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Episode
46

The Taliban

First published on
April 21, 2020
Politics
-
22
minutes
The Cold War
The Middle East
Terrorism

From sharia law to public executions, The Taliban ruled Afghanistan with a iron fist.

In this episode we look at the origins of this group, what life was like under its rule, how it has managed to survive so long, and what the future might have in store.

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Transcript

[00:00:03] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to yet another episode of English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn interesting things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to talk about the Taliban.

[00:00:29] Now you probably know a bit about the Taliban. 

[00:00:33] When you hear the term 'the Taliban', you might imagine all sorts of things - the war in Afghanistan, terrorists, Shariah law, men with big beards and rocket launchers hiding in caves. 

[00:00:49] While these are not necessarily incorrect, in this episode we are going to go a little deeper.

[00:00:57] We'll explain who the Taliban are, how they came to be, how they manage to seize power, how they have never really lost power, and we'll end with a few ideas about what the future might look like for the Taliban. 

[00:01:16] And in the next 20 minutes or so I'm confident that you'll emerge with a much better idea, and a much more rounded understanding of a group that has had a huge impact on the balance of power in the region and the world more widely. 

[00:01:35] But before we get right into it this is my chance to remind those of you who haven't yet seen the light, that you can grab a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:52] If you are wanting to improve your English listening skills, then there aren't many better ways than to listen to a podcast with the transcript in front of you and having the key vocabulary there means that you can build up your vocabulary at the same time as listening to the podcast.

[00:02:11] So go and check that out. It is at leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:18] Right then, the Taliban. 

[00:02:21] To get one small point out of the way before we start: this is obviously not some kind of advert or endorsement of the Taliban. 

[00:02:31] They are a nasty group with some views that this podcast certainly doesn't condone, doesn't agree with. 

[00:02:39] But just because you don't agree with something, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't learn about it and just thinking that something is bad without properly understanding it and the circumstances that have allowed it to flourish is certainly not something that we would encourage. 

[00:02:59] So that's why we are taking on the Taliban, taking on at least from an informational point of view.

[00:03:08] Let's start with a linguistic point, as this is after all, a podcast about improving your language skills. 

[00:03:17] The Taliban means 'students' in Pashto, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. 

[00:03:27] The group came to power in Afghanistan after the Afghan civil war. 

[00:03:32] And from 1996 to 2001 they held power over about three quarters of the whole of Afghanistan.

[00:03:42] After the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001, after the September the 11th attacks, the Taliban lost power, at least from a governmental point of view.

[00:03:54] But slowly, slowly in the almost 20 years since the Americans first invaded, the Taliban have been regaining power. 

[00:04:06] By 2016 it was estimated that the Taliban held about 20% of Afghanistan, and even in 2019 President Trump had said that he was planning to invite the Taliban to Camp David, the US presidential retreat.

[00:04:26] So this group has never really disappeared and has been lurking in the shadows, hiding in the shadows, a constant presence in the country and the region more widely. 

[00:04:41] Afghanistan is a hugely interesting country with a fascinating past. 

[00:04:48] So it's tricky to explain everything in one short, 20 minute podcast, but let's talk about some of the main factors that help us understand the how, the who, the what, and the why of the Taliban.

[00:05:07] Firstly, how did the Taliban seize power and who exactly are they? 

[00:05:15] Well, as it often is, the Cold War was a big factor here. 

[00:05:21] Afghanistan was one of the countries where the proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States was fought. 

[00:05:31] The Soviet Union, the USSR, wanted to support the failing communist government and sent in troops to the country to prop it up, to support it. 

[00:05:44] This started the Afghanistan war, which ran from 1979 to 1989, with the Americans secretly supporting the Mujaheddin, the jihadists who were fighting against the Russians. 

[00:06:02] Long story short, after 10 years of fighting, then after the Russians left, five more years of mismanagement by the new rulers, and civil war, the Taliban managed to seize power.

[00:06:19] They proposed stability, stamping out corruption, and ensuring the rule of law, which, for a country that had been deeply lawless and under a state of foreign occupation and civil war for a lot of recent living memory, that was understandably quite an attractive proposition

[00:06:46] But with this rule of law came a lot more, the Taliban came with lots of strings attached.

[00:06:57] The Taliban, as I said, meaning 'the students', had emerged from themadrassas, the religious schools in southern Afghanistan and also Pakistan. 

[00:07:09] They followed and enforced a very strict version of Shariah law, and introduced punishments like public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers, and amputations, the cutting off of hands and feet for those found guilty of theft, of stealing. 

[00:07:34] Men had to grow beards and women had to wear burqas, the dress that covers their entire body. 

[00:07:43] And TV, cinema, lots of music, it was all banned

[00:07:49] And it was a deeply chauvinistic society that they were trying to create. 

[00:07:55] As you probably know, women were treated horribly, girls were forbidden from getting a proper education. 

[00:08:06] Obviously, these are things that most people across the world now would consider pretty barbaric and inhumane and things that civilisations in lots of the rest of the world stopped thinking were acceptable several centuries ago. 

[00:08:26] And despite people in the West who knew about what was going on in Afghanistan being quite horrified about the behaviour that they saw on display from the Taliban, there was not really a huge amount that was done to stop it. 

[00:08:47] These things were going on within Afghanistan, to the Afghan people, and despite the fact that another country didn't agree with it, there was little that they could actually do about it. 

[00:09:02] And there were also a few complications relating to international diplomacy, international relations, with the Taliban and with Afghanistan.

[00:09:14] Firstly, the Taliban government of Afghanistan was only recognised by three countries. 

[00:09:24] Can you guess which they might be and why they would have recognised it? 

[00:09:31] Well, it was naturally the countries that had the most to gain by supporting Afghanistan, the ones that wanted to keep The Taliban government friendly because of the other regional rivalries.

[00:09:47] So firstly, their neighbour, Pakistan, which is actually where it's thought that a lot of the Taliban studied. 

[00:09:57] Then also Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, who were very keen to have an influence in the region, especially if it meant being able to influence things with their mutual local rival, archrival, Iran.

[00:10:15] In any case, the rule of the Taliban, despite being evidently pretty barbaric was largely ignored by Western powers. 

[00:10:28] Afghans, as a generalisation, suffered greatly under the Taliban rule in the nineties, especially the female population. 

[00:10:39] It truly did seem like a throwback to the Middle Ages

[00:10:45] But in 2001 things all changed again, and Afghanistan was thrown back into a state of war. 

[00:10:55] However, this time it wasn't because of the terrible things that the Taliban were doing to its own people or the general barbarity of the regime. 

[00:11:07] This was tolerated by other world powers. 

[00:11:12] It was, technically at least, only because the Taliban had harboured, they had hidden, the Saudi, Osama Bin Laden, who you will know as the architect behind the September 11th attacks. 

[00:11:28] And when the US invaded Afghanistan, less than a month after September the 11th, the Taliban were no match for the well trained and well equipped US army. 

[00:11:42] The Taliban government fell within a week of the invasion, at least they fell from official power, but as I'm sure you know, just because a group isn't officially in power, it doesn't mean that they have lost all their power.

[00:12:00] The senior leaders went to the ground, they went into hiding, and many weren't captured for many years. 

[00:12:09] Lots returned, reportedly, I should say, to the Pakistani city of Quetta, and they managed things remotely from there. 

[00:12:21] And as the British found when they went to war in Afghanistan in the 19th century, and as the Soviets found when they went to war in Afghanistan in the 20th century, the Americans were also to find that Afghanistan is not an easy place to win a war when they went there in the 21st century.

[00:12:44] The combination of a difficult landscape and different cultural and ethnic groups mean that fighting in Afghanistan is fraught with difficulties, it's filled with lots of difficult aspects. 

[00:13:01] And how this helps the Taliban is of course, that they have a big advantage over any invaders. 

[00:13:10] They know the terrain, they know the geography, and they know the cultural and ethnic differences and how to manage them, at least better than any invader would.

[00:13:23] The other advantage that the Taliban had over the Americans and the NATO forces, and the advantage that they still have in fact, was, and still is time. 

[00:13:38] They could afford to wait. 

[00:13:41] They couldbide their time and continually attack the invading troops from the shadows with bombs, suicide attacks, and other classic terrorist activities.

[00:13:54] And this is exactly what has been going on off and on ever since the Americans first put boots on the ground in Afghanistan in October, 2001. 

[00:14:08] The Taliban can continue to fight and continue to wait it out, partly because they are very well financed, they are a group with quite a lot of money. 

[00:14:19] It's thought that they make as much as one and a half billion dollars a year. 

[00:14:25] A large part of this is through drugs: heroin, and opium

[00:14:32] If you weren't aware, Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer.

[00:14:38] Over 90% of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan, and most of the opiumgrowing areas are held by the Taliban, or at least the Taliban can extract some kind of taxes, money, from the opium farmers. 

[00:14:57] So this is obviously a super lucrative source of income for the group.

[00:15:05] The great irony here is that some of the Taliban's biggest markets and biggest customers are the drug addicts, the citizens of countries that have invaded them. 

[00:15:19] The war on drugs is definitely a topic for another podcast, but if you are thinking about the flow of money, specifically related to the Taliban, the Taliban produces drugs that are consumed by people all over the world, but a large part are consumed by Americans and there is actually a double cost for the US for this: both the cost that heroin addiction has on US society, and the fact that American customers are helping keep the Taliban in business, helping finance the Taliban.

[00:15:59] But as I said, we'll go into that in more detail another day. 

[00:16:05] So the Taliban has continued to be a well-financed group operating from the shadows and biding their time and time was, and is, on their side. 

[00:16:20] Of course, American and NATO troops couldn't stay forever.

[00:16:26] NATO announced that it was pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 and since then the number of foreign troops based in the country has been going down and down almost every year. 

[00:16:42] From a political point of view in the West, in America, and in Europe, the war in Afghanistan is generally relatively unpopular, and of course has been hugely expensive.

[00:16:58] It's thought that it has cost the US almost a trillion dollars. 

[00:17:04] And the Taliban knows this. 

[00:17:06] It is sitting, waiting, gradually regaining territory, continuing attacks from the sidelines, knowing that unless it does something that really aggravates the US, which it would be pretty foolish to do, then it's unlikely that the US will send any more troops to the country.

[00:17:28] And despite the fact that the Taliban isn't officially in power in the country, and it is still sort of a fringe movement, a sideline group, experts say that it's now stronger than at any point since 2001. 

[00:17:48] It's thought to have 60,000 full time soldiers and to be in control of just under 20% of the administrative regions.

[00:18:00] It's clear that the Taliban isn't just going to disappear, and this has meant that politicians both within Afghanistan and abroad have had to actively engage with it. 

[00:18:16] Afghans have accepted this too. 

[00:18:19] A survey last year found that 64% of people said that some sort of agreement with the Taliban was possible and what was needed to move the country forward.

[00:18:33] And then in February of this year, of 2020, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement to try to end the war that's been going on for almost 20 years, and to find a path towards peace. 

[00:18:51] Skeptics say that this is just a cynical ploy, a trick, from the Taliban to push the US out of the country and bring things back to how they were when they first took power.

[00:19:06] And the fact that it's clear that the Taliban want to establish an Islamic Republic and abolish the current system of universal suffrage, where everyone gets a vote, this is clearly something that is quite scary to lots of Western leaders who have ISIS in relatively recent living memory. 

[00:19:32] So what is next for the Taliban?

[00:19:37] Well, with the world currently grappling with a global health problem, and attentions certainly diverted away from the region, most experts imagine that the Taliban will be plotting their next move, but whether that is something more active or it's just 'sit and wait', well, I think that is anyone's guess.

[00:20:05] Okay then that is it for the Taliban. 

[00:20:10] Obviously it is a barbaric group that has done many abhorrent things, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to understand more about it. 

[00:20:20] So I hope that this 20 minute or so introduction has been enlightening

[00:20:27] I've also got a few little pieces of news for you and some reminders.

[00:20:32] Firstly, if you are a Spanish or Portuguese speaker, you're in luck because the Leonardo English website is now available in Spanish and Portuguese. 

[00:20:43] Just go to leonardoenglish.com there's a little language switcher button in there and you can switch everything over to Spanish or Portuguese. 

[00:20:54] And we will of course have more languages coming soon.

[00:20:58] We also have a load of new interesting blogs and guides on the website. Things like how to create your own immersion English course or why you shouldn't learn English in the classroom, which is 'a confessions from an English teacher' article. 

[00:21:14] So go and check those out, those are well worth a read. 

[00:21:18] And as you probably already know, the website is where you can find the transcript and key vocabulary for all of the podcasts and also all the bonus episodes. 

[00:21:28] So if you haven't checked those out already, then that is definitely worth having a look. 

[00:21:35] And final, final point is if you are listening to this on your favourite podcast app, then make sure you hit that subscribe or follow button to get it zooming into your podcast app of choice every Tuesday and Friday. 

[00:21:50] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:21:56] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:03] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to yet another episode of English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn interesting things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to talk about the Taliban.

[00:00:29] Now you probably know a bit about the Taliban. 

[00:00:33] When you hear the term 'the Taliban', you might imagine all sorts of things - the war in Afghanistan, terrorists, Shariah law, men with big beards and rocket launchers hiding in caves. 

[00:00:49] While these are not necessarily incorrect, in this episode we are going to go a little deeper.

[00:00:57] We'll explain who the Taliban are, how they came to be, how they manage to seize power, how they have never really lost power, and we'll end with a few ideas about what the future might look like for the Taliban. 

[00:01:16] And in the next 20 minutes or so I'm confident that you'll emerge with a much better idea, and a much more rounded understanding of a group that has had a huge impact on the balance of power in the region and the world more widely. 

[00:01:35] But before we get right into it this is my chance to remind those of you who haven't yet seen the light, that you can grab a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:52] If you are wanting to improve your English listening skills, then there aren't many better ways than to listen to a podcast with the transcript in front of you and having the key vocabulary there means that you can build up your vocabulary at the same time as listening to the podcast.

[00:02:11] So go and check that out. It is at leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:18] Right then, the Taliban. 

[00:02:21] To get one small point out of the way before we start: this is obviously not some kind of advert or endorsement of the Taliban. 

[00:02:31] They are a nasty group with some views that this podcast certainly doesn't condone, doesn't agree with. 

[00:02:39] But just because you don't agree with something, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't learn about it and just thinking that something is bad without properly understanding it and the circumstances that have allowed it to flourish is certainly not something that we would encourage. 

[00:02:59] So that's why we are taking on the Taliban, taking on at least from an informational point of view.

[00:03:08] Let's start with a linguistic point, as this is after all, a podcast about improving your language skills. 

[00:03:17] The Taliban means 'students' in Pashto, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. 

[00:03:27] The group came to power in Afghanistan after the Afghan civil war. 

[00:03:32] And from 1996 to 2001 they held power over about three quarters of the whole of Afghanistan.

[00:03:42] After the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001, after the September the 11th attacks, the Taliban lost power, at least from a governmental point of view.

[00:03:54] But slowly, slowly in the almost 20 years since the Americans first invaded, the Taliban have been regaining power. 

[00:04:06] By 2016 it was estimated that the Taliban held about 20% of Afghanistan, and even in 2019 President Trump had said that he was planning to invite the Taliban to Camp David, the US presidential retreat.

[00:04:26] So this group has never really disappeared and has been lurking in the shadows, hiding in the shadows, a constant presence in the country and the region more widely. 

[00:04:41] Afghanistan is a hugely interesting country with a fascinating past. 

[00:04:48] So it's tricky to explain everything in one short, 20 minute podcast, but let's talk about some of the main factors that help us understand the how, the who, the what, and the why of the Taliban.

[00:05:07] Firstly, how did the Taliban seize power and who exactly are they? 

[00:05:15] Well, as it often is, the Cold War was a big factor here. 

[00:05:21] Afghanistan was one of the countries where the proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States was fought. 

[00:05:31] The Soviet Union, the USSR, wanted to support the failing communist government and sent in troops to the country to prop it up, to support it. 

[00:05:44] This started the Afghanistan war, which ran from 1979 to 1989, with the Americans secretly supporting the Mujaheddin, the jihadists who were fighting against the Russians. 

[00:06:02] Long story short, after 10 years of fighting, then after the Russians left, five more years of mismanagement by the new rulers, and civil war, the Taliban managed to seize power.

[00:06:19] They proposed stability, stamping out corruption, and ensuring the rule of law, which, for a country that had been deeply lawless and under a state of foreign occupation and civil war for a lot of recent living memory, that was understandably quite an attractive proposition

[00:06:46] But with this rule of law came a lot more, the Taliban came with lots of strings attached.

[00:06:57] The Taliban, as I said, meaning 'the students', had emerged from themadrassas, the religious schools in southern Afghanistan and also Pakistan. 

[00:07:09] They followed and enforced a very strict version of Shariah law, and introduced punishments like public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers, and amputations, the cutting off of hands and feet for those found guilty of theft, of stealing. 

[00:07:34] Men had to grow beards and women had to wear burqas, the dress that covers their entire body. 

[00:07:43] And TV, cinema, lots of music, it was all banned

[00:07:49] And it was a deeply chauvinistic society that they were trying to create. 

[00:07:55] As you probably know, women were treated horribly, girls were forbidden from getting a proper education. 

[00:08:06] Obviously, these are things that most people across the world now would consider pretty barbaric and inhumane and things that civilisations in lots of the rest of the world stopped thinking were acceptable several centuries ago. 

[00:08:26] And despite people in the West who knew about what was going on in Afghanistan being quite horrified about the behaviour that they saw on display from the Taliban, there was not really a huge amount that was done to stop it. 

[00:08:47] These things were going on within Afghanistan, to the Afghan people, and despite the fact that another country didn't agree with it, there was little that they could actually do about it. 

[00:09:02] And there were also a few complications relating to international diplomacy, international relations, with the Taliban and with Afghanistan.

[00:09:14] Firstly, the Taliban government of Afghanistan was only recognised by three countries. 

[00:09:24] Can you guess which they might be and why they would have recognised it? 

[00:09:31] Well, it was naturally the countries that had the most to gain by supporting Afghanistan, the ones that wanted to keep The Taliban government friendly because of the other regional rivalries.

[00:09:47] So firstly, their neighbour, Pakistan, which is actually where it's thought that a lot of the Taliban studied. 

[00:09:57] Then also Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, who were very keen to have an influence in the region, especially if it meant being able to influence things with their mutual local rival, archrival, Iran.

[00:10:15] In any case, the rule of the Taliban, despite being evidently pretty barbaric was largely ignored by Western powers. 

[00:10:28] Afghans, as a generalisation, suffered greatly under the Taliban rule in the nineties, especially the female population. 

[00:10:39] It truly did seem like a throwback to the Middle Ages

[00:10:45] But in 2001 things all changed again, and Afghanistan was thrown back into a state of war. 

[00:10:55] However, this time it wasn't because of the terrible things that the Taliban were doing to its own people or the general barbarity of the regime. 

[00:11:07] This was tolerated by other world powers. 

[00:11:12] It was, technically at least, only because the Taliban had harboured, they had hidden, the Saudi, Osama Bin Laden, who you will know as the architect behind the September 11th attacks. 

[00:11:28] And when the US invaded Afghanistan, less than a month after September the 11th, the Taliban were no match for the well trained and well equipped US army. 

[00:11:42] The Taliban government fell within a week of the invasion, at least they fell from official power, but as I'm sure you know, just because a group isn't officially in power, it doesn't mean that they have lost all their power.

[00:12:00] The senior leaders went to the ground, they went into hiding, and many weren't captured for many years. 

[00:12:09] Lots returned, reportedly, I should say, to the Pakistani city of Quetta, and they managed things remotely from there. 

[00:12:21] And as the British found when they went to war in Afghanistan in the 19th century, and as the Soviets found when they went to war in Afghanistan in the 20th century, the Americans were also to find that Afghanistan is not an easy place to win a war when they went there in the 21st century.

[00:12:44] The combination of a difficult landscape and different cultural and ethnic groups mean that fighting in Afghanistan is fraught with difficulties, it's filled with lots of difficult aspects. 

[00:13:01] And how this helps the Taliban is of course, that they have a big advantage over any invaders. 

[00:13:10] They know the terrain, they know the geography, and they know the cultural and ethnic differences and how to manage them, at least better than any invader would.

[00:13:23] The other advantage that the Taliban had over the Americans and the NATO forces, and the advantage that they still have in fact, was, and still is time. 

[00:13:38] They could afford to wait. 

[00:13:41] They couldbide their time and continually attack the invading troops from the shadows with bombs, suicide attacks, and other classic terrorist activities.

[00:13:54] And this is exactly what has been going on off and on ever since the Americans first put boots on the ground in Afghanistan in October, 2001. 

[00:14:08] The Taliban can continue to fight and continue to wait it out, partly because they are very well financed, they are a group with quite a lot of money. 

[00:14:19] It's thought that they make as much as one and a half billion dollars a year. 

[00:14:25] A large part of this is through drugs: heroin, and opium

[00:14:32] If you weren't aware, Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer.

[00:14:38] Over 90% of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan, and most of the opiumgrowing areas are held by the Taliban, or at least the Taliban can extract some kind of taxes, money, from the opium farmers. 

[00:14:57] So this is obviously a super lucrative source of income for the group.

[00:15:05] The great irony here is that some of the Taliban's biggest markets and biggest customers are the drug addicts, the citizens of countries that have invaded them. 

[00:15:19] The war on drugs is definitely a topic for another podcast, but if you are thinking about the flow of money, specifically related to the Taliban, the Taliban produces drugs that are consumed by people all over the world, but a large part are consumed by Americans and there is actually a double cost for the US for this: both the cost that heroin addiction has on US society, and the fact that American customers are helping keep the Taliban in business, helping finance the Taliban.

[00:15:59] But as I said, we'll go into that in more detail another day. 

[00:16:05] So the Taliban has continued to be a well-financed group operating from the shadows and biding their time and time was, and is, on their side. 

[00:16:20] Of course, American and NATO troops couldn't stay forever.

[00:16:26] NATO announced that it was pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 and since then the number of foreign troops based in the country has been going down and down almost every year. 

[00:16:42] From a political point of view in the West, in America, and in Europe, the war in Afghanistan is generally relatively unpopular, and of course has been hugely expensive.

[00:16:58] It's thought that it has cost the US almost a trillion dollars. 

[00:17:04] And the Taliban knows this. 

[00:17:06] It is sitting, waiting, gradually regaining territory, continuing attacks from the sidelines, knowing that unless it does something that really aggravates the US, which it would be pretty foolish to do, then it's unlikely that the US will send any more troops to the country.

[00:17:28] And despite the fact that the Taliban isn't officially in power in the country, and it is still sort of a fringe movement, a sideline group, experts say that it's now stronger than at any point since 2001. 

[00:17:48] It's thought to have 60,000 full time soldiers and to be in control of just under 20% of the administrative regions.

[00:18:00] It's clear that the Taliban isn't just going to disappear, and this has meant that politicians both within Afghanistan and abroad have had to actively engage with it. 

[00:18:16] Afghans have accepted this too. 

[00:18:19] A survey last year found that 64% of people said that some sort of agreement with the Taliban was possible and what was needed to move the country forward.

[00:18:33] And then in February of this year, of 2020, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement to try to end the war that's been going on for almost 20 years, and to find a path towards peace. 

[00:18:51] Skeptics say that this is just a cynical ploy, a trick, from the Taliban to push the US out of the country and bring things back to how they were when they first took power.

[00:19:06] And the fact that it's clear that the Taliban want to establish an Islamic Republic and abolish the current system of universal suffrage, where everyone gets a vote, this is clearly something that is quite scary to lots of Western leaders who have ISIS in relatively recent living memory. 

[00:19:32] So what is next for the Taliban?

[00:19:37] Well, with the world currently grappling with a global health problem, and attentions certainly diverted away from the region, most experts imagine that the Taliban will be plotting their next move, but whether that is something more active or it's just 'sit and wait', well, I think that is anyone's guess.

[00:20:05] Okay then that is it for the Taliban. 

[00:20:10] Obviously it is a barbaric group that has done many abhorrent things, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to understand more about it. 

[00:20:20] So I hope that this 20 minute or so introduction has been enlightening

[00:20:27] I've also got a few little pieces of news for you and some reminders.

[00:20:32] Firstly, if you are a Spanish or Portuguese speaker, you're in luck because the Leonardo English website is now available in Spanish and Portuguese. 

[00:20:43] Just go to leonardoenglish.com there's a little language switcher button in there and you can switch everything over to Spanish or Portuguese. 

[00:20:54] And we will of course have more languages coming soon.

[00:20:58] We also have a load of new interesting blogs and guides on the website. Things like how to create your own immersion English course or why you shouldn't learn English in the classroom, which is 'a confessions from an English teacher' article. 

[00:21:14] So go and check those out, those are well worth a read. 

[00:21:18] And as you probably already know, the website is where you can find the transcript and key vocabulary for all of the podcasts and also all the bonus episodes. 

[00:21:28] So if you haven't checked those out already, then that is definitely worth having a look. 

[00:21:35] And final, final point is if you are listening to this on your favourite podcast app, then make sure you hit that subscribe or follow button to get it zooming into your podcast app of choice every Tuesday and Friday. 

[00:21:50] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:21:56] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:03] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to yet another episode of English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn interesting things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to talk about the Taliban.

[00:00:29] Now you probably know a bit about the Taliban. 

[00:00:33] When you hear the term 'the Taliban', you might imagine all sorts of things - the war in Afghanistan, terrorists, Shariah law, men with big beards and rocket launchers hiding in caves. 

[00:00:49] While these are not necessarily incorrect, in this episode we are going to go a little deeper.

[00:00:57] We'll explain who the Taliban are, how they came to be, how they manage to seize power, how they have never really lost power, and we'll end with a few ideas about what the future might look like for the Taliban. 

[00:01:16] And in the next 20 minutes or so I'm confident that you'll emerge with a much better idea, and a much more rounded understanding of a group that has had a huge impact on the balance of power in the region and the world more widely. 

[00:01:35] But before we get right into it this is my chance to remind those of you who haven't yet seen the light, that you can grab a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:52] If you are wanting to improve your English listening skills, then there aren't many better ways than to listen to a podcast with the transcript in front of you and having the key vocabulary there means that you can build up your vocabulary at the same time as listening to the podcast.

[00:02:11] So go and check that out. It is at leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:18] Right then, the Taliban. 

[00:02:21] To get one small point out of the way before we start: this is obviously not some kind of advert or endorsement of the Taliban. 

[00:02:31] They are a nasty group with some views that this podcast certainly doesn't condone, doesn't agree with. 

[00:02:39] But just because you don't agree with something, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't learn about it and just thinking that something is bad without properly understanding it and the circumstances that have allowed it to flourish is certainly not something that we would encourage. 

[00:02:59] So that's why we are taking on the Taliban, taking on at least from an informational point of view.

[00:03:08] Let's start with a linguistic point, as this is after all, a podcast about improving your language skills. 

[00:03:17] The Taliban means 'students' in Pashto, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. 

[00:03:27] The group came to power in Afghanistan after the Afghan civil war. 

[00:03:32] And from 1996 to 2001 they held power over about three quarters of the whole of Afghanistan.

[00:03:42] After the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001, after the September the 11th attacks, the Taliban lost power, at least from a governmental point of view.

[00:03:54] But slowly, slowly in the almost 20 years since the Americans first invaded, the Taliban have been regaining power. 

[00:04:06] By 2016 it was estimated that the Taliban held about 20% of Afghanistan, and even in 2019 President Trump had said that he was planning to invite the Taliban to Camp David, the US presidential retreat.

[00:04:26] So this group has never really disappeared and has been lurking in the shadows, hiding in the shadows, a constant presence in the country and the region more widely. 

[00:04:41] Afghanistan is a hugely interesting country with a fascinating past. 

[00:04:48] So it's tricky to explain everything in one short, 20 minute podcast, but let's talk about some of the main factors that help us understand the how, the who, the what, and the why of the Taliban.

[00:05:07] Firstly, how did the Taliban seize power and who exactly are they? 

[00:05:15] Well, as it often is, the Cold War was a big factor here. 

[00:05:21] Afghanistan was one of the countries where the proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States was fought. 

[00:05:31] The Soviet Union, the USSR, wanted to support the failing communist government and sent in troops to the country to prop it up, to support it. 

[00:05:44] This started the Afghanistan war, which ran from 1979 to 1989, with the Americans secretly supporting the Mujaheddin, the jihadists who were fighting against the Russians. 

[00:06:02] Long story short, after 10 years of fighting, then after the Russians left, five more years of mismanagement by the new rulers, and civil war, the Taliban managed to seize power.

[00:06:19] They proposed stability, stamping out corruption, and ensuring the rule of law, which, for a country that had been deeply lawless and under a state of foreign occupation and civil war for a lot of recent living memory, that was understandably quite an attractive proposition

[00:06:46] But with this rule of law came a lot more, the Taliban came with lots of strings attached.

[00:06:57] The Taliban, as I said, meaning 'the students', had emerged from themadrassas, the religious schools in southern Afghanistan and also Pakistan. 

[00:07:09] They followed and enforced a very strict version of Shariah law, and introduced punishments like public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers, and amputations, the cutting off of hands and feet for those found guilty of theft, of stealing. 

[00:07:34] Men had to grow beards and women had to wear burqas, the dress that covers their entire body. 

[00:07:43] And TV, cinema, lots of music, it was all banned

[00:07:49] And it was a deeply chauvinistic society that they were trying to create. 

[00:07:55] As you probably know, women were treated horribly, girls were forbidden from getting a proper education. 

[00:08:06] Obviously, these are things that most people across the world now would consider pretty barbaric and inhumane and things that civilisations in lots of the rest of the world stopped thinking were acceptable several centuries ago. 

[00:08:26] And despite people in the West who knew about what was going on in Afghanistan being quite horrified about the behaviour that they saw on display from the Taliban, there was not really a huge amount that was done to stop it. 

[00:08:47] These things were going on within Afghanistan, to the Afghan people, and despite the fact that another country didn't agree with it, there was little that they could actually do about it. 

[00:09:02] And there were also a few complications relating to international diplomacy, international relations, with the Taliban and with Afghanistan.

[00:09:14] Firstly, the Taliban government of Afghanistan was only recognised by three countries. 

[00:09:24] Can you guess which they might be and why they would have recognised it? 

[00:09:31] Well, it was naturally the countries that had the most to gain by supporting Afghanistan, the ones that wanted to keep The Taliban government friendly because of the other regional rivalries.

[00:09:47] So firstly, their neighbour, Pakistan, which is actually where it's thought that a lot of the Taliban studied. 

[00:09:57] Then also Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, who were very keen to have an influence in the region, especially if it meant being able to influence things with their mutual local rival, archrival, Iran.

[00:10:15] In any case, the rule of the Taliban, despite being evidently pretty barbaric was largely ignored by Western powers. 

[00:10:28] Afghans, as a generalisation, suffered greatly under the Taliban rule in the nineties, especially the female population. 

[00:10:39] It truly did seem like a throwback to the Middle Ages

[00:10:45] But in 2001 things all changed again, and Afghanistan was thrown back into a state of war. 

[00:10:55] However, this time it wasn't because of the terrible things that the Taliban were doing to its own people or the general barbarity of the regime. 

[00:11:07] This was tolerated by other world powers. 

[00:11:12] It was, technically at least, only because the Taliban had harboured, they had hidden, the Saudi, Osama Bin Laden, who you will know as the architect behind the September 11th attacks. 

[00:11:28] And when the US invaded Afghanistan, less than a month after September the 11th, the Taliban were no match for the well trained and well equipped US army. 

[00:11:42] The Taliban government fell within a week of the invasion, at least they fell from official power, but as I'm sure you know, just because a group isn't officially in power, it doesn't mean that they have lost all their power.

[00:12:00] The senior leaders went to the ground, they went into hiding, and many weren't captured for many years. 

[00:12:09] Lots returned, reportedly, I should say, to the Pakistani city of Quetta, and they managed things remotely from there. 

[00:12:21] And as the British found when they went to war in Afghanistan in the 19th century, and as the Soviets found when they went to war in Afghanistan in the 20th century, the Americans were also to find that Afghanistan is not an easy place to win a war when they went there in the 21st century.

[00:12:44] The combination of a difficult landscape and different cultural and ethnic groups mean that fighting in Afghanistan is fraught with difficulties, it's filled with lots of difficult aspects. 

[00:13:01] And how this helps the Taliban is of course, that they have a big advantage over any invaders. 

[00:13:10] They know the terrain, they know the geography, and they know the cultural and ethnic differences and how to manage them, at least better than any invader would.

[00:13:23] The other advantage that the Taliban had over the Americans and the NATO forces, and the advantage that they still have in fact, was, and still is time. 

[00:13:38] They could afford to wait. 

[00:13:41] They couldbide their time and continually attack the invading troops from the shadows with bombs, suicide attacks, and other classic terrorist activities.

[00:13:54] And this is exactly what has been going on off and on ever since the Americans first put boots on the ground in Afghanistan in October, 2001. 

[00:14:08] The Taliban can continue to fight and continue to wait it out, partly because they are very well financed, they are a group with quite a lot of money. 

[00:14:19] It's thought that they make as much as one and a half billion dollars a year. 

[00:14:25] A large part of this is through drugs: heroin, and opium

[00:14:32] If you weren't aware, Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer.

[00:14:38] Over 90% of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan, and most of the opiumgrowing areas are held by the Taliban, or at least the Taliban can extract some kind of taxes, money, from the opium farmers. 

[00:14:57] So this is obviously a super lucrative source of income for the group.

[00:15:05] The great irony here is that some of the Taliban's biggest markets and biggest customers are the drug addicts, the citizens of countries that have invaded them. 

[00:15:19] The war on drugs is definitely a topic for another podcast, but if you are thinking about the flow of money, specifically related to the Taliban, the Taliban produces drugs that are consumed by people all over the world, but a large part are consumed by Americans and there is actually a double cost for the US for this: both the cost that heroin addiction has on US society, and the fact that American customers are helping keep the Taliban in business, helping finance the Taliban.

[00:15:59] But as I said, we'll go into that in more detail another day. 

[00:16:05] So the Taliban has continued to be a well-financed group operating from the shadows and biding their time and time was, and is, on their side. 

[00:16:20] Of course, American and NATO troops couldn't stay forever.

[00:16:26] NATO announced that it was pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 and since then the number of foreign troops based in the country has been going down and down almost every year. 

[00:16:42] From a political point of view in the West, in America, and in Europe, the war in Afghanistan is generally relatively unpopular, and of course has been hugely expensive.

[00:16:58] It's thought that it has cost the US almost a trillion dollars. 

[00:17:04] And the Taliban knows this. 

[00:17:06] It is sitting, waiting, gradually regaining territory, continuing attacks from the sidelines, knowing that unless it does something that really aggravates the US, which it would be pretty foolish to do, then it's unlikely that the US will send any more troops to the country.

[00:17:28] And despite the fact that the Taliban isn't officially in power in the country, and it is still sort of a fringe movement, a sideline group, experts say that it's now stronger than at any point since 2001. 

[00:17:48] It's thought to have 60,000 full time soldiers and to be in control of just under 20% of the administrative regions.

[00:18:00] It's clear that the Taliban isn't just going to disappear, and this has meant that politicians both within Afghanistan and abroad have had to actively engage with it. 

[00:18:16] Afghans have accepted this too. 

[00:18:19] A survey last year found that 64% of people said that some sort of agreement with the Taliban was possible and what was needed to move the country forward.

[00:18:33] And then in February of this year, of 2020, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement to try to end the war that's been going on for almost 20 years, and to find a path towards peace. 

[00:18:51] Skeptics say that this is just a cynical ploy, a trick, from the Taliban to push the US out of the country and bring things back to how they were when they first took power.

[00:19:06] And the fact that it's clear that the Taliban want to establish an Islamic Republic and abolish the current system of universal suffrage, where everyone gets a vote, this is clearly something that is quite scary to lots of Western leaders who have ISIS in relatively recent living memory. 

[00:19:32] So what is next for the Taliban?

[00:19:37] Well, with the world currently grappling with a global health problem, and attentions certainly diverted away from the region, most experts imagine that the Taliban will be plotting their next move, but whether that is something more active or it's just 'sit and wait', well, I think that is anyone's guess.

[00:20:05] Okay then that is it for the Taliban. 

[00:20:10] Obviously it is a barbaric group that has done many abhorrent things, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to understand more about it. 

[00:20:20] So I hope that this 20 minute or so introduction has been enlightening

[00:20:27] I've also got a few little pieces of news for you and some reminders.

[00:20:32] Firstly, if you are a Spanish or Portuguese speaker, you're in luck because the Leonardo English website is now available in Spanish and Portuguese. 

[00:20:43] Just go to leonardoenglish.com there's a little language switcher button in there and you can switch everything over to Spanish or Portuguese. 

[00:20:54] And we will of course have more languages coming soon.

[00:20:58] We also have a load of new interesting blogs and guides on the website. Things like how to create your own immersion English course or why you shouldn't learn English in the classroom, which is 'a confessions from an English teacher' article. 

[00:21:14] So go and check those out, those are well worth a read. 

[00:21:18] And as you probably already know, the website is where you can find the transcript and key vocabulary for all of the podcasts and also all the bonus episodes. 

[00:21:28] So if you haven't checked those out already, then that is definitely worth having a look. 

[00:21:35] And final, final point is if you are listening to this on your favourite podcast app, then make sure you hit that subscribe or follow button to get it zooming into your podcast app of choice every Tuesday and Friday. 

[00:21:50] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:21:56] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]