Thursday, 10 September 2009

Afghan Taliban rebrands to avoid growing stigma

The Afghan Taliban has suddenly got very touchy about being called the Taliban, according to an article by the much-respected reporter Rahimullah Yusufzai, writing in the News International in Pakistan. They prefer to be known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Amirat-I-Islami Afghanistan in Dari or Da Afghanistan Islami Amirat in Pushto).
Yusufzai says a senior official of the organisation told him: "In our declarations or in statements by our leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, you would have noted the absence of the word Taliban. Our leadership and shuras refer to our organisation as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and to our fighters as mujahideen."
The official said that there was a growing stigma attached to the use of the term Taliban and that others had misused the name and committed crimes. "This has brought a bad name to the Taliban. The term Taliban no longer represented the madrassa students who rose against the Afghan mujahideen in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and challenged and defeated their corrupt and cruel commanders."
Another Afghan Taliban official added: "The Afghan Taliban are fighting Western forces that have occupied Afghanistan. It is jihad against non-Muslims and occupiers. We cannot say the same about the new groups of Taliban fighting in places outside Afghanistan."
Presumably this person was referring to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has been strongly condemned in Pakistan for fighting against its own government and people and which has suffered catastrophic defeats in recent months in Swat and other areas and whose commander, Baitullah Mahsud, was killed in a US drone missile strike on 5 August.
It is hard to say if this attempt to create distance between the two Taliban organisations is a serious rift, as most of the TTP leaders have previously sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar. However, there is confusion within the TTP at present following Baitullah's death and the Afghan Taliban clearly wants nothing to do with some of the elements within its sister organisation on the grounds that they are little more than common criminals. At the same time, the Afghans know that their bases and logistical support are located in Pakistan and that they will have to play a careful game if they are not to alienate important backers.

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