Thanks to the NEFA Foundation for publishing a translation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's (Taliban's) new Book of Rules. (see my post of 31 July).
Translated from Pashto, the book comprises 11 chapters, starting with 'Granting Refuge' and running through dealing with prisoners and spies, the enemy's logistics and supplies, war booty, formation and dispatchment, intra-muhahideen affairs, martyrdom operations, education and training, official forbiddance, general advice and a short chapter called 'About the Book of Rules'.
The book tells us many things about the Taliban. First it shows yet again that the organisation knows how to create good publicity. In Pakistan, where the existence of the book has had extensive coverage in local languages, it sustains the belief that that Afghan Taliban - in contrast to its Pakistani counterpart - is fighting a just war against occupation and should be supported.
Besides being a code of behaviour, it is also an attempt to present the organisation as a government in waiting. With a substantial presence now in 80 per cent of the country, it may actually control more of Afghanistan than President Karzai. Its regional and provincial structure has grown dramatically and it seems certain the Taliban sharia courts are already active in many areas.
The simple, effective shape of the organisation, means that military decisions can be made quickly and independently and that basic justice can also be delivered quickly. (Of course, real government - the administration of health, education, transport, etc - is something else and it is doubtful that the Taliban has any skills in this area).
It also wants to come across as a reasonable organisation, acting in a lawful manner - definitely not the brutal thugs so redolent of its previous incarnation. This was the reasoning behind the organisation's recent statement that it no longer wanted to be known as the Taliban - not least because of the activities of the Pakistan Taliban, which is increasingly seen as a liability. It prefers to be known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The fact that the organisation felt it necessary to issue such a document is in itself significant. This is clearly a growing organisation that needs to exert central control over new and expanding forces. Yet the rules are not a constitution for any potential future Taliban state. They are effectively the marching orders of a band of raiders.
The introduction states that "It is compulsory for all the Mujahideen, their provincial and districts’ heads to strictly follow this new set of rules and regulations. All the materials issued prior to this booklet will be considered invalid.”
The rules allow 'refuge' to be given to anyone who renounces the existing government of Afghanistan, although it allows them to stay in their job if it will serve the mujahideen cause.
They also give a procedure for dealing with prisoners. Whether or not they are local or foreign, they are to be handed over to the Taliban provincial commander, who will decide what to do. Some will be released in exchange for other prisoners held by the Afghan government, but the rules explicitly state: "Receiving money for prisoners' release is forbidden."
This is significant. It should make it easier to identify who the kidnappers are. If they ask for money, the likelihood is that they are not Taliban. And it also means that the death of any prisoners in Taliban custody can be directly attributed to their leader, as the rules also state that no-one has the authority to authorise the execution of prisoners except for Taliban leader (Emir al-Momeneen) Mullah Omar and his (unnamed) deputy. The rules allow Taliban guards to shoot their prisoners if they are themselves in danger.
Even spies caught working for the enemy can only be executed with the permission of Mullah Omar. Having in the past allowed zealous footsoldiers to execute 'spies' with little or no trial or evidence,the rules now say there must be witnesses and good evidence before someone can be convicted of spying. Executions of spies (by gunshot) can no longer be filmed for propaganda purposes.
The rules are mostly unsurprising. The form of organisation is hierarchical, but not cellular. There are guidelines for resolving disputes between militia commanders and rules on the distribution of booty, which plays an important role in radical Islamist literature. Mujahideen who loot a convoy after a firefight can seize the goods as booty, while paying a tenth as a toll to the Taliban organisation. If the same men happen to come across an abandoned convoy and seize the goods without firing a shot, the lot belongs to the Taliban's central funds.
The rules on suicide bombers say the bomber must be well trained and that he should only be used against important targets and that civilian casualties should be avoided. Sadly, these rules seldom seem to be in force. Many of the bombers are young boys who are bullied and manipulated to carry out operations, often with little regard for innocent lives. Nowhere is there a justification for this technique under Islamic law.
Mujahideen are warned against getting involved in local disputes and told to refer such issues up to the provincial command. They are also strictly warned against taking weapons without consent, smoking, homosexuality with young boys, the forceful collection of religious tax, house searches and kidnapping for ransom.
The rest of the book tells mujahideen to be 'firm but fair' and to look clean and respectable. "The Mujahideen should behave well with the general public and make efforts to bring their hearts closer to them. It must be the quality of a Mujahid to present himself as a role model for a common man." They must follow the rules or expect punishment if they don't.