Octavia Nasr | BIO
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs
A manifesto of terror was released this week. It was disguised as a 65-page code of conduct for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan under the guise of Islamic Law.
What was the Taliban leadership thinking when it released this pocket-sized booklet? It’s hard to answer this question without looking at the general situation in Afghanistan and what information the booklet contains.
Fierce battles have erupted along the Pakistan-Afghan border region over the past few months because U.S. Marines and British troops have stepped up the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda in that area. Those battles have resulted in hundreds of deaths in the ranks of both groups – as well as among civilians and NATO troops. And the situation has led to a refugee crisis where more than a million people fled the border region.
Despite the losses and setbacks Taliban and al Qaeda have suffered, their attacks continue. And their propaganda machine repeatedly produces hate messages to incite Afghans against their own government and against the West. According to Afghan authorities, at least seven Taliban insurgents wearing suicide vests and wielding machine guns struck at government and commercial targets on Saturday in the eastern city of Khost. The suicide bombers died when they detonated their vests, and at least 14 civilians - three military service members and a police officer - were wounded.
Now comes the booklet. The group decided to deliver it to the Qatar-based Arabic network Al-Jazeera instead of posting it on the Internet, which has become a common strategy adopted by many terror groups and insurgencies recently.
According to Al-Jazeera, the pocket-sized book with the blue cover contains 13 chapters and 67 articles dealing with topics ranging from recruiting and training, to rules of conduct and engagement.
The first section is titled “Issues of Existence.” It explains, among other things, that if an Afghan government official “agrees to leave his position and join the Taliban, he should be protected.” The section also warns that, “Any Taliban member who mistreats the converted Afghan will be brought to judgment.”
One section deals with the subject of taking hostages. It gives instructions on not harming the hostages or killing them in order to use them in prisoner swap operations. In another chapter, the fate of high-ranking captured officers from what is described as the “slave government,” is left to the discretion of the local leader.
Perhaps the most significant detail in this manifesto of terror is that it stresses that no new groups are to be formed without the approval of high ranking commanders. On radical Islamist websites, commentators deduced that this could be a sign of a rift between al Qaeda and Taliban. The two groups have been operating closely and almost in the same bunker since 2001. As a matter of fact, al Qaeda’s leadership is believed to be hiding in Taliban-controlled territory in Swat Valley and in Northern and Southern Waziristan - a rugged border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The booklet does not mention al Qaeda at all, according to Al-Jazeera.
In the section on “Agents” the booklet describes what should happen if a person is confirmed to be “spying for the enemy.” In this case, the booklet says that person “is considered spoiled and only the Mullah can forgive or deport him or order him dead.”
The booklet also offers directives on suicide operations, asking that the fighters spare civilians, ignoring the fact that no suicide attack could be carried out in accordance with that rule.
For the Taliban, the publication is called, “List of the Mujahideen in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” The group’s intention is to give a copy to every one of its members as a guideline on conduct as they fight the “infidels” and all who aid, them including the legitimate Afghan government and forces who they refer to as members of the “slave government.”
To the naked eye however, this booklet is a manifesto justifying terror while hiding behind the cover of Taliban’s own interpretation of Islamic Law. It is a simple attempt to give an outlawed organization some semblance of control, at a time when facts on the ground show the opposite.