s behavior. They have only become more oppressive than they were before!

Since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban for the second time in August 2021, there have been many whispers in the national and international press about the “Changes of the Taliban” or “Taliban 2.0”. However, this is premature and has not taken into account their actions and rulings. This 2021 new version of the Taliban is no different from the 1996 Taliban.

In 1996, when the Taliban took control of the Afghanistan for the first time, after defeating Mujahedeen, they did not have enough political and diplomatic experience in governance. During that period, the Taliban’s policies and approaches were traditional and extremist, and the group did not understand the power and influence of neighboring and powerful countries.

On the first day of their victory, the Taliban shelled Iranian diplomatic figures in Mazar-e Sharif. They also hijacked an Indian airplane which landed in Kandahar province, with the support of Pakistani intelligence. They punished Afghan women for leaving their houses. Additionally, they have now enforced compulsory veiling, banded girls’ education, and have banded women from working, among other limitations.

Men have also been punished for undermining the Taliban’s rulings, for example by having short beards. In addition, singing was previously and is currently banned as well. Those not obeying the Taliban would be punished and beaten without access to justice via legal processes.

In terms of ethnicity, they committed genocide against Hazaras in Bamyan and Tajiks in Parwan. They also destroyed the historic Bamyan Buddha statues. When it comes to sovereignty, only one of the ethnicity, the Pashtuns, was and are in power. With such a strategy in placed, aided by international terrorists (such as Osama bin Laden) and Pakistani intelligence agencies, they control the population of Afghanistan.

As a result of the 9/11 attacks and Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden to the United their 5-year rule ended with the start of the NATO mission in Afghanistan in 2001. But now after twenty years of foreign troops and democratic governance, the Taliban has once again taken control of the country, has institutionalized Sharia Law over the democratic system in Afghanistan. This political shift was very much unexpected, and now every Afghan, international stakeholders and even the Taliban wonder how they took control so quickly.

This time round, the Taliban have experience and have learnt lessons from 1996 which inform them of their weakness and how to effectively engage in diplomatic relations with regional and international actors in. So they came with a changed strategy in 2021 but they set the same goals from 1996. Before discussing the current Taliban strategy, it is important to examine who and what the Taliban are.

Who are the Taliban?

To respond to this question, we can say that the 1996 Taliban is no different from the new version of the group in 2021. Below some commonalities are highlighted:

  • They are comprised of ethnic Pashtuns.
  • Their members are recruited from Southern and Southeastern provinces of Afghanistan.
  • They are ideologically aligned with the Haqqani network and Mullah Omar.

Therefore, we can see that there are no changes in the new version of the Taliban.

What are the Taliban?

The Taliban of 1996, graduated from Pakistani Deobandi Islamic Madrassas. Today’s Taliban also graduated from the same Madrassas. To illustrate this point, one seminary Vice Chancellor said the following  to New York Times in an article from November 2021 “We feel proud that our students in Afghanistan had first broken the Soviet Union and now sent the U.S. packing.”

The Taliban of 1996 was supported by Pakistani intelligence, and today’s Taliban are also supported by them. One week after Taliban took control, the head of Pakistan’s  Inter-Services Intelligence visited the Taliban to re-structure their cabinet and calm internal Taliban disagreements, and disputes related to Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network.

What are the  differences now to Taliban rule in 1996:

As mentioned earlier, the Taliban of 1996 did head a series of movements comprising of traditional and extremist attitudes. Now after twenty years, with the acquisition of greater political diplomacy in the region and the wider world, they changed their behavior. However, although they are now using different approaches of engagement, they are still trying to achieve the same goals of extremism and tribalism within their movement. They routinely announce that “our government is all-inclusive”.

Girls will go to school, as they are working on some processes to allow girls above grade six to restart school. These announcements are just deception, intended to pacify the international community. Even claims to respect freedom of assembly and advocacy were dealt with by firing at demonstrators and targeted killings.

A huge number of women who had taken part in demonstrations were killed. Others were raped. During the first months of the regime women were permitted to continue as they previously did, but only with a Mahram (chaperone). But now, women cannot go to universities or work. There is no education and work for women at all under the “new” Taliban.  

There are many other restrictions which also highlight that the Taliban have not changed ideologically since 1996. Music is no longer allowed. Girls are not allowed to exercise outdoors. Barbers are not allowed to shorten beards. People who were educated in the past twenty years are not given employment opportunities. Those who worked for foreigners are legitimate targets for execution under the current regime.

A huge number of former military personnel have been killed, imprisoned or disappeared. The genocide of Hazaras and Tajiks is the top priority of the Taliban.  This can be seen by the forced migration of Tajik and Hazara people and the settlement of Pashtuns in northern provinces. Additionally, providing a safe haven for international terrorists is on their to-do list as well.

In 1996 the Taliban sheltered international terrorists and Al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden. Today brain drain, poverty, and daily misfortunes are worse than they were 1996. In 1996, the Taliban started a clear genocide in Afghanistan, especially in Bamyan, without understanding the political ramifications and regional actor’s perceptions. Although now the Taliban has announced a public amnesty, they continue to target and kill former military staff, and are engaged in ethnic cleansing in Panjshir province without any international media coverage. Their strategy has changed, but not the desired goals and plans.

The Taliban’s approach represents the same extremist ideology of 1996. Only their strategy for international recognition has changed. The current policies of the regime show that there has not been any ideological change among the group. When there is no diverse representation in the Taliban cabinet how can it be claimed that the government is exclusive? The Taliban are the same as they previously were. They are only driven by their own narrow interests and not the needs of the Afghanistan’s citizens. So we must say, NO TO THE TALIBAN!


Shakiba Mahryaar She has a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a Master’s degree in International Relations. Shakiba has participated in and completed many training initiatives, including: Women capacity building methods, public speaking, and media awareness in women capacity building.



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The article does not reflect the official opinion of the AISS.