Western Media

Western media recognized the Taliban’s origin as a rebel Islamist force early on. An October 1995 New York Times article described the Taliban as “an Islamic fundamentalist force.”John F. Burns, “Islamic Rebels Renew a Siege To Win Kabul,” New York Times, October 16, 1995, http://www.nytimes.com/1995/10/16/world/islamic-rebels-renew-a-siege-to-win-kabul.html. Media also recognized the chaos in Afghanistan caused by various warlords and contrasted that with the Taliban’s goals. An October 1996 CNN article, for example, acknowledged the Taliban’s fundamentalism but also noted that the group “emerged as a reformist force—honest, fierce, and devoutly Islamic.”Anita Pratap, “Who are the Taliban of Afghanistan?” CNN, October 5, 1996, http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9610/05/taleban/.

During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 reign of Afghanistan, Western news outlets often addressed issues resulting from the group’s implementation of sharia. The Taliban instituted restrictions on women, outdoor activity, and businesses.Knight-Ridder News Service, “Taliban extend control to details of Kabul daily life 17 rules make it illegal to fly a kite, keep a bird,” Baltimore Sun, January 16, 1997, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1997-01-16/news/1997016056_1_kabul-taliban-mosque. Taliban rule of law was “intent on returning the capital to the Middle Ages,” according to a 1996 article in Britain’s Independent.Raymond Whitaker, “Kabul falls to the tide of the Taliban,” Independent (London), Saturday 28, 1996, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/kabul-falls-to-the-tide-of-the-taliban-1365343.html.

In 2000, the BBC asserted that the Taliban’s rule caused “some resentment among ordinary Afghans.”http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/144382.stm. However, western media analysis highlighted the group’s popularity due to its alleged efforts to fight corruption, restore order, and reinstate commerce.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/144382.stm. In 2001, the New York Times described the Taliban as a “militia” that “craves recognition.”Barry Bearak, “Over World Protests, Taliban Are Destroying Ancient Buddhas,” New York Times, March 4, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/04/world/over-world-protests-taliban-are-destroying-ancient-buddhas.html.

The Taliban’s destruction of Afghanistan’s ancient Buddhist statues in March 2001 earned widespread condemnation from Western governments and grabbed headlines in those countries. However, a New York Times piece that month by Barbara Crossette told the Taliban’s side of the story. Crossette acknowledged the Taliban’s restrictions on women and enforcement of strict Islamic laws, but offered no counter perspective and relied solely on a Taliban spokesman as a source.Barbara Crossette, “Taliban Explains Buddha Demolition,” New York Times, March 19, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/19/world/19TALI.html. Another New York Times article in December 2001, after the Taliban’s fall, painted a picture of an Afghanistan suffering under fundamentalist rules.Barry Bearak, “A NATIONAL CHALLENGED: AFTERMATH; Where Buddhas Fell, Lives Lie in Ruins Too,” New York Times, December 9, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/09/world/a-nation-challenged-aftermath-where-buddhas-fell-lives-lie-in-ruins-too.html.

By the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Taliban had already featured in international headlines for its refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden. Five days after the attacks, a piece in the London-based Guardian called the Taliban “a ‘virtual state’ wrecked by 20 years of war in a state abandoned by the trappings of the modern era.”Peter Beaumont, Tim Judah, and Paul Beaver, “US seeks ways to wage war against an unseen enemy,” Guardian (London), September 16, 2001, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/16/september11.terrorism1. On September 21, 2001, then-President of the United States George W. Bush gave a final ultimatum to the Taliban to turn over bin Laden. It received widespread international coverage.“Bush gives Taliban ultimatum,” Daily Telegraph (London), September 21, 2001, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1341196/Bush-gives-Taliban-ultimatum.html; “White House warns Taliban: ‘We will defeat you,’” CNN, September 21, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/central/09/21/ret.afghan.taliban/index.html; “The US refuses to negotiate with the Taliban,” BBC History, accessed April 13, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/the_us_refuses_to_negotiate_with_the_taliban.

Following the Taliban’s removal from power in late 2001, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman likened bin Laden’s image in the Arab world to that of Robin Hood. Given this image, Friedman wrote, there could be open debate on him only after his removal—just as the Taliban had been recently removed.Thomas L. Friedman, “Terrorist Software,” New York Times, November 23, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/23/opinion/23FRIE.html.

After the fall of the Taliban regime, the western media often portrayed the Taliban as a harmful force in regard to the Afghan populace. The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov discussed in March 2010 how the Taliban forced cell phone carriers to suspend their services during the night to make it harder for informants to alert coalition troops about their movements. Trofimov highlighted the harm that this brought to businesses and the population’s dampened ability to access medical care.Yaroslav Trofimov, “Cell Carriers Bow to Taliban Threat,” Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2010, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704117304575137541465235972.

Another example can be seen leading up to Afghanistan’s elections in 2010, when Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid stated that “presidential elections expected this year are a sham” and that attacks on parliamentary members and civilians would occur if elections proceeded.Nic Robertson, “Afghan Taliban spokesman: We will win the war,” CNN, May 5, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/04/robertson.interview.zabiullah.mujahid/index.html?iref=topnews. The western media also discussed the Taliban in terms of Pakistani ISI support and relations to the Pakistani Taliban, citing statements by Afghan officials such as “the [Pakistani] ISI was ‘part of the landscape of destruction’ in Afghanistan”“Pakistani agents ‘funding and training Afghan Taliban,” BBC News, June 13, 2010, http://www.bbc.com/news/10302946. or reports of Taliban leader Mullah Omar hiding out in Quetta, Pakistan.“Who are the Taliban?” BBC News, November 1, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718. Reports on the Taliban have therefore become increasingly international in scope as the U.S. coalition has come under heavy attacks by Afghan insurgents and the Taliban’s ties to Pakistan have become clearer.

As the Taliban returned to their roots as a rebel force and increased their violent attacks, the Western media dropped their reference to the Taliban as a governing entity.

Reuters, the New York Post, the Associated Press, and other media outlets regularly refer to the Taliban as an insurgent or militant group. An April 2015 Reuters article, for example, makes no mention that the Taliban once controlled Afghanistan.Mirwais Harooni, “Taliban kill three police, kidnap 19 de-miners in Afghanistan,” Reuters, April 20, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/20/us-afghanistan-attack-idUSKBN0NB0QG20150420. A reader unfamiliar with Afghanistan’s history could infer that the Taliban is nothing more than a violent rebel group.

An April 2015 New York Post article painted both the Taliban and ISIS in a negative light. Author Bill Sanderson wrote that ISIS’s bombing of a Kabul bank “was even denounced by the murderous Taliban.”Bill Sanderson, “Taliban condemns ISIS for deadly bombing in Afghanistan,” New York Post, April 18, 2015, http://nypost.com/2015/04/18/suicide-bomb-attack-kills-at-least-30-people-in-afghanistan/. While Sanderson gave details of the Taliban’s condemnation, the article clearly regarded the Taliban as a terrorist group, no better than ISIS.

Even during the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan, Western media typically acknowledged the group’s violent path to power and the refusal of global powers to recognize the Taliban government. While the Western media report on groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas mixing politics with their extremist goals, media outlets appear to have wholly recognized the Taliban as nothing more than a violent, Islamist insurgency.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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