In WWII, the same people who were hiding in the mountains of Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, etc were called terrorists by the Nazis. Today, they are known as partisans and are respected in these countries.

A partisan is a member of an irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation by some kind of insurgent activity. The term can apply to the field element of resistance movements, an example of which are the civilians that opposed Nazi German rule in several countries during World War II.

Why are these partisans/terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. often called terrorists and not partisans?

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    Can you specify what group is being called terrorists? Are you referring to Al Qaeda? Or the Taliban? And by whom they are being called terrorists? The western media, the US government, or the Afghan government?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 12:00
  • Did you choose the "territory" tag because it was similar to "terrorism"?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 12:02
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    This question would be much more answerable if you had some sources of claims that a group is a terrorist group that we could investigate. I most often hear about the Taliban supporting Al Qaeda rather than being a terrorist group it self. Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 13:21
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    @Derfder - Actually that document pretty well summarizes why each group is considered a terrorist organization. You probably need to explain what concerns you have with the explanations. Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 13:42
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    @Chad - Taliban didn't commit terrorist acts against US civilians (at least, not high profile famous ones that I'd have heard of - may be Daniel Pearl murder but that was too long ago to remember details). However, they DID commit terrorist acts against Afghani civilians (see cites in my answer) - while some liberals may not much care, I consider that just as much a terrorism act.
    – user4012
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 16:00

2 Answers 2


They are called "terrorists" because they engage in what is commongly understood to be acts of terrorism. While there are many competing definitions, the most commongly agreed on involves:

  • Use of violence
  • To achieve political goals
  • Perpetrated deliberatly on non-combatants (note the intent and the target).

E.g., Wiki states:

Since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism:

"Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."


A definition proposed by Carsten Bockstette at the George C. Marshall Center for European Security Studies, underlines the psychological and tactical aspects of terrorism:

Terrorism is defined as political violence in an asymmetrical conflict that is designed to induce terror and psychic fear (sometimes indiscriminate) through the violent victimization and destruction of noncombatant targets (sometimes iconic symbols). Such acts are meant to send a message from an illicit clandestine organization. The purpose of terrorism is to exploit the media in order to achieve maximum attainable publicity as an amplifying force multiplier in order to influence the targeted audience(s) in order to reach short- and midterm political goals and/or desired long-term end states."

Therefore, the partisan groups in Afghanistan who target and kill civilians (and only those groups) are commongly called terrorists.

Before you start screaming and ranting about "American biases", they are actually VERY consistent in the application of that definition:

  • Northern Alliance groups, who to the best of my knowledge restricted their intentional warfare to combatants (first, Soviets, later, Taliban), were never referred to as "terrorist".

  • Taliban, who engaged in systematic acts of intentional violence against civilians, are terrorists, no matter what their military/political objectives are. Brief Wiki perusal quickly leads to easy examples:

    According to a 55-page report by the United Nations, the Taliban, while trying to consolidate control over northern and western Afghanistan, committed systematic massacres against civilians.[35][36] UN officials stated that there had been "15 massacres" between 1996 and 2001.[35][36] They also said, that "[t]hese have been highly systematic and they all lead back to the [Taliban] Ministry of Defense or to Mullah Omar himself".[35][36] Al Qaeda's so-called 055 Brigade was also responsible for mass-killings of Afghan civilians.[18] The report by the United Nations quotes eyewitnesses in many villages describing Arab fighters "carrying long knives used for slitting throats and skinning people".[35][36]


[35] Newsday (October 2001). "Taliban massacres outlined for UN". Chicago Tribune.
[36] Newsday (2001). "Confidential UN report details mass killings of civilian villagers". newsday.org. Retrieved October 12, 2001.

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    So what was the fire bombing of Dresden? Its only terrorism if you lose. Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 13:18
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    Would the holocaust be considered terrorism by this definition?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 10:14
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    @AndrewGrimm - No. It was not done to terrorize a larger group of people to do something. It's couterproductive to expand a definition of one bad thing to include all other bad things.
    – user4012
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 13:00
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    People also call the Houthis terrorist for attacking a Saudi military ship.
    – gerrit
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 14:26
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    @gerrit - When you have KSA type of f-u money, people will call anyone you don't like anything you want :(
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 14:40

They WERE called "freedom fighters" in the West through 1980s when they were fighting the USSR. Now they are called terrorists because they are fighting the US.

Your question reflects systematic bias in sources you use.

Also note that the word "partisan" has certain left-wing coloring so it is rarely used in the West outside of the context of the Eastern Front and Yugoslavia in WWII. Nevertheless, a close term "mujahedin" was used in the context, which roughly means "partisan".

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    @Derfder I mean your impression about the characterization of the Afghanistan fighters in the media reflects the systematic bias in the media sources you are watching.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 6:30
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    @Derfder - The American "Patriots" in the 1770's were referred to as terrorists by the British. Though they are quite different in motive from Al Qaeda. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 17:18
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    @Derfder - The US had a lot to do with making them too. They taught them to be terrorists, then were surprised when we got bit. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 17:40
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    @Chad yourlogicalfallacyis.com/burden-of-proof
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 3:37
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    @DVK - We (US Special Forces) trained them to use unconventional tactics including targeting those who are cooperating with their russian enemies. Those would be civilians who are doing nothing other than obeying those in charge. The idea was to keep the locals from cooperating with the russians. So yes we taught them to be terrorists. Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 13:14

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