Afghanistan - Politics, government, and taxation

Due to its strategic geographical position, Afghanistan has been invaded throughout history and conquered by the Persians, the Macedonians, the Parthians, the Kushan Empire, the Huns, and the Arabs. The only peaceful period in the country's recent past was between 1933 and 1973 when it was ruled by King Zahir Shah. However, following the dissolution of the monarchy in 1973, a communist-style regime was established. The watershed event in the modern era was the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union, which was launched in order to keep Afghanistan from becoming too independent. After a long, entrenched war which many have called "the Soviets' Vietnam," the USSR finally withdrew from the country in 1989. After that, the Taliban took control of most of the country, but a protracted war still continued with opponents of the Taliban, who practiced the same kind of guerilla warfare against the Taliban that they carried out against the Soviet Union.

Afghanistan has not had an effective central government capable of exerting its authority across the entire country because the population is structured by tribes. When the communist administration in Kabul crumbled in 1992, the religious, linguistic, and ethnic differences within the country deepened, leading to the fragmentation of Afghanistan into a series of fiefdoms controlled by warlords. The Taliban originated in the refugee camps on the Pakistani border towns and was initially comprised of religious students who blamed the failure of the previous government on its unwillingness to impose the tenets of fundamentalist Islam (the religion of the world's Muslims and the chief religion in the Middle East; Islam literally means "submission to the will of God"). The Taliban played cleverly on the deep divisions within the country, and in 2000 only 10 percent of the entire country was controlled by non-Taliban groups. This student militia ran the country in accordance with the strict Islamic principles laid out in Sharia Law (Sharia is the law of Islam, based upon the Qur-an, the Sunna, and the work of Muslim scholars in the first two centuries of Islam). Their rigid and often brutal interpretation of Islam caused the Afghan people tremendous suffering, especially among women who were entirely deprived of their rights. The Taliban's successful rise to power was attributed to the substantial help that it received from the Pakistani government combined with the inability of the opposing parties to organize themselves and join together to form an effective opposition. The main political figures within Afghanistan prior to the downfall of the Taliban were Mohammad Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, and Colonel Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the remaining opposition forces.

Afghanistan under the Taliban regime essentially had no central government—no executive branch, no legislature, and no independent and impartial judicial system. Many critics of the regime charged that there was no rule of law, no constitution, no civil society, and no system in place to monitor human rights abuses or address grievances. The Taliban's distaste for the standards of international human rights was made clear to the international community. The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on the Taliban in November 1999 under Security Council Resolution 1267. (Sanctions are imposed unilaterally or multilaterally by states onto countries that violate international norms of behavior and can take many forms, from denying government aid or other benefits to banning any form of trade.) The UN demanded that the Taliban hand over the terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of being involved in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the September 2001 attacks on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the World Trade Center in New York City. When the Taliban refused to comply, the UN declared that UN member states may not operate commercial aircraft in Afghanistan, and all known funds and other financial resources controlled by the Taliban outside of the country were frozen. With the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001, an interim government composed of tribal and Northern Alliance leaders was formed to restore stability to the country. However, fighting amongst the different leaders threatened the effectiveness of this new government. It is possible that lasting peace and stability will only come to Afghanistan under the watchful eye of an international peacekeeping force stationed in the country.

There has never really been a formal tax system in this essentially tribal country. Local tribal leaders often used to levy arbitrary taxes on commercial goods passing through their territory, but this revenue never reached Kabul. The Taliban tried to gain popularity by removing checkpoints erected for the collection of taxes, and local traders rewarded them with large donations.

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