In September 1994 in Afghanistan, a new Islamist faction, the Taliban (Arabic for "students") led by a 35 year old veteran of the war against the Soviet Union, "Mullah" Muhammad Omar, rose up to protest the abduction and rape of Afghan women and female adolescents by warlords who had grown powerful during the war against Soviet occupation. Within four months the Taliban controlled one third of the country.
The core of the Taliban was made up of students from madrassas ("religious schools") in Pakistan many of which were affiliated with the Deobandi sect, a reformist movement that had sprung up in British ruled India (in the city of Deoband) and had become known for its anti-British and anti-modernist sentiments. The Deobandis continued to flourish in Pakistan in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. They shared some puritanical leanings with Arabian Wahhabism, and many Deobandi madrassas received funding from the Saudi Arabian government. An alliance eventually sprang up between the Taliban and the Wahhabist bin Laden group. When Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, he and his organization al-Qaeda ("The Base") were introduced to the Taliban by Pakistan's intelligence service (InterService Intelligence, or ISI) and they began living under Taliban protection.
On April 4, 1996, Mullah Omar appeared on a rooftop in Kandahar dressed in a relic known as the "Cloak of the Prophet Muhammad." He was proclaimed Amir ul-Momineen ("Commander of the Faithful") by the Kandaharis. This marked the first time the relic had been removed from its shrine in Kandahar in sixty years. Omar was deliberately imitating the ceremony in which the Caliph Umar had legitimated his own right to rule Muslims following the death of the Prophet in the seventh century. Mullah Omar was declaring his claim to rule not just Afghan Muslims but all Muslims. The gathering ended with a proclamation of jihad against the rule of Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who had taken over in 1992 following the overthrow of President Najibullah. On September 26, 1996, Kabul fell to the Taliban. The following day, they lynched Najibullah.
At first, the Taliban were courted by the international community (including the United States), which reckoned the new regime hospitable to plans for developing oil and natural gas resources in the region (what Ahmed Rashid dubbed "the new Great Game.") However, as the scope of the brutality practiced by the Taliban began to sink in, international support began to ebb. The first public sign that the U.S. had changed its tune toward the Taliban came in November, 1997 when Secretary of State Albright branded their policies on women "despicable." (Ahmed Rashid, Taliban (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 180).
In 1998, the Taliban banned kite flying and television. Home schooling for girls older than eight years old was also decreed illegal. Women and girls were forbidden to study, work, receive medical care, or leave their homes (see U.N. criticism, 1997). Strict application of Islamic law, including amputations and executions, became the norm. In August, 1998, the Taliban carried out a massacre of Hazara Shiites in the region of Mazar e-Sharif. The United Nations estimated that between five and six thousand people were killed. In March, 2001, the Taliban, in an expression of their radical iconoclasm, destroyed two giant statues of the Buddha more than 1,500 years old that had been carved into cliffs along the old Silk Route in the Bamiyan Valley. Some (i.e. Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2002), 235) saw this event, along with the arrest of foreign NGOs charged with Christian proselytizing as signs that Osama bin Laden's influence over the Taliban had grown to the point where he was dictating policy.
In December, 2001, the Taliban government collapsed in the wake of an American led campaign to retaliate for the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11. In 2003, the Taliban began making a comeback. But, their failure to carry out their threat to disrupt Afghanistan's national elections in October of 2004 was seen as a sign that the movement was finished. However, the movement proved more resilient than presumed: by 2005, the Taliban were strong enough to begin disrupting national elections.
In the summer of 2007, there was a sharp rise in Taliban attacks. A new al-Qaeda leader, Mustafa bin Yazid, fresh from combat experience in Iraq, was thought to be behind a sudden rise in suicide bombings. By the end of the summer, the Taliban had made significant progress toward recovering control over strategic areas in the south. When the spring fighting season of 2008 got underway, the Taliban began to become a serious worry to both the Afghans and the Pakistanis (more).
Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000)