The Taliban have been condemned internationally for the harsh enforcement of their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, which has resulted in the brutal treatment of many Afghans, especially women. During their rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban and their allies committed massacres against Afghan civilians, denied UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians and conducted a policy of scorched earth, burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes. According to the United Nations, the Taliban and their allies were responsible for 76% of Afghan civilian casualties in 2010, 80% in 2011, and 80% in 2012. Taliban has also engaged in cultural genocide, destroying numerous monuments including the famous 1500-year old Buddhas of Bamiyan.
The word Taliban is Pashto, طالبانṭālibān, meaning "students", the plural of ṭālib. This is a loanword from Arabicطالبṭālib, using the Persian plural ending -ānان. In Arabic طالبانṭālibān means not "students" but "two students", as it is a dual form, the Arabic plural being طلابṭullāb—occasionally causing some confusion to Arabic speakers. Since becoming a loanword in English, Taliban, besides a plural noun referring to the group, has also been used as a singular noun referring to an individual. For example, John Walker Lindh has been referred to as "an American Taliban", rather than "an American Talib". In the English language newspapers of Pakistan, the word Talibans is often used when referring to more than one Taliban. The spelling Taliban has come to be predominant over Taleban in English.