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History of the Taliban: Who They Are, What They Want

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The Taliban and the Clinton Administration
Following Pakistan’s lead, the Clinton administration initially supported the Taliban’s rise. Clinton’s judgment was clouded by the question that has often led American policy astray in the region: Who can best check Iran’s influence? In the 1980s, the Reagan administration armed and financed Saddam Hussein under the assumption that a totalitarian Iraq was more acceptable than an unbridled, Islamic Iran. The policy backfired in the form of two wars, one of which has yet to end.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration also funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan as well as their Islamist supporters in Pakistan. That blowback took the form of al-Qaeda. As the Soviets withdrew and the cold war ended, American support for Afghan mujahideen stopped abruptly, but military and diplomatic support for Afghanistan did not. Under the influence of Benazir Bhutto, the Clinton administration voiced itself willing to open a dialogue with the Taliban in the mid-1990s, especially as the Taliban was the only force in Afghanistan capable of guaranteeing another American interest in the region — potential oil pipelines.

On Sept. 27, 1996, Glyn Davies, a State Department spokesman, expressed hope that the Taliban “will move quickly to restore order and security and to form a representative interim government that can begin the process of reconciliation nationwide.” Davies called the Taliban’s execution of former Afghan President Najibullah merely “regrettable,” and said the United States would send diplomats to Afghanistan to meet with the Taliban, potentially to re-establishing full diplomatic ties. The Clinton’s administration’s flirtation with the Taliban did not last, however, as Madeleine Albright, incensed by the Taliban’s treatment of women, among other regressive measures, halted it when she became secretary of state in January 1997.

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