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Why are the Taliban kidnapping foreigners?

It is lucrative and it’s a way to destabilize the government.

Aug 14,2007
This Feb. 3, 2007 file photo shows Taliban guerrilla fighters at a secret base in eastern Afghanistan. The militant group kidnapped 23 South Korean aid workers in Ghazni Province on July 19 and has killed two of them. The group has been threatening to kill more hostages unless their demands for the release of Taliban prisoners are met. [REUTERS]
Afghanistan and the Taliban have rarely appeared in the Korean media until 23 Korean citizens were taken hostage by the armed group last month. Since the kidnapping on July 19, the Taliban has made front-page headlines here every day.
Although its origins date back to the 1980s, the Taliban became more prominent in 1994 as 25,000 taliban (religious students) were organized in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar. The fundamentalist movement of Sunni Muslims and ethnic Pashtun also included former Islamic fighters, or mujahideen, who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and their principal aim was to build the world’s most pure Islamic state.
About 80 percent of Afghanistan fell under Taliban control in the group’s first year. On Sept. 27, 1996, Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban militia after three days of fierce battles.
The Taliban government, however, faced growing criticism in the international community for its severe discrimination against women and abuse of children. The Taliban’s public execution of convicts was also criticized.
The group’s hostility toward other religions also stirred concern. In 2001 Taliban soldiers destroyed most of the remnants of Buddhist influence in Afghanistan.
The Taliban became one of the main foes of the United States due to its peculiar relationship with Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant, and his Al Qaeda organization, accused of masterminding the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing nearly 250 and wounding 4,500.
The Taliban had insisted that bin Laden was a guest in their country and rejected international pressure to take action against him.
In retaliation for the bombings, the Clinton administration in Washington attacked suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The attacks were condemned by the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, as international pressure on the Taliban intensified to turn over bin Laden.
Tensions between the Taliban and the United States reached a new peak after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. Terrorists hijacked four commercial flights and two of the planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. The third jet crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died from the attacks.
Bin Laden was named as the mastermind behind attacks, and U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand him over. As the demand was rejected again, coalition forces led by the United States and Great Britain launched an attack on Oct. 7, 2001, code-named Operation Enduring Freedom. Taliban and Al Qaeda camps were intensively bombed by international coalition forces.
By November that year, the Taliban withdrew from Kabul, and in early December, the group gave up its last stronghold, Kandahar.
Two months into the war the Taliban regime was forced out, and Hamid Karzai took control of the interim government on Dec. 22, 2001. The Taliban, however, are today still engaged in guerrilla warfare against coalition forces, now led by NATO. Omar still heads the militia in the country’s southern province as well as in the mountainous northern region.
Despite the coalition forces’ efforts, the Taliban continue to fight back. Last year alone, 4,000 Afghan and allied forces died from the Taliban’s attacks. As of now, 3,700 NATO forces and 10,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan.
The unstable situation has created 1.5 million refugees in the country, and the number continues to grow. The country is largely supported by nongovernmental organizations and international relief aid agencies.
South Korea deployed medical and engineering troops to the country in 2002. Civilian volunteers have also gone to work in the war-torn country in a variety of relief programs. The 23 Christian aid workers kidnapped last month were among such volunteers.
Foreigners have increasingly become easy targets of kidnapping by Taliban insurgents this year.
In March an Italian journalist was kidnapped by the Taliban.
Fearing the withdrawal of Italian troops from the country, the Afghan government allowed the hostage to be swapped for five Taliban prisoners. The captive was freed after 20 days, but the prisoner-swap only fueled Taliban kidnapping of more foreigners.
In April, two French relief workers and 13 Afghan civilians were taken hostage, and released one after another over the next two months.
The Taliban’s handling of foreign hostages has also become increasingly cruel.
Two Germans were kidnapped by the Taliban last month, and one of them was shot to death. The other still remains in Taliban hands.
Two of the 23 Korean hostages were shot to death during their captivity, as negotiations resulted in no progress.
At first, the Taliban demanded Korean troops’ withdrawal from the country, but later changed its demand to swap the 21 hostages with eight Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government.

By Ser Myo-ja Staff Writer [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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