Who are the Taliban and what do they want? 5 key points

While a broad array of insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan often get labeled as simply the 'Taliban,' in reality there are several groups fighting the Afghan government and Western forces. They often act independently of one another and have distinct command structures, ideologies, and strategies. Here, the Monitor maps out the diversity of the insurgency.

This is an updated version of a Monitor briefing originally published on Apr. 16, 2009 and written by Anand Gopal.

Rahmat Gul/AP
Taliban militants, who were arrested by Afghan intelligence forces, are presented to the media at the Afghan intelligence department in Mehterlam, Laghman province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, March 28.

Afghan insurgents

The original Taliban

The most established group is the Taliban that led the Afghan government in the 1990s. Led by Mullah Omar and others who held top positions in the pre-invasion government, the Taliban has traditionally held the most sway in southern Afghanistan, where it has deep roots. US officials believe that senior leaders are based in Pakistan, possibly Quetta.

Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami

A prominent ally under the Taliban umbrella is Hizb-e-Islami, a group formed by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the 1970s to fight the Soviet-backed government and later the Soviet invasion. Throughout the 1980s, Hizb-e-Islami was an ally of Pakistan and the United States.

After the US invasion in 2001, a faction of Hizb-e-Islami led by Mr. Hekmatyar joined the insurgency. It is strongest in the northern regions of the country, Afghanistan expert Antonio Giustozzi told the Monitor in 2009. With its long history, Hizb-e-Islami may have extensive contacts in the government and police.

While many Taliban fighters are poor and uneducated, Hizb-e-Islami members have usually gone to school, even college. Perhaps as a result, they tend to have a more lenient interpretation of Islam than other insurgent groups do – for example, they often allow music and parties.

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