The Taliban:

A law story with a lot of flaws





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It has become world news. The chaos in Afghanistan seems to be irreversible because of the coup of the Taliban. What drives this group of extremists? And what happened with the legal system?

I can imagine that everyone is familiar with the Taliban, a violent group of extremists. That is how they are known at least. To be honest I had to google why they were so feared. I knew that they were extremely violent and that they were active in Afghanistan, but what their motive for violence was, I never really knew or understood. Maybe it’s because the last time the Taliban were in charge, for most of the time I wasn’t even born yet.

Over the past couple of weeks, the headlines of all newspapers showed the world that the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan. Everyone was and still is hurrying to escape the country. This is the case because the Taliban enforced their religious ideologies in the past, which makes the people afraid that basic human rights would be in danger of being violated again.

While reading a lot about the subject, many of you probably came across the word ‘sharia’. This is what makes this story interesting, because the law over there is built around one religion only.1 Something we can’t imagine happening in the Netherlands nowadays.

A small summary: who are the Taliban? 

The Taliban is a group of violent Islam extremists who were and are constantly present in Afghanistan since the late 1990’s. Because of the insanely strict interpretation of sharia law, most citizens were supressed and couldn’t live freely. The Taliban were tempered by the Afghan government and western allies in 2001. The Taliban sheltered Al Qaida, the terrorist-group who were responsible for the disaster on 9/11. Hence the reason for the US to attack the Taliban and overthrow them after.

Sadly, that didn’t mean that the Taliban were gone. They still operated in Afghanistan, but they did not have control of the whole country. It simply led to more violence in the battle of power.2

After numerous violent attempts at increasing their power, the Taliban and the US struck a peace deal in February 2020. This included a plan to withdraw the US troops that had been in Afghanistan since the invasion of the US in 2001. Former president Trump mentioned the reason why: it is the turn of others to do the work the US had done over the past two decades.3 The current president of the US, Joe Biden, decided to withdraw the troops earlier than agreed which led to the rise of the Taliban this August.


Even though we’re living in a modern era with movements for equal rights, they seem to be reliving the past in Afghanistan. Back in the 90’s, when the Taliban regime was similar to the one they’re trying to persevere now, they tried to rule the country by something that resembles common law, called sharia. These sharia rulings act like a code by which every Muslim should live their life. One can interpret this very widely of course.4

The problem is that the Taliban’s interpretation of this sharia law is very strict. For example: women’s rights are almost non-existent, and they have a history of very harsh physical punishments.5

An interesting note on sharia is that it’s incorporated in the Afghan constitution. Besides that, the constitution declares Afghanistan an Islamic state with the Islam being the state religion. The rule of law in Afghanistan is based on a double standard. On one hand you have sharia and common law and on the other hand there is written law. Most of the time it’s not clear from which point of view a case should be looked at. Because of the situation now in Afghanistan, the effectivity of the law (codified or not) is questionable.6

The Taliban wield the classic, more orthodox method of sharia which is just another interpretation of the constitution. However, the idea behind the codification of sharia is more liberal and modern.7 The fact that there could be multiple interpretations of the law by anyone instead of a jurist or judge is maybe one of many reasons why it is easy for the Taliban to enforce their view of the matter. But could you still see the strict interpretation of sharia as just and lawful? Jurist Laila al-Zwaini says you cannot. What the Taliban are doing is political exploitation of this religion and rule of law.8

Crime in Afghanistan

While enforcing their view and keeping up their appearance, the Taliban of course need money. Most of the time, this money comes from criminal activity.9

It simply led to more violence in the battle of power.

This is also what they and the country are known for, to be criminal. Because of the way they impose their sharia, the Taliban are not acting in line with the constitution. According to the Koran, every Muslim has the right to express their belief in their own way and to find the will of God by themselves. You could say, that the sharia of the Taliban is not liberal, individual and free as the constitution implies the sharia to be. Thus, the act of enforcing a certain way of living being criminal as well.


The legal system seems to be completely overthrown while the Taliban are in charge because of their own rules and laws. They did, however, promise to do things better in the future regarding the protection of human rights and to learn from their mistakes in the past.10 Let’s hope this will be true and they keep their promise, because that is what Afghanistan needs; a brighter future.


What the Taliban are doing is political exploitation of this religion and rule of law.

Suzanne Ballast


1 J.M. Otto, Sharia en nationaal recht. Rechtssystemen in moslimlanden tussen traditie, politiek en rechtstaat, Den Haag/Amsterdam : WRR/Amsterdam University Press 2006.

2 ‘Who are the Taliban?’, 18 August 2021.

3  ‘Afghan conflict: US and Taliban sign peace deal to end 18-year war.’,, 29 February 2020.

4 J.M. Otto ‘De sharia’ in rechtssystemen van moslimlanden: een referentiekader”, Rechtstreeks 2011, p. 9-63 (afl. 4).

5 J.M. Otto ‘De sharia’ in rechtssystemen van moslimlanden: een referentiekader”, Rechtstreeks 2011, p. 27-32 (afl. 4).

6 J.M. Otto ‘De sharia’ in rechtssystemen van moslimlanden: een referentiekader”, Rechtstreeks 2011, p. 44 (afl. 4).

7 J.M. Otto ‘De sharia’ in rechtssystemen van moslimlanden: een referentiekader”, Rechtstreeks 2011, p. 15, 34, 35. (afl. 4).

8 ‘Arabist: Taliban noemen het sharia, maar het gaat over macht’, 22 August 2021.

9 ‘Hoe konden de Taliban zo makkelijk Afghanistan veroveren? De extremistische groepering zwemt in het geld door drugshandel, export van talk en afpersing’, 16 August 2021.

10 ‘Hoe moet het straks verder met Afghanistan?’, 27 August 2021.


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