Confident, naive and unclear: Mullah Omar’s Eid ul Fitr statement
By Tim Foxley
Summary: Mullah Omar releases his traditional statement on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr. Naivety and uncertainty are apparent underneath the familiar confident rhetoric about Jihadic momentum towards an unspecific “independence”. There is more discussion than ever about the Taliban post-2014, including a piece on “Taliban foreign policy”. Talks with the US are downplayed and deals with other Afghan “factions” after ISAF’s departure are suggestive of the abortive deals of the 1990s. Growing effort is being made to attract would-be security and government-level defectors.
On 16 August, a formal Taliban statement purporting to have come from Mullah Omar was released on the occasion of Eid-ul Fitr. The statement highlights the “momentum” of the Taliban on all fronts, addresses the issue of talks and Taliban intentions for Afghanistan after ISAF leaves. The Taliban website was down, so I managed to retrieve the text from the geopolicraticus blog which also has some interesting analysis on the subject.
Key themes covered (in the order they appear in the statement):
- Claims of Taliban involvement in “Green on Blue” attacks against ISAF
- Defections of ANSF personnel and extensive calls for ANSF and government personnel to defect – with a new Taliban department, the “Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration” to help facilitate such defections
- The war-weariness of international public opinion
- ISAF war crimes
- Unity of the Taliban
- The levels of media propaganda directed against the Taliban
- Transition and the Afghan Strategic Agreement with the US
- Talks and the future of Afghanistan
- Taliban plans for the future; human rights, women’s rights, education, economic development – and foreign policy
- A strong call for Taliban fighters to respect the people and avoid causing civilian casualties
Analysis and Outlook
A caveat first. It is always difficult to state with certainty the extent to which this kind of statement genuinely originates from Mullah Omar – or indeed even the Taliban leadership and the media commission as a whole. But it reads very plausibly as such, has a track record now going back at least to 2005 and ISAF seem to accept it as genuine, albeit describing it as “insane”. I also accept this as a genuine Taliban broadcast.
Such statements from the Taliban leadership have evolved into lengthy addresses to multiple audiences: Afghans, the international community and the Taliban’s own supporters. With a word count of 3,575, although it is not the longest Eid ul Fitr statement from Mullah Omar (2010 – with a word count of 3,716 – holds that honour), the statement develops upon themes that have evolved and enlarged slowly over the last few years. A glance back at his 2006 (word count 948) Eid ul Fitr address shows concern over propaganda used against the Taliban, the claim that the country was to be divided up, the corruption of the regime and the exhortation for Mujahideen fighters to avoid civilian casualties.
From year to year, therefore, the statements do not tend to radically shift in style and tone, preferring instead to expound in greater detail. This is perhaps to be expected, but a look for varying degrees of emphasis and new areas being introduced can yield some analytical fruit. A section that arrived last year, entitled “The future of Afghanistan”, represents the Taliban’s attempt to more formally persuade various audiences that they do have a plan, would not monopolise government (but believe on appointments based on merit), are inclusive and will respect the rights of individuals. Last year the section amounted to 248 words and in this latest 2012 address has blossomed to 669, which includes a new section on “Foreign Policy”. Clearly the Taliban are increasingly mindful of post-ISAF Afghanistan and the role that (in the mind of Mullah Omar at least) the Taliban intend to play.
Attempting to generate more defections – amongst ANSF foot-soldiers and also within government – also takes up a larger slice (though still small) of the address (2011 word count of 86, 2012 word count of 239). Of particular interest is the announcement of a new Taliban “defections department” – The Department of Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration – whose “…branches are now operational all over the country…” to assist this process.
“It is more proper for you to take advantage of this opportunity because the day is not far off away that the invading enemy will flee Afghanistan”
On the issue of talks, this gets interesting. Clearly the Taliban leadership are concerned over the impact on their unity of “talks” – probably driven in part by a worry that local fighters may be confused, hearing (and perhaps believing) rumours. There is an attempt to allay fears over reported Taliban dealings with the US. The statement makes it clear that “negotiation had not meant submission or abandoning of our goals”. The Taliban acknowledge they are dealing with the US but make it clear that these “initial talks” are for the specific goals of exchanging prisoners and establishing a political office.
In addition, the Taliban state that they “…will make efforts to reach an understanding with the Afghan factions in due time following the pull out of the invaders…”. This might be interpreted in a positive way, but my sense is that this sounds very “old school” and a return to the failed negotiation attempts brokered by the international community in the 1990s. Does this mean cutting pragmatic deals with those they cannot defeat, regardless of popular wishes?
The growing willingness to elaborate, in this Eid statement, on the Taliban’s future in Afghanistan post-2014, shows where their thinking is slowly heading. But amongst the inevitable, but shrill, confidence, I sense that naivety and uncertainty are also strongly in evidence here. There is much, by now standard, rhetoric about fighting the Jihad until a very ill-defined “independence”. But the “what next” is still vague. At one level they are aware that 2014 may well not mean the removal of all Western military forces (“…the invasion may ensconce itself in the garb of peace-keeping forces or strategic cooperation”) and yet they assert later that “…the day is not far away that the invading enemy will flee Afghanistan” in order to try to generate defections from potential fence-sitters. This might be clever tactics, playing to different audiences or simply immature thinking. Although they say more than ever about “the future”, there is little in way of practical detail to those who seek reassurances on Taliban intentions (women’s rights, sharing of government) or capabilities (reconstruction of the country, “obtainment of technological know-how”).
They are still evidently concerned about how “talks” will play out and, crucially, how this is being perceived by their own fighters. Western media and other “propaganda” still appears to a major worry – as does the continual refrain that their fighters should respect the Afghan peoples and avoid civilian casualties wherever possible.
It is never clear to what extent the Afghan population are aware of these broadcasts – although the Westerners always give them a lot of attention. But I saw one report which suggested that this Eid address had been read out in some mosques in Nangarhar province. And ISAF’s dismissal of the statement as “insane” (and perhaps coincidentally, the Taliban website has been taken off-line at the moment) suggests both a lack of ideas on how – or whether – to respond and a worry that these Taliban messages may, as ISAF prepares to pull out, be more keenly sought out by the Afghan population, if only to find out what sort of problem they might be having to deal with.