Mullah Omar, above left, is dead; Mullah Akhtar Mansour, above right, has been proclaimed the new Taliban leader; Syed Tayyab Agha, below left, head of the Taliban office in Qatar, has quit over the appointment of Mullah Mansour; Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Al-Qaeda since Bin-Laden was killed, has joined the fray and released a video pledging allegiance to Mansour.

Mullah Omar, above left, is dead; Mullah Akhtar Mansour, above right, has been proclaimed the new Taliban leader; Syed Tayyab Agha, below left, head of the Taliban office in Qatar, has quit over the appointment of Mullah Mansour; Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Al-Qaeda since Bin-Laden was killed, has joined the fray and released a video pledging allegiance to Mansour.

For the past several years I have been writing commentaries on Eid ul-Fitr messages supposedly coming from Mullah Mohammad Omar. Shortly after the last Eid message, it was confirmed the Mullah Omar had been dead for about two years. At least the last three Eid messages carried on the “Voice of Jihad,” the official website of the Afghan Taliban, had appeared after Mullah Omar was dead. I had been commenting on the words of a ghost. But who had been putting words in the mouth of a ghost?

Apparently, a small claque of Taliban leaders, who knew Mullah Omar was dead, played on Mullah Omar’s nearly legendary elusiveness, and pretended that Mullah Omar was still alive, sequestered from the Afghan Ummah, but still issuing annual statements, like a distant and stern father-figure to the the frontline fighters continuing to expend their lives in pursuit of the Taliban’s long game: ouster of the “puppet” regime in Kabul and the ultimate return to power of Mullah Omar and the Taliban.

One wonders how the senior Taliban who were “in the know” on Mullah Omar’s death thought they could keep this secret. There is no sign that the Taliban leadership prepared the people of Afghanistan — essentially, their constituency — for the leadership transition, and the very public defections from the Taliban that occurred immediately after Mullah Omar’s death was confirmed makes it clear that many in the Taliban leadership were not “in” on the secret of Mullah Omar’s death. The most public defection from the Taliban was the departure of Syed Tayyab Agha, head of the Taliban office in Qatar, who resigned his position citing the method by which Mullah Mansour was chosen to follow Mullah Omar.

Significantly, Syed Tayyab Agha specifically noted that the choice of Mullah Mansour was made outside Afghanistan. This is an important but easily over-looked detail. The Afghan Taliban have, throughout their existence, been focused on Afghanistan, and are not to be conflated with transnational Jihadist groups. There is both an ideological and, for want of a better term, a temperamental difference between the Taliban, on the one hand, and on the other hand, ISIS and Al-Qaeda — the latter two very different from each other, but both also very different from the Taliban.

Afghanistan has been torn by warring factions since the end of the Soviet occupation. The Soviet occupation provided a rallying point that was a temporary focus of unification, but with the Soviet pull-out the factions turned on each other. The Taliban was the only organization that could establish an internal security regime within Afghanistan, with the exception of a small territory where the Northern Alliance held out. Mullah Omar was part of the fight against the Soviet occupation and part of the struggle to assert control over Afghanistan in the post-Soviet chaos. If there were anything like an Afghan nation-state, one would say the Mullah Omar was the paradigmatic nationalist seeking to lead his nation against the imposition of a foreign power, regardless of whether that power was the USSR or the US.

Thus Mullah Omar was there from the beginning of the Taliban, thoroughly a product of the Afghan milieu, and in the essentially feudal culture of Afghanistan, the personal loyalty that many Taliban had to Mullah Omar mattered. It mattered in a way that citizens of contemporary nation-states can scarcely conceive, because this concept of personal loyalty to a warlord is no longer what binds together most societies in the age of the nation-state.

Afghanistan is not a nation-state. The government in Kabul aspires to be a nation-state and to join in the global marketplace as an equal, but these concepts are foreign to most of the people of Afghanistan. The Afghans are not stupid; they are from another culture; they do not understand the culture of the nation-state system in the same way that we have forgotten the culture of feudal obligation. We aren’t stupid either; we’re just from another culture. Our mutual incomprehension is a product of forces larger than any individual, forces that have been incubating in global history for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years.

One of the most profound errors of geostrategy on the part of the US in the Cold War was to fail to recognize the national aspirations of people like Ho Chi Minh, who were communists primarily for opportunistic reasons. During the Cold War, if you wanted to stage a struggle of national liberation, you knew that you could get arms and military assistance, because if the one side refused you, the other side would likely accommodate you. There were as many opportunistic democrats as there were opportunistic communists.

It is all too easy to make the opposite mistake with the Taliban, and to identify them as nationalists when it is, rather, their ideological position that defines them. The Taliban are not opportunists. It is also ideology that defines Al Qaeda and ISIS, and in each case these ideologies are distinct. While both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban emerged from the guerrilla war against the Soviet occupation, the two organizations were and are profoundly different. The Taliban are Afghan, while Al-Qaeda is a transnational Jihadist organization, with financing from the wealth of the Arab world and volunteers from all over the Islamic world. Al-Qaeda was to Afghanistan as the Lincoln Brigades and other foreign fighters were to the Spanish Civil War. Al-Qaeda thought globally and acted locally; the Afghan Taliban thought locally and acted locally. Al-Qaeda were war tourists in Afghanistan.

I have read stories in the press over the last few weeks that have characterized the Taliban as being rivals with ISIS for carrying the banner of international Jihad. This is nonsense. The sphere of interests of ISIS and the Taliban overlap in a few places, but the organizations are profoundly different in outlook and structure. Elsewhere I have discussed in detail the philosophical basis of ISIS ideology. Few of any of these philosophical bases hold true for the Taliban. Regardless of what happens with Islamic state — which is actively recruiting and seeking to advance its agenda throughout the Islamic world, something foreign to the Taliban — the Taliban, as long as they are in existence as a distinct entity, will continue to seek power in Afghanistan. And I would not be surprised if there were a few ideologues within the Afghan Taliban who imagine a “Greater Afghanistan,” as there are always those who imagine such a thing. But this is not the conception that defines the movement. ISIS, on the other hand, defines itself in expansionist terms.

The continuing existence of Al-Qaeda, and the growing influence of ISIS, change the political and military context in which the Taliban pursue their traditionalist vision for Afghanistan, but they do not alter that vision. It is possible (though not likely) that the ISIS Caliphate could be so successful that it would expand over and absorb Afghanistan. One suspects, in this case, that ISIS would allow these forbidding mountains and valleys to be ruled by their traditional ruling class, and little or nothing would change in Afghanistan. Perhaps that would even be an acceptable future for the Taliban. It would be fascinating to interview some Taliban on this prospect, though, as I said, I believe it to be highly unlikely.

Al-Qaeda is now too degraded in its capabilities to figure prominently in the political or military settlement of the region. Ayman al-Zawahiri was reduced to the stunt of proclaiming his loyalty to Mullah Mansour in order to try to maintain the relevance of Al-Qaeda. While Al-Qaeda’s status could well change — some outside power might decide to pour money into the group to reinvigorate it as a militant proxy (possibly to counter to highly successful militant proxies of Iran, which many in the Gulf worry will be given a boost if Iranian sanctions are dropped) — I view this scenario as unlikely as that of an expansionist ISIS Caliphate absorbing Afghanistan.

With the Taliban split over the death of Mullah Omar and the rise of Mullah Mansour, what is the group to do? What is the way forward for the Taliban? Because of the Taliban are an Afghan presence, rooted in the traditions of Afghanistan, the Pakistani politicking that resulted in the appointment of Mullah Mansour is, to a certain extent (though not in an absolute sense) irrelevant to the Taliban. The Taliban still have, in large measure, the hearts and minds of the people. The Taliban can still, as Mao said, move among the people as a fish moves through the sea. This has not changed. The Taliban can continue to fight. Insurgencies can persist for very long periods of time. The example of Colombia is often cited in this connection.

The Taliban grand strategy emerges from the intensely feudal, intensely traditional, and intensely local character of the Taliban. This will not change any time soon. Peace talks held on the governmental level will not greatly change this. The failure of peace talks on a governmental level will not greatly change this. The attempt by Pakistan’s ISI to control events in Afghanistan will not greatly change this. As long as Afghanistan’s traditional culture persists, Taliban grand strategy and its long game will persist.

In earlier millennia, Afghanistan was criss-crossed by trade routes, and studded with a few influential cities. But the traditional life of the people was virtually untouched by the presence of trade and urbanization in this form. The nation-state structures that have been imposed upon the region have scarcely made any more impression on the Afghans than Silk Roads and a few wealthy cities. It is only when an industrialized economy transforms the life of peoples in isolated mountain valleys that this will change, and such a transformation will not happen any time soon.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Ghani and Omar

Time flies, and once again it is Eid al-Fitr, a time of rejoicing in the Muslim world in celebration of the end of the Ramadan fast, and the time of year when we expect to receive another missive issued in the name of Mullah Mohammad Omar, Amir-ul-Momineen, by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), and indeed a new statement was made available on 15 July 2015, Eid Felicitation Message of Amir-ul-Momineen, Mulla Mohammad Umar Mujahid. (As the link to last year’s Eid message on the same website is no longer functional, I will copy the complete text of the message below so that the reader can consult it if they wish to do so.)

Over the years I have made a practice of reading these statements carefully and offering an analysis of the content. Here are my past analyses in the series:

The Graveyard of Empires (2009)

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2010

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2011

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2012

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2013

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2014

There have been major developments in the region that makes this year’s statement of great interest, and the two developments in particular that I have in mind are the peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government, and the ongoing success of ISIS, which is transforming the unraveling political status quo of the Fertile Crescent that once provided a comfortable illusion of “stability” both to regional despots and to those western powers who wanted (quite earnestly) to believe in the stability of the region.

Before I consider content related to the above, I want to make two stylistic notes: 1) the opening paragraphs are a bit more refulgent than the usual statements attributed to Mullah Mohammad Omar, and 2) the text is liberally sprinkled with quotations from the Koran, appearing first in the original Arabic, and in the English text made available also translated into English. This opening appeal to emotion and the explicit appeals to faith give this statement a different tone than past statements, which had previously sounded like someone trying a little too hard to sound like one of the technocratic ruling elite.

Perhaps the emotional tone was consciously cultivated to make it easier to swallow item 2 of the text, which never comes out and explicitly says that the Taliban are negotiating terms with the Kabul government, but nevertheless makes it clear that this is what the Taliban are doing. It has been widely reported that Mullah Omar came out in favor of these peace talks, but there is nothing in the statement that makes this explicit. Everything in couched in terms of, “…peaceful interactions with the enemies is not prohibited,” and, “…political endeavors and peaceful pathways for achieving these sacred goals is a legitimate Islamic principle and an integral part of Prophetic politics.” Mullah Omar is giving the Taliban wiggle room sufficient for plausible deniability. (There is also the curious statement that, “…we are an integral part of human society and rely upon one another.” I suspect that something here was lost in translation.)

I find it rather telling that in one of the above-quoted lines Mullah Omar uses the phrase, “Prophetic politics.” This is an echo of ISIS rhetoric, as ISIS makes a habit of referring to, “Prophetic methodology.” I am not saying that Mullah Omar is copying ISIS, much less trying to identify with them, only that the use of “prophetic” as a adjective to describe a particular Islamic approach to social organization seems to now have become a talking point in the Islamic world. Whereas Islamic militants in the recent past have striven to present themselves as being in the vanguard of revolutionary Islam, now they strive with each other to demonstrate their bona fides through adherence to “Prophetic” principles.

Both items 3 and 4 are concerned with Jihadi unity, which seems to be primarily concerned with, on the one hand, exhortations to achieve and maintain this unity, and, on the other hand, assurances that Jihadi forces in Afghanistan do in fact possess this unity. The message is that “this time,” unlike “last time,” when the Taliban come to power Afghanistan is not going to be torn into the fiefs of warlords, as the fighting continues even while the invader and enemy pulls out.

Item 5 concerns charges that the Taliban are agents of Pakistan and Iran. Apart from the obvious motive of asserting the independence of the Afghan Taliban (therefore not puppets like the Kabul government), I assume this makes an appearance because Pakistan has been the host of the first round of talks between representatives of the Taliban and the Kabul government. Given the history of Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan, especially through ISI networks, and that some Pakistanis view Afghanistan as a part of “Greater Pakistan” (cf. Akhand Bharat and Ghazwa-e-hind: Conflicting Destinies in South Asia), the use of Pakistan as a venue could come to seem a bit too cozy and might suggest that the Taliban have been compromised. However, most of item 5 is concerned to demonstrate that the Kabul government is a failure despite its support from abroad, whereas the Taliban are strong and successful despite the lack of similar support.

Item 6 seeks to gainsay the image of the Taliban as exclusively retrograde, backward-looking primitivists, asserting that science is necessary to contemporary warfare (I agree) and that scientific medicine is necessary to treat injured Jihadis. There is a passing mention of dependence upon the scientific resources of the enemy, which pretty much sums up the whole problem. The Taliban understand the limits of their way of warfare, and they know they are dependent upon others to modernize their way of warfare, but they do not appear to have made the connection that scientific inquiry emerges from a particular kind of society, and this is not the kind of society that the Taliban seeks to create. Even if the Taliban were to return to power in a scenario such as Mullah Omar imagines in this statement, this problem of dependency would not go away. It may be exacerbated. And if the Taliban were to administer a nation-state in the twenty-first century without the tools of twenty-first century governance and warfare, they risk being pawns in a game played by others who do possess these tools. There is an awareness of the problem, then, but no sign that an effective way to meet the problem is available: science within “the light of our Holy Sharia law.” That may turn out to be irreconcilable.

Items 7, 8, 9, and 10 return to the emotional and religious tone of the opening section, with a series of appeals and exhortations to be on good behavior, to reform rather than kill enemies, to materially support the Mujahidin, and once again to avoid internal dissension.

The message of the many successes of the Jihadis in taking back Afghanistan for the IEA jars with the implicit message of peace talks with the Kabul government, as the message of Jihadi unity jars with the many assurances that, when the Taliban take over again, it won’t be like last time. But no one is going to grill Mullah Omar over these tensions in his statement. However, the tensions will be felt, and filed away on an unconscious level, even if they are not explicitly debated or addressed. The tensions implicit in the message will not be resolved by Taliban successes, whether on the battlefield or at the negotiating table.

Will the negotiations ever lead to Ashraf Ghani meeting Mullah Mohammad Omar over a peace table? It seems unlikely, simply because it seems unlikely that Mullah Omar would ever allow himself to be exposed to the glare of publicity in this way. Such a meeting would have great symbolic value, but in so far as the Taliban are successful, they will not have to negotiate, and in so far as they are unsuccessful, the negotiations would be perfunctory and “merely” symbolic. So the image of Ashraf Ghani and Mullah Omar facing each other over a table is as deceptive as it is elusive.

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Note added Wednesday 29 July 2015: Unconfirmed reports are now being investigated that Taliban Chief Mullah Mohammad Omar has died. Previous reports have turned out to be false, but several authorities are taking this report seriously. Time will tell.

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Note added Thursday 30 July 2015: Several major news organizations today stated that the Taliban had officially acknowledged the Mullah Mohammad Omar died in April 2013, which means that the last three Eid ul-Fitr messages attributed to Mullah Omar were published after his death. The IEA website does not yet acknowledge Mullah Omar’s death as of this writing. One suspects they do not know how exactly to report the news. Already there are contradictory conspiracy theories, either that that Afghan government knew about the death of Mullah Omar but kept it quiet, or that the Afghan intelligence services are so incompetent they knew nothing (an incompetency they apparently share with most of the world’s intelligence organizations).

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Note added Friday 31 July 2015: The official IEA website now has a statement on the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, Declaration of the Leading Council of the Islamic Emirate regarding the appointment of new Amir (leader) of the Islamic Emirate, dated 30 July 2015.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Eid Felicitation Message of Amir-ul-Momineen, Mulla Mohammad Umar Mujahid

15 July 2015

In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful.

الحمد لله رب العلمین و الصلوة والسلام علی سیدالأنبیاء والمرسلین محمد وعلی آله وأصحابه أجمعین وبعد

:قال الله تعالی

[أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَاتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا وَإِنَّ اللهَ عَلَى نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِيرٌ ﴾ [الحج:39﴿

Translation: (Permission to take up arms is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged and Allah, indeed, has power to help them.) (Al-Hajj – 39)

To the whole Muslim Umma, particularly to the Muslim and Mujahid Masses of Afghanistan!

السلام علیکم ورحمة الله وبرکاته

(May peace and blessings of Allah be upon you!)

I would like to felicitate you on this auspicious occasions of both Eid-ul-Fitr and the significant conquests in the field of Jihad along with my sincere best wishes. May Allah, the Almighty, accept all your worships, donations and virtuous deeds related with the holy month of Ramadan! Amin.

All of these conquests are the result of perpetual support of Allah Almighty followed by the untold sacrifices, endeavors and backing of the Afghan Mujahid people. I pray to Allah, the Almighty, to remunerate all of them for their services and sacrifices.

It is a moment of deep gratitude and great honor for me to share my feelings with you concerning the sanctified and blessed days of the Holy Religion of Islam. The Muslims congratulate one another in these days, pray for their well-being and express their sincerity, brotherhood and sympathy in an atmosphere fraught with religious fraternity.

I would like, by seizing this occasion, to elucidate some issues about the previous and present on-going Jihadi struggle of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

1. The invasion of Afghanistan by the occupying alliance headed by America was in reality an explicit brutal aggression, contradicting all humane principles, on an integral part of the Muslim Umma and subsequently, the initiation of Holy Jihad against this aggression became a binding individual obligation upon us. As Allah Almighty says:

[ وَقَاتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ… ﴾ [البقرة:190 ﴿

Translation: (And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors.) (Al-Baqarah – 190)

It was according to this religious obligation that more than fifteen hundred religious scholars of our country issued the decree of Holy Jihad to the Islamic Emirate which was subsequently approved by the righteous scholars around the world. In the light of this genuine religious decree, Jihad is as obligatory today as it was in the beginning of foreign occupation because our Muslim homeland Afghanistan is still under occupation and both its land and air space are controlled by the invaders. The only minor difference is that after suffering heavy casualties and financial losses, the foreign occupying forces have reduced their numbers and have confined themselves to heavily fortified bases, filling this void with some notorious figures of our society, mercenary forces trained by foreign intelligence agencies and some naive youngsters in the disguise of Afghan security forces who are financially, logistically and even directly supported by the very occupying forces when pressured by Mujahidin. It is therefore still obligatory upon us to continue our sacred Jihad to liberate our beloved homeland and restore an Islamic system.

It is true that large areas of the country are liberated by the Mujahidin but our Jihadi struggle will continue until the infidel occupation of our country has ended and a pure Islamic system is implemented.

2. Concurrently with armed Jihad, political endeavors and peaceful pathways for achieving these sacred goals is a legitimate Islamic principle and an integral part of Prophetic politics. As our holy leader, the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), was actively engaged in fighting the infidels in the fields of ‘Badr’ and ‘Khyber’, he simultaneously participated in agreements beneficial for Muslims, held meetings with envoys of infidels, sent messages and delegations to them and on various occasions even undertook the policy of face to face talks with warring infidel parties. If we look into our religious regulations, we can find that meetings and even peaceful interactions with the enemies is not prohibited but what is unlawful is to deviate from the lofty ideals of Islam and to violate religious decrees. Therefore the objective behind our political endeavors as well as contacts and interactions with countries of the world and our own Afghans is to bring an end to the occupation and to establish an independent Islamic system in our country. It is our legitimate right to utilize all legal pathways because being an organized and liable setup, we are responsible to our masses, we are an integral part of human society and rely upon one another. All Mujahidin and countrymen should be confident that in this process, I will unwaveringly defend our legal rights and viewpoint everywhere. We have established a ‘Political Office’ for political affairs, entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and conducting all political activities.

3. We insist upon the unity of Jihadi front in Afghanistan because firstly, it is the command of Allah Almighty and secondly, the fruits of successful Jihad against the former Soviet Union were lost as an inevitable consequence of the multiplicity of factions.

Allah Almighty has said about the unity of Jihadi front:

( إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِهِ صَفّاً كَأَنَّهُم بُنيَانٌ مَّرْصُوصٌ) (4 الصف)

Translation: (Verily, Allah loves those who fight in His cause arrayed in solid ranks, as though they were a strong structure cemented with molten lead.) (As-Saff – 4)

On another occasion, the Holy Quran unequivocally inhibits from all contentions, differences and mutual disputes in the following explicit words:

( وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ ۖ وَاصْبِرُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ) (46 الانفال)

Translation: (And obey Allah and His Messenger and dispute not with one another, lest you falter and your strength depart from you. And be steadfast; surely, Allah is with the steadfast.) (Al-Anfal – 46)

And our Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) says:

{لاَ يُلْدَغُ الْمُؤْمِنُ مِنْ جُحْرٍ وَاحِدٍ مَرَّتَيْنِ} {رواه البخاري}

Translation: (A believer is not stung twice from the same hole.) Narrated by Bukhari.

Since maintaining the unity of Jihadi front in our country is a religious obligation, we have therefore directed all our Mujahidin to preserve their unity and forcefully prevent all those elements who attempt to create differences, damage this Jihadi front or try to disperse the Mujahidin.

4. Our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said:

الْمُسْلِمُ أَخُو الْمُسْلِمِ لَا يَظْلِمُهُ وَلَا يَخْذُلُهُ وَلَا يَحْقِرُهُ التَّقْوَى هَاهُنَا” وَيُشِيرُ إِلَى صَدْرِهِ ثَلَاثَ مَرَّاتٍ، “بِحَسْبِ امْرِئٍ مِن الشَّرِّ أَنْ يَحْقِرَ أَخَاهُ الْمُسْلِمَ كُلُّ الْمُسْلِمِ عَلَى الْمُسْلِمِ حَرَامٌ دَمُهُ وَمَالُهُ وَعِرْضُهُ ) رواه مسلم و احمد

Translation: (Every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. He should neither oppress him, nor let him down, nor insult him. Piety is here, while pointing to his chest thrice. It is enough for a man’s mischief to look down upon his Muslim brother. The blood, property and honor of every Muslim is forbidden for another Muslim.) Narrated by Muslim and Ahmad.

In view of the above saying of our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and being a member of the Muslim society, we look upon every Muslim as our brother and we formally recognize the legitimate rights of all Afghans including minorities as our religious duty.

The formation of Islamic Emirate comprises of virtuous and erudite people from all areas and nations of our country, learning a lot from the experiences of previous 36 years especially from the responsibilities borne over the past twenty years hence no one should fear about what will happen if the Islamic Emirate comes to power. I assure you that the upcoming changes will in no way resemble the situation following the collapse of the communist regime when everything turned upside down. There are no such disagreements inside the Jihadi ranks as were in the past. This time every legal development around the country will be preserved, national assets and the achievements of private sector will be maintained, the dignity of all individuals and communities of the country will be honored, an accountable, transparent, professional and inclusive Afghan administration will be setup to meet both the worldly and religious needs of the Afghan masses. We have always tried, in light of Islamic principles and national interests, to maintain cordial and reciprocal relations with all neighboring, regional and world countries so that Afghanistan is secured both from external malice as well as internal differences.

5. Some circles accuse Mujahidin of being agents of Pakistan and Iran. This is an utterly unjust verdict because neither our past history nor the present prevailing circumstances attest to this statement and the forthcoming history will also be a witness against these false accusations, Insha-Allah (God-willing).

Nevertheless, it is a fact that we have sought cordial relations not only with Pakistan and Iran but also all other neighboring countries. Just like towards the people of Pakistan and Iran, we have been the well-wishers of all masses of all neighboring, regional and world countries and we are determined to pursue this wise policy.

We call upon all people with intellect not to be deceived by the baseless propaganda of the enemy intelligence. Do not attribute you’re extraordinary achievements to others. The vast areas spreading from Badakhshan to Kandahar, from Faryab to Paktia and from Herat to Nangarhar, which almost covers the entire country cannot be liberated with foreign support. If foreign aid were so effective then it would have treated the wounds of the Kabul administration which enjoys the unconstrained support of fifty countries. They freely get weapons and manpower from abroad, even their leaders are brought up and trained by the foreigners. But none of these provisions stabilized them rather they are losing ground on a daily basis. Therefore if we were not supported by Allah Almighty as well as our pious masses and Jihadi spirit, how could it be possible for us to have sustained this lopsided war for fourteen years against major world military powers with the insignificant and secret support of either one or two neighboring countries? Without a doubt, no sane mind would ever accept this nonsense.

Therefore our Muslim brothers, near and far, should not be victimized by the enemy propaganda because the enemy is not only devious but also shrewd and well-equipped, able to convey and spread rumors and propaganda against Muslims and Islamic movements to the world masses. Hence all Muslims should remain vigilant and discerning equipped with faith and spiritual perspicacity.

6. Some people, without having any sound proof, think that the Islamic Emirate is against all new developments, modern sciences and resources. This despite the overall expenditure on schools and higher educational institutions being higher than the traditional religious madrassas during the reign of the Islamic Emirate. Twenty percent of the budget was allocated for education and training. Contemporary studies are recommended by our religious scholars as they are obligatory according to Islamic teachings. Allah Almighty says in His Holy Book:

(وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُمْ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ قُوَّةٍ وَمِنْ رِبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ… )(الانفال 60)

Translation: (And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war, whereby you may frighten the enemy of Allah and your enemy…) (Al-Anfal – 60)

According to the above blessed verse which stresses upon every possible preparation against the enemy and since Jihad is an indispensable obligation for the Muslims today thus modern resources to combat the enemy can neither be had nor utilized without the prior knowledge of modern sciences and new experiences. Similarly treatment of injured Mujahidin and health-care of Muslim masses, freeing ourselves from enemy dependence in technical, industrial, agricultural and various other walks of life as well as properly serving the Muslims and self-sufficiency of Islamic society needs our excellence in modern knowledge. It is a well-established rule of Islamic jurisprudence that the requisite of an obligation is obligatory.

Therefore the Islamic Emirate realizes the value and importance of modern sciences and sources in the light of our Holy Sharia law. The proof is that Mujahidin are facilitating both religious and modern studies for the young generation of our beloved homeland in all the areas under their control.

7. I would like to remind all the Mujahidin that if they abide by two things then eventual victory will be theirs. First, they should aim for Allah’s pleasure in all their deeds. They should endure their allegiance with their creed, country, the Islamic Emirate and their leaders as guided by our Holy Book:

(يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن تَنصُرُواْ اللَّهَ یَنصُرْکمْ وَ یُثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَکمْ.) (محمد 7)

Translation: (O ye who believe! if you help the cause of Allah, He will help you and will make your foothold firm.) (Muhammad – 7)

Secondly, our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) says:

( لَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ لَمْ يَرْحَمْ صَغِيرَنَا وَلم يُوَقِّرْ كَبِيرَنَا) (ترمذي)

Translation: (Those who do not have mercy on youngsters and not respectful to elders are not from us.) Narrated by Tirmidhi

So deal with your people gently, with love and good manners. Treat their elders as your own parents and their youngsters as your own brothers and children. The protection of lives and properties of ordinary people is your Islamic and human responsibility. Particularly in your military planning, take all possible measures to avoid civilian losses and casualties. If you glance over history, you will vividly see that the one who has betrayed the sacred religion of Allah or has looked down upon this pious Mujahid nation or ignored good ethics has failed at succeeding here. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) says:

( أکمل المؤمنين إيماناً أحسنهم خلقاً ) (رواه ابوداود)

Translation: (The most perfect amongst the pious people is the one whose behavior is sublime.) Narrated by Abu Daud

So win over your nation with good behavior.

8. O Mujahidin! As Allah Almighty has flung open the doors of victories to you, try your best to invite and guide the opponents to the right path and provide them with secured and honorable living conditions. Instead of killing them, it is better to reform (guide) them as our community will inevitably suffer due to their widows and orphans. The people who control their anger and pardon are held in high esteem by Allah Almighty as He says:

(وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ)‌ (آل عمران (134)

Translation: (And those who suppress anger, and pardon men; and Allah loves those who do good.) (Al-Imran – 134)

9. Muslims of the whole world and specially the pious masses of Afghanistan are requested to increase their physical and financial support to the Mujahidin amidst the current triumphant process as you constantly extended it over the past fourteen years. You should remember that Jihad is an individual obligation upon every single Muslim. If one cannot participate in the Jihadi fronts physically, he can discharge his duty by extending financial or political or cultural support to the Mujahidin. Our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) says:

(مَنْ جَهَّزَ غَازِياً فِي سَبِيلِ الله فَقَدْ غَزَا، وَمَنْ خَلَفَ غَازِياً فِي سَبِيلِ الله بِخَيْرٍ فَقَدْ غَزَا) (متفق علیه)

Translation: (Whosoever equipped a fighter in the path of Allah, and the one who looked after a fighter’s family behind, verily he participated in Jihad.) Agreed Upon

10. To end, I request all the leaders and masses of the Muslim world to maintain unity and fraternity among themselves and not allow internal differences to weaken their ranks. The policy of tolerance, patience, acumen and strict abidance by Islamic Sharia should be adopted. I would like to remind all the well-off sympathizing brothers to extend their complete support to the bereaved families of the martyrs, prisoners, disabled, poor and orphans of frontline Mujahidin during these happy days of Eid-ul-Fitr. They should not be left alone and must be encouraged because it is the source of success and prosperity in this world as well the world hereafter. Wish good for others as you seek it for yourselves as the Holy Quran says:

(وَافْعَلُوا الْخَيْرَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ) (الحج – 77)

Translation: (And do good deeds that you may prosper.) (Al-Hajj – 77)

I once again congratulate all of you on this happy occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr and pray to Allah Almighty that all your worship and services are rewarded.


Servant of Islam


Mulla Mohammad Umar Mujahid

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IE of A

Message of Felicitation of Amir-ul-Momineen (may Allah protect him) on the Auspicious Eve of Eid-ul-fitr

It’s that time of year again! Muslims all over the world are celebrating the end of Ramadan with Eid al-Fitr, and Amir-ul-Momineen Mullah Mohammed Omar has issued his traditional statement for the holiday, which I have previously called the “state of the union address” for the Afghan Taliban. The address can be read in is entirety at the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) website: Message of Felicitation of Amir-ul-Momineen (may Allah protect him) on the Auspicious Eve of Eid-ul-fitr.

My past posts on Mullah Omar’s past Eid al-Fitr statements:

The Graveyard of Empires (2009)

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2010

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2011

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2012

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2013

This year’s statement is shorter than many of the previous statements, at only a little over 2,000 words. This message is not as well translated as previous messages. Past statements have been both systematic and comprehensive, and I guess I expected that, with the US scheduled to pull of Afghanistan this year, there would be another similarly comprehensive message to the people of Afghanistan outlining the principles and practices by which the Taliban expected to seize and hold power. And more than the US pullout, there is the big news of continuing instability in the region and the proclamation of a Caliphate by ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — certainly a development of some importance that touches upon regional dynamics that must affect the Taliban and their efforts in Afghanistan.

I have observed in previous posts that the Afghan Taliban are tightly focused on Afghanistan and have not associated themselves closely with radical Jihadist groups with transnational ambitions, which orientation seems to clearly be the case with ISIS and its concern to abrogate the Sykes-Picot borders that have defined the nation-states of the region since the agreement was struck (in secret) in 1916. The Taliban concern with specifically Afghan concerns comes across again in this most recent statement by Mullah Omar, who repeats assurances from previous statements that the IEA would respect established international borders and would not interfere in the internal affairs of other governments. That this point should be repeated at a time when ISIS is making a point of abrogating established borders is significant; it is as much as saying, “We are not ISIS.”

In line with this continuing theme of “Afghanistan for the Afghans” (as we may call it) is a particular interest in the official recognition of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Thus Mullah Omar states: “Exchange of the detainees with America as a result of the efforts of the representatives of the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate is a spectacular achievement.” Nothing else in the address is similarly celebrated as spectacular. Mullah Omar is especially concerned to de-legitimize the political process in Afghanistan, and shows a little lack of confidence in going over this ground a little more thoroughly than would have been necessary for a government-in-exile that expected to step into power almost unopposed upon the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. In particular, there is a concern that young people in Afghanistan will be drawn into the political processes, legitimizing through their participation. They are, after all, Afghans whom the Taliban claim to represent. If Afghans participate in elections, government, police, or security institutions, that demonstrates the ethnic legitimacy of these non-Taliban institutions.

By contrast, the other internal references to current events, i.e., current events outside Afghanistan — of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he says, “swift steps should be taken to prevent these gruesome brutalities” (which sounds positively western in its banality and moderation), while of other “events and developments of the Middle East” Mullah Omar is even more opaque — are not nearly as spectacular as implicit recognition of the Taliban by the US.

While previous statements have been a grab-bag of ideological references and predictable rhetoric, this statement is much simpler and straight-forward. It is about establishing the Taliban as the ruling regime of the IEA, and that’s about it. The ambitious program of nation-building outlined in previous messages is here reduced to some passing exhortations and the mention of Taliban institutions of their presumptive government-in-waiting.

The Taliban are not quite seizing the opportunity expected to fall into their lap later this year when US forces are reduced or entirely withdrawn. The real enemy now becomes those Afghans who want a political order not of the Taliban. Once US forces are gone, or nearly gone, attacks on the institutions left in the wake of the US presence will be attacks on Afghans and their newly adopted institutions. This puts the Taliban in a difficult position, since they are not about transnational Jihadism or pan-Islamism, but only about a Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar is aware of this difficult at some level, and this may account for this year’s more modest message.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Mullar Omar pictured 2001

It is time again for the annual “state of the union” message for the Taliban, which is Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr address, or, as it is otherwise known, “Message of Felicitation of Amir-ul-Momineen (May Allah protect him) on the Occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr.” With the US set for a complete pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, and the world’s attention at the moment focused on the closure of US embassies throughout the Middle East and North Africa (which I have noticed now sometimes are referred to by the acronym “MENA”) due to an al Qaeda threat, Mullah Mohammed Omar’s annual statement did not have a very high profile this year, but I find it instructive to review these statements carefully for signs of development in the Taliban’s position, their own self-assessment, and the Taliban view on Afghanistan, which they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

For ease of reference, here are my past posts of Mullah Omar’s past statements:

The Graveyard of Empires (2009)

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2010

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2011

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2012

Many of the themes of this year’s address are continuous with past addresses. There is a recounting of the successes of the Taliban, and exhortation to continued struggle, condemnation of espionage, affirmation of the need of Afghans to be educated, and a short sketch of the future of Afghanistan as envisioned by the Taliban. All of this is familiar territory.

Among the standard “boilerplate” language of any public Taliban statement are always expressions of solidarity with the global Ummah, and this year’s address includes references to “the oppressed and believing people of Syria and Egypt.” However, the Taliban are primarily an Afghani organization and seem to have no internationalist Jihadist ambitions. The expressions of global solidarity with oppressed Muslims everywhere are pro forma declarations of Islamic unity on the occasion of a celebration common to all Muslims.

The central theme of this year’s statement is Afghan national unity. This is expressed throughout the document in many different ways. Mullah Omar (or, at least, his translators) employ the awkward locution “Afghanhood,” as in, “Those patriotic Afghans who detest the (foreign) occupation and de facto oppose the presence of the invaders… we appreciate their emotions of Afghanhood.” It would be an interesting inquiry to attempt to determine the exact emotions that coincide with Afghanhood, though I assume that it is here intended to mean something like patriotic emotions.

Another expression of national unity in the form of territorial integrity is this: “…we will not allow anyone to succeed in the wicked plan for disintegration of the country or to divide our country under geographical locations and ethnicity denominations.” Mullah Omar also rejects any sociological division among Afghans, of the sort one finds in policy analysis: “The categorization of hard line and moderate Mujahideen is a futile and hostile classification worked out by you and your hirelings. All Mujahideen are followers of the sacred religion of Islam. They have a unified, moderate and clear policy.”

Mullah Omar is especially insistent upon the idea that a future government of Afghanistan after the end of the occupation will be a government of national unity: “I reiterate once again that we do not think of monopolizing power.” And again: “We have already said that the Islamic Emirate does not think of monopolizing power. Rather we believe in reaching understanding with the Afghans regarding an Afghan-inclusive government based on Islamic principles.” There is even a passage that explains why Afghan national unity will be possible following the end of the occupation: “When the occupation ends, reaching an understanding with the Afghans will not be a hard task because, by adhering to and having common principles and culture, the Afghans understand each other better. ”

Mullah Omar also denies that there will be any score-settling when the Taliban come into power: “I assure all, no personal revenge will be taken on any one following the end of occupation because our struggle is neither for achievement of personal gains nor personal power.”

The appeal to Afghan national unity and even to “Afghanhood” is problematic. I might even say, “problematic in the extreme.” Elsewhere I have argued that the mountainous territory of Afghanistan is what is left over in Central Asia once everything else has plausibly been included in a nation-state. The settled agriculturalism from which the nation-state descends in a direct historical line has chosen mountains or oceans as its preferred borders, as these are believed to be impenetrable, and peoples who rejected the life of settled agriculturalism retreated to the mountains to retain their ancient ways unchanged and occasionally to raid the wealthier peoples of the lowlands.

Attempting to assemble a nation-state from tribal peoples distributed over mountainous territory is akin to herding cats. Moreover, the very idea of nationalism and national identity is a relic of Western European political thought. In this current address Mullah Omar takes a swipe at colonialism, as he has in past addresses. (“We will maintain good relations with all those who respect Afghanistan as an independent Islamic country and their relations and interactions are not domineering and colonial, whether they are the world powers or the neighbors or any other country of the world.”) Yet conceptualizing Afghanistan in terms of patriotic feelings directed toward a unified nation-state is essentially a colonization of the mind: Omar here accepts that categories of Western political thought, and attempts to graph them on to Afghanistan.

The question posed by this interior colonization of Taliban thought by Western political ideas and ideals is whether Mullah Mohammed Omar really believes in Afghan national unity, or if he is just saying it. There is no clear evidence on either side of this question as far as I can discern. It is obvious in all of Mullah Omar’s statements that much of the language is there for purposes of display, and that the Taliban and their sympathizers have no intention whatsoever of abiding by it should they come to power. But the idea of nationalism, and of national unity as a focus of a people, is a powerful idea — an idea so powerful it nearly destroyed Europe, and now this destructive idea is making its round of the globe and convincing people who not only do not identify with the West, but who see themselves as sworn enemies of the West.

There is no more insidious colonization than that colonization of the mind that is believed to be a form of liberation by those who believe they have seen the truth and need to convince and convert others. Mullah Omar rejects colonization in the form of exterior occupation of Afghan lands by an infidel force, but he appears to embrace the interior colonization of the Afghan mind by Western ideas. I think that he will have more trouble than he realizes when, in the future, he attempts to realize this ideal of national unity on Afghan soil after the end of the occupation. It will be easy to obtain the cooperation of peoples throughout Afghanistan in expelling American forces and American influences, but it will be much more difficult, once the invaders are gone, to find any remaining Afghan national idea to unify the people. The attempt at unity will be made, and it is likely to be violent, but it is not likely to be successful.

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The full and unedited text of Mullah Omar’s statement is copied below. I have taken it from the English language website of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

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Message of Felicitation of Amir-ul-Momineen (May Allah protect him) on the Occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr

In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

All praise be to Allah. We praise Him and seek His help and forgiveness. We also seek His refuge from the evils of our inner selves and from our wicked deeds. Whoever is guided by Allah, there is none to mislead him and whoever is left by Allah in error, there will be none as guide for him (except Allah).

I testify there is no god but Allah. Alone is He and has no associate and I testify that Mohammad (peace be upon him) is his Servant and Messenger.

Having said that, I proceed and seek refuge in Allah from Satan, the rejected one.

“Allah has promised those of you who believe and do good works to make them successors on the earth as He had made successors those who were before them and that He will surely grant them authority to practice their religion that He has chosen for them and to change their fear to safety. Let them worship me and associate not anything with me. Those who disbelieve after this, they are the wicked” (24:55)

To the Mujahid people of Afghanistan and All Islamic Ummah:

Asalamu Alaikum WA Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh.

Peace be on you and Mercy of Allah and His Blessing.

I extend my felicitation to you all for the great bliss and festivity for your having performed the great obligation of the holy month of Ramadan and that you are now in the auspicious days of Eid-ul-Fitre. I pray to Almighty Allah to accept in His Sight, the Jihad, fasting, worship and charities of all Muslims. May you have a prosperous life and success! Similarly, I congratulate the Afghan Mujahid people and all oppressed Ummah for the great victories achieved by Mujahideen in the field of Jihad with the help of Allah (SwT) and through unparalleled sacrifices, martyrdom-seeking operations and struggle which have practically forced the invaders to take to fleeing in a manner being unprecedented.

I would like to thank the Afghan Mujahid and freedom-loving people for their continuous and comprehensive assistance with the Mujahideen against the invaders and hope that they will, shoulder to shoulder with the Mujahideen, increase their assistance in the cause of independence. I pray to Allah (SwT) to bring to an end, the sufferings and miserability of the Muslims both in Afghanistan and in the entire world, particularly, may Allah save the oppressed and believing people of Syria and Egypt who spent the (whole) month of Ramadan under beating, bloodbath, arrest and torture in squares, prisons and hospitals. May Allah be their helper and grant them glory and (aptitude of) excellent planning. May Allah save all Mujahideen from overt and covert conspiracies of enemies and may Allah, the Almighty, heal the injured believers, and may through His grace and blessing usher in means for release of the detainees.

Dear Countrymen!

The current jihad in Afghanistan is continuing with great success. Many areas of the country have been liberated from the grips of the invading usurpers during the sacred operations of this year under the name of Khalid bin Walid (RA). (Military) centers of the enemy in different areas of the country have fallen which before this, were considered unconquerable. With the help of Allah (SwT), the military power, morale, pride and arrogance of the enemy have received heavy thrashing. They are now on the threshold of collapse. The Almighty Allah says: “Their multitude shall be routed and they will turn their backs” (54:45)

Another good news is that the Mujahideen have been waging their struggle against the enemy in all provinces of Afghanistan like brothers under a sole leadership and flag. The Jihadic movement gains momentum with the passage of each day. In addition to the military field, Mujahideen increasingly obtain new experience of work and success in political, cultural, economical, administrative and allurement fields. A spirit of reform, dedication, cooperation and obedience gains strength ever more.

(My) believing Countrymen and Mujahid Brothers!

You know that our country is passing through a critical phase. The enemies who have been beaten in the past twelve years are unleashing new conspiracies and launching new plans. We are on our guard as to their conspiracies. We believe that only an Islamic, just, independent and all Afghan-inclusive system can bring well-being and prosperity to our countrymen.

With the support of our people, we will not allow anyone to succeed in the wicked plan for disintegration of the country or to divide our country under geographical locations and ethnicity denominations. Our pious people consider it their responsibility to build their common home and defend its every inch. Similarly, they consider it their religious obligation to maintain internal unity and give support to their Mujahid brothers. They also believe that obtainment of freedom and independence is their legitimate right.

As to the deceiving drama under the name of elections 2014, our pious people will not tire themselves out, nor will they participate in it.

Our pious and Mujahid people know that selection, de facto, takes place in Washington. These nominal rulers are not elected through the ballots of the people. Rather they are selected as per the discretion of Washington! Participation in such elections is only a waste of time, nothing more.

I urge all Afghans who perform duties in the ranks of the enemy to turn barrels of their guns against the infidel invaders and their allies instead of martyring their Muslim Afghans. We have always given a hero welcome to these young fighters and, on the basis of fraternity, we welcome everyone who leaves the rank of the enemy and comes over to his Mujahid people.

My brotherly request from those who say they are committed to Islam and Jihad but still carry out maligning campaign against Mujahideen, spreading hypocrisy, doubts and mistrust, using their tongues and pens against their Muslims brothers instead of the unbelievers, is to desist from such futile and sabotage activities. These activities only expose their selfish and naïve character, nothing more than that. Unequivocally, it makes their burden of sin heavier.

Those patriotic Afghans who detest the (foreign) occupation and de facto oppose the presence of the invaders, though far-off they may be from us in distance, we appreciate their emotions of Afghanhood. I assure all, no personal revenge will be taken on any one following the end of occupation because our struggle is neither for achievement of personal gains nor personal power.

Public of the World and Countrymen!

I would like to opine about a future Afghanistan. An Islamic system and complete independence are values, which we are not willing to strike a deal on them with anyone. The Afghan people have rendered great sacrifices for the said two values both in the past and the contemporary history. Their country has been destroyed for the sake of these values and millions of them have been martyred. After all these, they should be left to form an independent Islamic system as per their aspirations.

As to the management of internal system and rehabilitation, we believe, that there is no remedy to alleviate the pains of the Afghans except the remedy of an Islamic system based on transparency and commitment, in which all Afghans will see their full participation. Instead of reliance on foreign assistance and skills, the Afghans should qualify themselves and serve their country by utilizing their own resources. In the same sense, in order to protect ourselves from scarcity and hardships, our young generations should arm themselves with religious and modern educations because modern education is a fundamental need of every society in the present time.

I reiterate once again that we do not think of monopolizing power. Those who truly loves Islam and the country and has commitment to both, whoever they may be or whichever ethnicity or geographical location they hail from, this homeland is theirs. None can prevent them from serving their homeland. We assure them that, we, together and through joint efforts, will serve our homeland. We consider as our brother and give him a welcome whoever openly expresses regret about his support for occupation.

As to the foreign policy, our fundamental principle according to our unchanging policy is that we do not intend to harm anyone, nor we allow anyone to harm others from our soil. Similarly, we can’t tolerate any harm from others. We will maintain good relations with all those who respect Afghanistan as an independent Islamic country and their relations and interactions are not domineering and colonial, whether they are the world powers or the neighbors or any other country of the world. It is to be said that we have mentioned this point in our previous messages and have conveyed to all people of the world through the Political Office.

The aim of our contacts and talks with the invaders which are conducted through the Political Office is to put an end to occupation of Afghanistan. No one should perceive that the Mujahideen will relinquish of their lofty religious principles and national interests. I assure you that I will not reach any illegitimate compromise or unlawful deal. Praise be to Allah (SwT), the Islamic Emirate has the honor of having stood up to ups and downs of many tribulations and trials. I ask Allah (SwT) to keep us straight on His way in the time to come as well.

The developments following the opening of the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate proved that Islamic Emirate is independent, strong and unwavering in its decisions. It was also proved that the Islamic Emirate has shown and is showing honesty and commitment to resolve problems of its oppressed people in the light of Islamic principles and national interests. But the invaders and their allies are creating obstacles in the way of resolving problems by making various pretexts.

We have already said that the Islamic Emirate does not think of monopolizing power. Rather we believe in reaching understanding with the Afghans regarding an Afghan-inclusive government based on Islamic principles. Of course, the Islamic Emirate considers it its religious and national obligation to liberate the country from the occupation. When the occupation ends, reaching an understanding with the Afghans will not be a hard task because, by adhering to and having common principles and culture, the Afghans understand each other better.

The occupying countries should learn from the bitter experiences of the past twelve years. They should not try their fate once more by prolonging the occupation or by establishing permanent bases. In the same vein, they should not let themselves to be deceived by the futile and baseless promises of the Kabul powerless administration. Their domestic allies and hirelings, who had, at the beginning of the invasion, described Afghanistan as being a ready-made soft loaf of bread, now want once again the occupation to prolong and military presence to continue in order to ensure their power and personal interests.

The Western invaders should have come around by now to realize that the Afghans do not want foreign invaders and their installed rulers. If they think that they can pave the way for a permanent (military) presence by resorting to misinformation and gimmicks and by implementing different schemes or in their words, convening a fake Loya Jirga for approval of the security agreement or by creating other pretexts, they are wrong. The Afghans consider the presence of small number of invading troops as an encroachment against their independence as they are not willing to accept presence of thousands of foreign troops. The invaders also should not nurture the idea that the chiefs and common Mujahideen of the resistance of the Islamic Emirate will disband their legitimate struggle because of the invaders promises, material privileges, and personal security and government slots while occupation is in place. The categorization of hard line and moderate Mujahideen is a futile and hostile classification worked out by you and your hirelings. All Mujahideen are followers of the sacred religion of Islam. They have a unified, moderate and clear policy.

“And thus we have made you a nation justly balanced so that you may testify against mankind and that your own messenger may testify against you” (2:143)

About the work of international humanitarian organizations, I would like to say that every humanitarian organization which keeps away from political and espionage motives and which is not established by the invaders for the purpose of collecting intelligence or inviting people to non-Islamic ways, it can carry out its selfless activities in areas under our control on the basis of our conditions and policy and in coordination with the relevant commissions, whether they are working in the health sector or in the refugees or in food supply sectors or any other sector.

To end, I urge the public of the world, particularly, the Islamic countries and those countries and people who love justice, the international and Islamic societies to give all-sided assistance to the oppressed Afghan people in the cause of their independence on the basis of humanitarian sympathy and Islamic fraternity. I thank them for their efforts made for the Afghan people in the way of their independence.

I would like to remind the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate to further focus on implementation of the by-laws, the instructions of the leadership of the Islamic Emirate and perfectly obey your chiefs. Strength of array (a group) lies in unity. Real unity comes from obedience. So maintain your ranks united by obeying (your superiors).

Manage affairs of the areas cleansed from the presence of the enemy or are being cleansed, with the help and counsel of religious scholars and (local) elders. Those people who harm the commoners by misusing the name of Mujahid or kidnap people for ransom or follow personal goals under the name of Jihad, they are neither Mujahideen nor belong to the Islamic Emirate. I order the Mujahideen to block the way of activities of these tyrants if possible and increase efforts for prevention of civilian casualties and help the newly-founded office of the Islamic Emirate which has been established to prevent civilian casualties and present on ground facts to our people and the public of the world.

It is worth mentioning that the enemy has been spreading misinformation about civilian casualties. Some entities, who claim to be neutral, publish reports based on these distorted reports. In fact, civilian casualties are caused by the enemy itself. Occasionally, when a Mujahid is found being careless as regards the prevention of the civilians casualties, he must be referred to the leadership after identification for handing over to the judicial courts.

The Mujahideen should try to invite those in the Opposition side to the way of truth according to the policy of the Commission of Call, Guidance, Allurement and Absorption and split them from the Opposition side. Similarly, they should consider it their responsibility to serve the detainees and the injured according to the programs of the Detainees and Health Commissions. Moreover, the Mujahideen should pay necessary attention to the education of the new generations in accordance with the plan of the Education Commission so that our emerging generation will have both religious and modern education and serve their people and country as pious and professional Afghans.

The Islamic charity organizations and the wealthy brothers should help the Economic Commission in order to perform their obligation through financial jihad and satisfy the need of the Mujahideen. I call on the wealthy Muslims on this occasion of the auspicious day of Eid-ul-fitre not to forget the families of the martyrs, detainees, refugees and the poor to enable them to participate in the festivities of the Eid.

To end, I wholeheartedly thank all Muslims for their assistance given to the Mujahideen and for their prayers for Mujahideen and urge them to keep on.

Congratulation on Eid-ul-fitr once more. Wishing you independence and glory.

Peace be on you all.


Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid

Servant of Islam



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Grand Strategy Annex

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In the film Apocalypse Now the protagonist, Captain Benjamin L. Willard, is sent up the Mekong to Cambodia to kill Colonel Kurtz, who has gone rogue and is leading a group of native combatants who follow him unquestioningly. There is a scene on the boat going upriver when Willard is reading Col. Kurtz’s dossier, including a report that Kurtz is supposed to have written to the Pentagon after an early tour in Vietnam. The report is called “Commitment and Counterinsurgency” and it includes the following:

“As long as our officers and troups (sic) perform tours of duty limited to one year, they will remain dilletantes in war and tourists in Vietnam. As long as cold beer, hot food, rock and roll and all the other amenities remain the expected norm, our conduct of the war will gain only impotence. The wholesale and indiscriminate use of firepower will only increase the effectiveness of the enemy and strengthen their resolve to prove the superiority of an agrarian culture against the world’s greatest technocracy… The central tragedy of our effort in this conflict has been the confusion of a sophisticated technology with human commitment. Our bombs may in time destroy the geography, but they will never win the war… We need fewer men, and better; if they were committed, this war could be won with a fourth of our present force…”

Everyone knows that Apocalypse now was loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I think it would probably be better to say that Apocalypse Now was inspired by Heart of Darkness — or we could use more contemporary terminology and say that Apocalypse Now is a re-imagining of Heart of Darkness.

Vietnam, Apocalypse Now, and counterinsurgency have all become eerily relevant again as the US seeks to disengage from Central Asia after a ground war that has stretched over more than a decade with no resolution consistent with original aims seeming to be in sight. I’ve written about counterinsurgency, or COIN, several times recently as a result of these all-too-familiar events.

Despite the firm intentions of both US military and civilian leadership that the US not be involved in another unwinnable counterinsurgency operation in a distant part of the world, this is exactly what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that history repeated itself in this way, despite the conscious efforts of military and civilian leaders to avoid such a repetition, says much more about the international system and the imperatives of contemporary political organization than it says about the US.

I would argue that any global hegemon at the present moment in history — whether that global hegemon happened to be the US, Russia, China, Brazil, or the British Empire — would find itself more or less forced by circumstances to engage in counterinsurgency operations in widely disparate parts of the globe. Such interventions are systemic rather than opportunistic and episodic.

In the past week US and NATO efforts in Afghanistan have come under scrutiny again after the death toll of US soldiers passed 2,000 as widely-reported “insider attacks,” also called “green on blue” attacks, continue to take the lives of US soldiers.

We quantify wars in terms of deaths, injuries, damage, and dollars. It is a dissatisfying measure to all involved — to the families of dead soldiers a single digit in a statistic scarcely captures the loss, to the families of dead civilians, and those whose lives have been disrupted beyond salvaging, similar considerations hold, while for the war planner the commitment in blood and treasure to the fight does not accurately represent the ultimate effort that was made under adverse circumstances.

Nevertheless, there must be some measure, and certainly blood and treasure constitute the fundamental calculus of commitment in war, apart from that intangible commitment that the fictional Col. Kurtz attempted to communicate to his superiors. It may well be that this intangible commitment of — what? — is precisely that unmeasurable element of the equation that results in victory or defeat, but until we have a theory to account for it, and a language in which we can formulate it, we cannot say anything coherent about it.

It is admittedly difficult even to speak coherently of quantifiable measures like blood and treasure because estimates of death in war are always contested, and because they are contested the numbers employed are almost always the result of a political decision. Some will argue for higher numbers and other will argue for lower numbers. In a war like the Second World War, when entire cities were destroyed and millions were buried under the rubble, estimates on casualties may be off by millions, and at very least off by hundreds of thousands.

In long-term counterinsurgencies like the US in Vietnam, the USSR in Afghanistan, or the US in Afghanistan, estimating civilian deaths is difficult not so much for the absolute numbers involved but because in such conflict it will be inherently controversial who is and who is not a civilian, as it will be controversial as to who is blame for atrocities carried out far beyond the reach of investigating authorities, and for which each side blames the other.

Casualty counts, then, are inherently controversial, but estimates are made; each estimate represents a particular methodology, and each methodology embodies certain assumptions. Despite all the hazards involved, I am going to give some numbers comparing three different wars — World War Two, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. In all cases I have picked the high estimates, even when these estimates have been contested. Dates, and rates derived from dates, are also numbers that can be contested. So what follows is very rough, but still indicative of a trend.

The Second World War — not in any sense a counterinsurgency — lasted about six (6) years and resulted in about 25 million military deaths and 52 million civilian deaths. This occurred in a total global population of 2,300 million, so that the war consumed about 3.3 percent of world population. This isn’t much compared to a demographic event like the Black Death when it first swept across Europe in 1348-1349, but it is still a very high number for deaths from war. The military casualties of more than four (4) million per year work out to about 475 per hour for each hour of the war, while civilian casualties of more than eight (8) million per year work out to about 988 per hour for every hour of the war.

The involvement of the US in the Vietnam War, a classic counterinsurgency, lasted about ten (10) years from 1965 to 1975, with 58,220 US military deaths and as many as 2,500,000 civilian deaths spread across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. This works out to 5,822 military deaths per year, or 0.055 US military deaths for every hour of the war, and 250,000 civilian deaths per year or 2.3766 civilian deaths every hour for the duration of the US involvement in Vietnam (I am here choosing not to include the ten years of French involvement from 1955-1965, although the civilian casualty numbers include at least part of this period — as I wrote above, I took high numbers, and the numbers themselves are inherently controversial).

The involvement of the US in Afghanistan, another counterinsurgency, has lasted almost eleven (11) years from 2001 to 2012 with 2,000 US military casualties. I found it rather difficult to come by estimates of civilian casualties, which varied widely, but, again, taking the high numbers, I found about 34,008 civilian casualties, or about 3,092 per year, which works out to 0.029 per hour for every hour of the war. US military deaths averaged 182 per year or 0.0017 per hour for every hour of the war.

It is interesting to note that during the Vietnam War global population increased by almost a billion persons from 3,345 million to 4,086 million, and during the Afghan War global population again grew by almost a billion, from roughly 6 billion to 7 billion. With these much higher total global population figures, and the far lower casualty totals, whether military or civilian or both, the war deaths from these protracted conflicts don’t even register as a demographic rounding error.

These “big picture” statistics of course hide a lot of details, but they are still the big picture and they tell us something. They tell us that both military and civilian casualties of war are at historic lows, which is something I wrote about in the early history of this blog in The Lethality Peak. Another way to look at the lethality peak is to understand it as societies investing far less in armed conflict than was the case even in the recent past, i.e., there is a lower level of commitment in terms of blood; a lot more statistical analysis would be required to reveal the relative expenditure of treasure.

Yet another way to interpret these numbers is that the great infringements upon human life and human society in our time do not come about from wars and from outright deaths caused by war, but from what I have called non-atrocites, that is to say, depredations upon human populations and human communities that are maintained below the threshold of atrocity.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Is this a new photograph of Mullah Mohammed Omar? I haven’t seen this photo in previous years, but it now seems to be widely available on the internet, and it is a much better quality photo than the previous grainy and blurry images of the reclusive Taliban leader.

For as long as I have been writing this blog, I have been offering an annual commentary on Mullah Mohammed Omar’s annual statements on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, which means that this series has had three installments so far — not counting other occasional pieces on Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban, and Afghanistan — as follows:

The Graveyard of Empires (2009)

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2010

Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2011

It has been fascinating to see the development of Taliban thought in the pronouncements of Mullah Omar, which have gone from being a grab-bag of revolutionary and resistance-struggle tropes to being more focused and programmatic documents for both the reconstruction of Afghanistan upon a Taliban model and no less a reconstruction of the Taliban themselves upon a political model more acceptable to the international community. It seems that even the Taliban have become aware of the public relations disaster of denying education to women and similar retrograde measures.

Perhaps the Taliban have become dimly aware that they only need tweak their interpretation of Islam a little in order to make themselves a mostly acceptable governing entity and not so flagrantly contemptuous of the kind of rights that are included in the UN Charter. I’m not saying that I think the Taliban have turned over a new leaf, only that their experience of being in power followed by their violent expulsion of power has taught them a few lessons about pragmatic governance and what the consequences of the disapproval of the international community can mean — viz. no one comes to your aid when another power acts unilaterally to toss you out on your ear.

In an earlier post, The News Cycle and its Discontents, I wrote that it was nothing for the Taliban to wait a year, ten years, or twenty years for a US withdrawal, so that once this withdrawal from Afghanistan was formally announced it simply provided a light at the end of the tunnel for the Taliban. The fundamental fact about the conflict now is that the Taliban still believe that they can win, while the US no longer believes it can win anything in Afghanistan but is simply looking for a way out. That way out is “Afghanization,” to coin a term. The other pillar of withdrawal is substantive negotiations with the Taliban, which, so far, aren’t going well, because the Taliban (rightly) perceive that time is on their side. It is.

This is the background of this year’s statement from Mullah Muhammad Omar. As Eid ul-Fitr (there are several variant transliterations of this holiday name into English) approaches I have been searching the internet every day for Mullah Omar’s most recent statement, and now I find that it has appeared yesterday, Thursday 16 August 2012.

The first part of Mullah Omar’s statement, “The Jihadic Momentum,” comprising sections 1 through 6, is primarily rhetorical in recounting the triumphs of the Taliban and the defeats of Western forces in Afghanistan, but in citing several events from the past year the Taliban demonstrate that they, too, read the newspapers and surf the internet — and that they, too, read the news selectively, magnifying that which is of particular importance to them while ignoring or explaining away that which would seem to tell against their efforts. There is nothing surprising about this; the Western military forces in Afghanistan do the same thing, and spin their side just as relentlessly. But Taliban spin isn’t going to win the war any more than US spin is going to win the war, and both sides know it.

The second part of the statement, “Conspiracies of the Enemy,” comprising sections 7 to 10, is all about conspiracies, spies, espionage, and psychological operations against the people of Afghanistan, which Mullah Omar contends to have been undertaken by the enemies of Afghanistan but which have failed to win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, who are presumably still loyal to the Taliban. Although Mullah Omar has never mentioned Pakistan or the ISI in any of his statements, the ISI is well known to have assets within the Taliban and are, generally speaking, sympathetic to the Taliban (the ISI was instrumental in supplying the Taliban during the Soviet occupation), but this strong statement about intelligence networks suggests that there is more here that meets the eye. The US has little or no intelligence network on the ground in Afghanistan, so I have to wonder if this is an implicit warning for regional intelligence services who do play a role in Afghanistan not to over-reach their capacities in the country.

The third part of the statement, “The Strategic Agreement, Military Bases and Fruitless Conferences,” comprising sections 10 to 12, characterizes the Kabul administration as a corrupt puppet regime whose participation in international conferences supposedly pledged to help the people of Afghanistan are pointless because agreements, pledges, and contracts only go to enrich individuals. This portion of the statement suggests, though does not make explicit, that the Taliban will not honor any agreements entered into by the current administration.

The fourth part of the statement, “Talks and Negotiation,” comprising sections 13 and 14, gives Taliban excuses for participating in limited talks with the US and the Kabul administration, explicitly denying that these talks compromise the independence of the Taliban. These talks as presented pragmatically, “to initiate exchange of prisoners, open political office and reach our goals.” This part of the statement repeats the previous year’s assertion that the Taliban will preside over an inclusive Islamic system once the US has pulled out of Afghanistan.

The fifth part of the statement, “The Future of Afghanistan,” comprising sections 15 to 20, pledges the Taliban to fight corruption, to provide education to all Afghans, to secure “legitimate” rights for women, and to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the latter to include: “…development of agriculture, construction of roads, bridges, hospitals… construction of infrastructure, extraction of mines, rehabilitation of arid land, industrialization of the country and obtainment of technological know-how.” Given past Taliban ideological rigidity in regard to technology, it is remarkable that Mullah Omar should now explicitly claim to support industrialization, infrastructure projects, and technological education.

The sixth part of the statement, “Foreign Policy,” comprising sections 21 to 23, is especially interesting. Section 21 formulates the fundamental principle of autocracy (as I have recently formulated it): “The Islamic Emirate does not intend to interfere in the internal affairs of others nor allows others to interfere in its internal affairs.” At the same time, this section claims that, “The Islamic Emirate assures all the world that it will not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against any one…” which seems like too little, too late, in terms of having allowed al-Qaeda to operate from Afghanistan when formerly ruled by the Taliban. That the Taliban chose to address this concern, which ties in with its autocratic non-interference policy as formulated in the previous sentence, is presumably a message to other Islamic nation-states of a different ideology than the Taliban. Still, there is a tension between asserting the right of no internal interference and making the promise that the Taliban will not allow operations against other nation-states from its territory; this is a tension inherent in all autocratic regimes. Section 22 acknowledges the Arab Spring and expresses hopes for the changes in the Islamic world that have come about in its wake. Section 23 calls for the protection of Muslims in Burma (interestingly, the Taliban uses “Burma” rather than “Myanmar” — or, at least their translators do), presumably signaling Taliban concern for the global Ummah, and not merely Muslims in Afghanistan.

The seventh part of the statement, called “Mujahideen Brothers,” comprising sections 24 to 28, is a fulsome paean to the Mujahideen and a longer and more detailed caution to avoid civilian causalities as well as to avoid inter-Jihadi rivalry, which suggests that ongoing Taliban brutality remains an issue and that the movement for which Mullah Omar presumes to speak is not monumental and has had its share of internal strife. Inter-service rivalries are not exclusive to the standing armed forces of nation-states.

The eighth part of the statement, “To the Personnel of the Kabul Administration,” comprising sections 29 and 30, is a call to those cooperating with or a part of the Kabul administration to shift their loyalty to the Taliban because everyone knows that the US is leaving eventually — here the light at the end of the tunnel appears in its most explicit form — and even recounts that the Taliban have set up an institution called “Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration” in order to integrate government officials and employees (particularly, as the statement says, “the personnel of police and army”) into the Taliban’s presumptive administrative organization.

The ninth part of the statement, “To the Public of the World and the Invading Countries of Afghanistan,” comprising sections 31 to 33, states that the US is in Afghanistan as part of its global and regional strategy and cites France as the model to follow for having pulled its troops out of the coalition efforts in Afghanistan. There follows an appeal to, “…the international community, the organizations of human rights and, in general, all people of the world; the unbiased and equitable statesmen, writers and news agencies not to spare efforts in the cause of independence of the Afghan people as a part of their humanitarian responsibility.”

In the final part of the statement, “To Human Rights Advocacy Organizations,” consisting of two unnumbered paragraphs, the same theme of sections 31 to 33, above, is continued, with further calls to international organizations to impartially investigate Afghanistan as well as a call to wealthy Muslims to give to “children and families of martyrs and prisoners.”

This year’s statement is, on the whole, much more focused than past statements on the sufferings of the Afghan people and, related to this, humanitarian rhetoric. The terms “human” (as in “human rights” and “human values”) or “humanity” occur eleven (11) times in the statement. There are also several rhetorical asides blaming invading forces for atrocities and offenses that have been blamed on the Taliban. For example, Mullah Omar claims that although “some schools are torched or students poisoned” and that these events have been blamed on the Taliban, in fact they are “hidden conspiracies of the enemy.” These formulations, as well as the cautions for the Mujahideen to respect civilian life and property, suggest that the Taliban are well aware, even though they fully expect to come into power once the US fully pulls out, that not all Afghans are “on board” with the Taliban, and that the brutality of their Jihad has not won them friends. They know that they can impose a security regime on the ground, as they did prior to US involvement, but they are not sure that they can keep it because of the bad publicity and the all too frequent neglect of the ideal standards to which Mullah Omar would like to hold the Mujahideen, which violations are at one point in the statement credited to, “the perversity and ignorance of a few young men.”

Whereas previous Eid ul-Fitr statements from Mullah Omar showed a growing confidence, we now see that the Taliban are in the planning stages for the endgame in Afghanistan, and are already considering the knock-on effects of their brutal campaign and how to deal with those who will be hesitant to submit themselves once again to Taliban rule. This statement of 2012 is what we would call “post-conflict planning” on the part of the Taliban.

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Below is the complete text of Mullah Muhammad ‘Umar’s ‘Eid al-Fitr Message for 2012, as I found in on the Views from the Occident website. I have altered some of the worst grammatical blunders, but I have not gone so far as to alter the sentence structure.

Message of Felicitation of the Esteemed Amir-ul-Momineen on the Occasion of Eid-ul-fitre
Thursday, 16 August 2012 16:50 –

In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate

Those who turn (for friendship) to Allah, His Apostle and the believers (must know) that Allah’s followers are sure to triumph. (S.5 v:56)

We praise Allah and seek His help and refuge from the evils of our inner-self and wickedness of our own deeds. Whomever is guided by Allah, none can lead (him/her) astray; whoever goes astray, can find none except Allah (for guidance). We bear witness that there is no god but Allah. Alone is He and no partner He has. We also bear witness that Mohammad (peace be upon him) is His servant and Messenger.

Having said that, I would like to proceed further:
I seek refuge in Allah, from Satan, the rejected one.

I extend my (heartfelt) felicitation on this occasion of Eid-ul-fitre to the Mujahid nation of Afghanistan and to all the Islamic Ummah, on their worship of fasting (during Ramadan) and the Jihadic achievements. May Allah (swt) accept in His Sight, your (worship of) fasting, the offering of charities and unprecedented services and sacrifices in the cause of Truth. I hope, that the Almighty Allah, may have enabled you to observe all acts of rituals of this season of blessing and worship. May Allah, the Almighty give success, in this world and in the world to come, to all Mujahideen who are sacrificing their lives, those who continued to remain at their strongholds engaged despite the hunger and thirst in the month of Ramadan.

May Allah, the Almighty procure a conducive situation for the release of those brothers of ours who are now in captivity of the enemies. May Allah (swt) bestow on the holy and sacred martyrs of the path of Truth, high ranks in the paradise of Firdaus, a swift recovery to the injured and somber patience, reward, joy and prosperity to those valiants who have lost members of their families. In these holy days of Eid-ul-fitre, I would like to share with you my views about some vital matters, in addition to the felicitation on this occasion:

The Jihadic Momentum:

1. The Jihadic activities robustly forge a head, with array at its best order and by utilizing the latest tactics. This great achievement has been possible only thanks to the help of Allah, the Almighty, the assistance of the Muslim people; unity and the comprehensive cooperation and sacrifices of the heroic Mujahid nation of Afghanistan.

2. The unique distinction of this year’s operations Al-Farouq, is that, that it has reached all areas, whether being situated near or far-flung. The losses of Mujahideen have decreased while the losses and frustrations of the enemy have increased in parallel. The enemy is not able to take a breath of relief in the main cities, rural areas and even in their barricaded garrisons. Mujahideen have taken initiatives of the war in their own hands. The enemy has been forced to adopt a defensive position in every area, even they have retreated from many military centers. This is what the enemy have admitted itself from time to time.

3. Mujahideen have cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy according to the plan given to them last year. Many conscious Afghans in the rank and files of the enemy have shown willingness to help the Mujahideen in a shrewd and astute manner after having come around to know the reality. As a result, the foreign invaders and their allies in their military centers and bases do come under crushing blows of these heroic soldiers. We appreciate these brave and historical heroes and the entire nation pays them great tributes. We expect others to display the same boldness and spirit. Thanks to the infiltration of the Mujahideen, they are able to (safely) enter bases, offices and intelligence centers of the enemy. Then, they easily carry out decisive and coordinated attacks, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy both in life and equipment. Furthermore, a great number of soldiers join the ranks of Mujahideen, carrying their heavy and light weapons and ammunition, after leaving the ranks of the enemy. The Mujahideen honor them and provide them protection. In the recent days, you and we were witness of such frequent incidents.

4. The colonialists are facing a wide-spread economic crisis and popular opposition because of the Afghanistan war. Even their own soldiers express resentments against their wrong policies. A case in point is the demonstration in front of the premises of the Chicago conference, which had been staged by those soldiers who had served in Afghanistan. Similarly, resentments and opposition (to the war) have spiraled up at world’s level. The trend is still on the rise. As a result, (some of) the colonialists have been forced to pull their troops out of Afghanistan one after another. This is but an (obvious) achievement and triumph of our sacred Jihad.

5. The invaders not only have faced defeat in political, economical and military fronts but, at the moral front too, the public of the world have come around that the invaders do not know any human values. They have no warfare ethics; violate human rights and honor; they commit blasphemy against holy things; desecrate the corpses of the martyrs; perpetrate morally offensive acts against children and adolescents; raid houses at night and brutally kill women, old men and children similar to the gruesome incidents of Zangawat and Sajawand. They bombard villages, houses, cities, mosques, religious seminaries, schools, processions of funeral services and ceremonies of felicities. This is in a time that the invaders brazenly speak of human rights and humanity.

6. It is a matter of pleasure for all Muslims, particularly, for the Mujahideen that they wage Jihad like brothers in a single array and under a single flag and command in all areas, extending from Badakhshan to Helmand, and from Nangarhar to Herat. In this lies the great secret of triumph. This is a cause of shock and jittery for the enemy.

Conspiracies of the Enemy

7. During the past eleven years, the enemy tried its best to mobilize the Afghans in its favor by dint of its media. Praise be to Allah, they have failed (in their goal). This is because of the realities existing on the ground that the people and all the world can see. Thereby, their wicked conspiracies were foiled and the so-called independent media outfits which are, in fact, affiliated with their espionage agencies, have been exposed. Their exaggerated hype and propaganda ultimately harmed their own reputation. Now they have no credibility in the eyes of the people. The public of the world look at their every report to be no more than a mere rumor, propaganda or a conspiracy against the Mujahideen. The people know that these media outlets hide the losses of those who provide them funds and portray the losses of Mujahideen several times more than what they are and are tight-lipped about the Mujahideen’s victories.

8. The enemy tried to flare up chaos among the people through their cunning intelligence networks by capitalizing on the perversity and ignorance of a few young men. They wanted to face people with the same chaotic situation that gripped them in the 90s, following the ouster of the communist government. Praise be to Allah, this wicked conspiracy has failed while being at its earlier stages. Seeing their abhorrent activities, the people became more closer to the Mujahideen and more watchful about the covert conspiracies of the enemy.

9. The so-called process of transition of authority to the Kabul powerless Administration is another deceiving drama launched by the invaders. By doing so, they want to hide their defeat and mislead the (Afghan) people and the public of the world, ostensibly, claiming that they trust the Afghans and want to devolve to the Afghans the future of their country, both civilian and militarily. Our stance about this cunning process is that, that it is a mere a failed effort like other deviating processes of the invaders, aimed at misleading and confounding the public. All those areas where the process has taken place, are de facto, in the hands of the enemy both from an angle of security, military and administration. They hold the authority to launch night raids and carry out all other brutal attacks despite their commitments in the contrary.

The Strategic Agreement, Military Bases and Fruitless Conferences

10. The game which has been launched under the name of strategic agreement to sell Afghanistan or is still continuing is not acceptable to the heroic people of Afghanistan. The inking of such documents with a powerless regime installed by them has no legal standing.

11. The independence of Afghanistan and establishment of Sharia system are values that the Islamic Emirate is not going to deal on it. The Afghan people will wage Jihad against the foreign invasion until complete independence of the country, though the invasion may ensconce itself in the garb of peace-keeping forces or strategic cooperation.

12. Commitments of billions of dollars are made with the Kabul corrupt Administration in conference being held under the name of assistance. All these commitments are made by the bidding of the foreign invaders in order to keep the sagging and ill regime of Kabul alive, though moribund. The funding countries and nations must know that this assistance does not reach the Afghan people to mitigate their pains but ultimately find way to the private pockets and bank accounts of the rulers of the Kabul corrupt, collapsing and ill regime which only panders to the interests of the foreigners—rulers who are involved in moral and administrative corruption.

Talks and Negotiation:

13. As an independent and committed Islamic and national force, we have constantly made decision about the issue of Afghanistan and other related global issues and made it clear that we wage struggle for the establishment of Islamic system, maintenance of territorial integrity and independence of the country. for Afghanistan to become a joint home for all the Afghans and all avail the opportunity to lead life in unity and harmony, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will make efforts to reach an understanding with the Afghan factions in due time following pull-out of the invaders in order to establish an Islamic, all afghans inclusive system, being acceptable to all people and which would pander to the aspirations of the Mujahideen, the martyrs, orphans and widows.

14. Since initial talks have already taken place with the Americans on specific matters and then suspended, I would like to say that our talks and negotiation had not meant submission or abandoning our goals. Rather the step had been taken to initiate exchange of prisoners, open political office and reach our goals.

The Future of Afghanistan:

15. The Islamic Emirate does not think of monopolizing power. Afghanistan is the homeland of All Afghans. Since all its citizens have the responsibility for its protection, so they have right to take part in the government if they have the capacity. The Islamic Emirate will do its best to dispense (government) positions and slots to those who deserve and have the capacity and wipe out corruption in the government departments.

16. The Islamic Emirate considers educations as a main factor for advancement of its beloved people in this world and a cause of their prosperity in the world to come. You may be aware that the Islamic Emirate used to allocate a great portion of its budget for education in its past reign. Currently, a separate commission of education exists in the organizational charter of the Islamic Emirate in order to provide educational facilities for its people. We observe that time and again, some schools are torched or students poisoned, accusing Mujahideen of having done this. But in fact, all these are series of the hidden conspiracies of the enemy — an enemy which is now facing defeat — in order to malign the Mujahideen.

17. We are committed to give all legitimate rights to women in the light of the Islamic principles, national interests and our noble culture. It is a matter of sorrow to say that the common people, particularly women, are grappling with various hardships following the invasion of the invaders. Even many women have immolated themselves or have been martyred miserably or their honor has been violated. Still this brutal trend continues. It is in a time that women were completely secure from such sufferings during the past reign of the Islamic Emirate.

18. The Islamic Emirate will pave way for all compatriots whether they are inside or outside the country to use their professional and academic knowledge in the service and well-being of their country and people.

19. The Islamic Emirate will focus on reconstruction of the country, development of agriculture, construction of roads, bridges, hospitals. In brief, it will concentrate on the construction of infrastructure, extraction of mines, rehabilitation of arid land, industrialization of the country and obtainment of technological know-how.

20. Those who harbor plans for the disintegration of the country, should know that, with the support of the people, the Islamic Emirate will not permit any one to succeed in this wicked plan and divide our country in the name of ethnicity or geographical location.

Foreign Policy

21. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants good relations and mutual interactions with the world, particularly, with the Islamic world and the neighbors in the light of Islamic rules, national interests, mutual respect and joint cooperation. The Islamic Emirate does not intend to interfere in the internal affairs of others nor allows others to interfere in its internal affairs. The Islamic Emirate assures all the world that it will not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against any one and makes it clear that it respects all international laws and principles in the light of its Islamic rules and national interests.

22. We congratulate the governments and nations that have emerged following the recent revolutions in the Arabic world on the (beginning) of their new phase of life. I ask Allah, the Almighty, to enable them to have great advancements in all fronts and a brilliant future while observing the Islamic rules. It is a matter of pleasure that the oppressed Muslims who had migrated from their families and countries for long years due to suffocating conditions, have re-united with their families in their countries.

23. As a Muslim and on the basis of humanitarian sympathy, it is a matter of great concern and sorrow for all the Afghan people, that (flagrant) brutality has been unleashed against Muslims in Burma under the tutelage of the state authorities. We call on the Islamic conference and human rights protectors in the world to take urgent steps to forestall the brutalities as per their humanitarian responsibility.

Mujahideen Brothers:

24. My Respected and beloved Mujahideen Brothers!
It is a matter of pleasure that the Almighty Allah has selected us for the service of the religion and privileged us to be engaged in the grand worship of Jihad. Your determination in the cause of defense of your religion, the people and the country and your willingness to render any sacrifice at any time, speak of your strong belief, lofty spirit, unwavering determination, love of honor and free conscious. In fact, you are a cause of pride for all the world, particularly, for the Islamic Ummah and your honor-loving people. You are the pioneers of freedom and liberation in the 21st century and eminent heroes of valor and courage.

Dear brothers:

Our Jihad and sacrifice will bear fruitful results if we wage jihad in the manner the holy prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) have waged it.

25. Pay close attention to the protection of life, property and honor of your miserable people. Behave with them with a behavior, being full of sympathy, love, respect and compassion in the footstep of the lofty characteristics and morals of the holy prophet (peace be upon him). Obtain the hearts of the people by the power of noble morals; strictly desist from the harassment of people and inform your chiefs about those who harass common people.

26. During Jihadic operations, employ tactics that do not cause harm to life and property of the common countrymen. The instructions given to you for the protection of civilian losses are, on you, a religious obligation to observe. Any violation readily incurs loss in this world and in the world to come. Therefore, I urge you emphatically to be careful about the civilian losses and take this on yourselves as an explicit responsibility, disregard of what the enemy may be doing to flare up civilian casualties during battles.

27. Organize your Jihadic activities in the framework of the rules of the general bye-law of the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate. Strictly desist from interfering in the affairs of each other in order to ensure effective progress of work; to bring about order and to obtain goals smoothly. All should focus on their own responsibilities, and should perform the task devolved on them.

28. Obey your chiefs, and make it part of your daily routine to recite the holy Quran, keep to the remembrance of Allah, study the life history of the Holy prophet (peace be upon him) and recite his prayers and read books for the uplift of your knowledge.

To the Personnel of the Kabul Administration:

29. I invite all personnel of the Kabul Administration, particularly, the personnel of police and army, their officers and the employees of the intelligence department to abandon support of the invaders against your religion and country; join the ranks of Mujahideen like your heroic colleagues– those who deal crushing blows at the invaders from time to time. Join the current struggle aimed at liberating your country and ousting the foreign usurpers– a struggle which is on the verge of victory, if God willing. This will give you a successful and proud life here and in the Hereafter, you will be among the pious men of the Creator and the Master (of all Beings).

30. It is more proper for you to take advantage of this opportunity because the day is not far away that the invading enemy will flee Afghanistan. The Islamic Emirate has added in its organizational charter a department by the name of Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration. Its branches are now operational all over the country so that, in addition to other services, they may provide you facilities to leave the ranks of the enemy and join the Mujahideen.

To the Public of the World and the Invading Countries of Afghanistan:

31. America has invaded Afghanistan for the achievement of her long-term political and economic objectives and for quashing her enemies and rivals both at world’s and regional level. It is a pity that some countries have become a scapegoat for the interests of America and, side by side with the American troops, commit crimes of humanity. Your troops mercilessly martyr women and children in our country; destroy villages and houses; desecrate our religious sanctities; vilify our national honors and culture, set fire to our houses and green orchards or bulldoze them until they become leveled with the ground. It is your responsibility to prevent your governments from doing this, as the people of France pioneered to do it. Let not, your children and interests become a sacrifice for the interests and whims of America.

32. You have to know that a great number of your troops are killed in our country or become handicapped, or face various psychological diseases because of the stress of the war but your governments hide all these from you and the media.

33. The Islamic Emirate urges the Islamic conference, the Islamic world, the Islamic nations and government, to come forward in all-sided support of the Afghan miserable people in their struggle of liberation and salvation from atrocities. Similarly, we urge the international community, the organizations of human rights and, in general, all people of the world; the unbiased and equitable statesmen, writers and news agencies not to spare efforts in the cause of independence of the Afghan people as a part of their humanitarian responsibility.

To Human Rights Advocacy Organizations:

We urge all universal organizations working for the protection of human rights not to rely only on reports of the foreign forces and western media outlets; Carry out your own impartial and on site investigation about the ground realities in the area, by fulfilling your responsibility in this regard. The civilian casualties that occur as a result of the American blind bombardment, unsanctioned raids on (residential) houses, letting loose dogs on children and women to bite them; urination on dead bodies, torture of prisoners in prisons, rape of women at the hands of soldiers, police and Arbakis; violation against the honor and property of people are no more something hidden from the eyes of people.

To end, I extend my felicitation once more on the occasion of Eid-ul-fitre to all pious country men and Muslims of world and ask the Almighty Allah to give them happiness in both worlds and triumph over their enemy. In these days of happiness of Eid, I call on the well-to-do Muslims to give the same attention and care to the children and families of martyrs and prisoners as you usually give it to your own children and families. They lack the cool shadow of compassion of their parents. Cherish them with your material and spiritual aids.

Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid
The Servant of Islam

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Eid al-Fitr celebrated in Afghanistan.

This year I was looking forward to Mullah Mohammad Omar’s holiday message for Eid al-Fitr, since it has become the Mullah’s tradition to deliver himself of an address on the occasion of Eid. This is the “State of the Union” address for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Afghani Mujahideen style themselves. I previously discussed Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr messages for 2009 and 2010. The entire statement for this year can be found, translated into English, at Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban): Mullah Omar’s Eid ul-Fitr Message (August 28, 2011).

This year Mullah Omar signs himself, “Servant of Islam, Amir-ul-Momineen, Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid,” and the statement several times refers to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which in turn is abbreviated to “Islamic Emirate,” which again is abbreviated as “IE.” The title “Amir-ul-Momineen,” is usually translated as “Commander of the Faithful,” and there is a legitimate question as to whether Mullah Omar has a right to this title. Beyond this, “Amir” is one of many variant spellings of the “Emir” in “Emirate” (this is from Wikipedia: “‘Emir’ Arabic: أمير; amīr, Male: أميرة; emira; amīrah, “commander” or “general”, also “prince”; also transliterated as amir, aamir or ameer”), which suggests that Mullah Omar, despite his Spartan pretensions, is implying that he is a political official of an Afghan political entity.

Whereas last year’s statement was highly confident, reading like a miniature treatise on Islamic nation-building, this year’s statement is rather different. Most of the quasi-leftist/revolutionary struggle rhetoric about colonialism, evident two years previously, is gone, as is the programmatic nation-building sections from last year’s statement. The centerpiece of the present statement is the section headed, “To the Vanguards of the Stronghold of Truth,” which consists of eight (8) items regarding the proper conduct of Mujahideen engaged in Jihad in Afghanistan. Thus this is more a statement of a military commander to his men engaged in ongoing combat than the statement of a political leader to his people that he intends to organize into a nation. It is also reminiscent of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in which the former urged the latter to avoid actions that would alienate the peoples of Iraq.

The need for the Mujahideen to behave themselves (as instructed by Mullah Omar) reminds us of a recent incident in Afghanistan that does not bode well for the Taliban. It was reported last week in the New York Times in Afghan Villagers Stone a Taliban Commander to Death that “Angry villagers stoned to death a local Taliban commander and his bodyguard in southern Afghanistan Sunday after the militants killed a 60-year-old man accused of aiding the government, Afghan officials said.”

As Mao said, and as I have quoted many times, a guerrilla must move among the people like a fish in the sea. If the Taliban do not have the sympathy of the people of Afghanistan, they have nothing. Obviously, to endure as long as they have endured, they must have a great deal of sympathy among the peoples of Afghanistan, but with this incident we see that this sympathy has its limits. More episodes like this would suggest serious problems for the Taliban. Afghanistan is a highly ethnically diverse place, and not everyone is equally enthusiastic for the ethnically- and sectarian-specific character of the Taliban.

It is often said that the Taliban represent a movement indigenous to Afghanistan, specifically to contrast this with the trans-national character and ambitions of Al-Qaeda, and this is true, but it further follows that the intensely indigenous character of the Taliban means that the movement is peculiar to a particular people and a particular region and a particular interpretation of Islam, and imposing this particularist vision upon the diversity of Afghanistan’s tribal and ethnic patchwork is no easy task. And so we find in this year’s Eid statement several paragraphs emphasizing that the Taliban will tolerate all walks of life in Afghanistan. Perhaps they, too, have read the Ayman al-Zawahiri letter cited above, in which the author stated, “We don’t want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Qandahar alone.”

The most interesting thing about Mullah Omar’s Eid statement was what it omitted. We are accustomed to statements of this kind mentioning recent political events in order to prove that the party making the statement is alive and aware of the strategic situation, even if they have not been seen in quite some time. Call it a rhetorical proof of life. Mullah Omar does this, but he mentions nothing whatsoever of the Arab Spring.

While little has changed in Afghanistan in the past year, the situation for the Ummah has changed drastically, with the peoples of North Africa demonstrating that they are able to throw off the secular dictators previously favored by the West for the semblance of stability that they brought to the region. The recent successes of the rebels in Libya, and the confidence that the people in Libya have gained from the ouster of Qaddafi, further demonstrates that members of the Ummah can successfully engage in armed struggle with assistance from the West and no assistance at all from Islamic militants. This alternative vision presents a challenge to the vision of Islamic militants, and Mullah Omar passed over this challenge in silence. He dares not limn the limits of his vision.

Two more things I should mention are the fact that the bulk of the statement is very politic, especially as noted above in relation to Taliban professed tolerance for the “various strata of the Afghan society” — diplomatically worded, even if poorly translated in parts — and that the opening paragraphs, celebrating the victories and successes of the Mujahideen, are the weakest part of the document and betray an ever-so-slight diminution of confidence on the part of Mullah Omar. If you’re winning, you don’t need to tell people that you’re winning, so that the more you say about your successes and brag about your body count, the more obvious it is that you are worried that you aren’t winning.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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The Shrine of Hazrat Ali, often called the Blue Mosque at Mazar-e-Sharif

Last year following Ramadan, Mullah Mohammad Omar issued an Eid al-Fitr address that I discussed in The Graveyard of Empires. During the past year I have further discussed Afghanistan in the following posts (inter alia):

Afghanistan: The War of Words

Afghanistan and Switzerland

A just war in Afghanistan?

Now Mullah Mohammad Omar has issued another Eid al-Fitr statement, the translated text of which can be found at The Unjust Media and at the Zaakirah: Ummah Matters blog. The address is titled “Message of Felicitation of the Esteemed Amir-ul-Momineen Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid, on the Eve of Eid-ul-Fitr.”

The Minaret at Djam, Afghanistan

The BBC reported this address under the headline, “Mullah Omar says Afghan Taliban close to victory.” Mullah Omar does indeed make this claim, and the substance of the remarks underlines this idea, but the explicit claim to being near victory appears in passing in the text, and does not appear in an especially prominent place. But this address is a very confident address, much more so that what Mullah Omar said last year, and it is also a much more systematic and clear-headed text that last year’s address.

This is the face of Afghanistan more familiar from news reports: ruined buildings in Kabul.

Although Mullah Omar is a man (and a leader of men) who is fully committed — mind, body, and spirit — to an eschatological conception of history, in which divine power manifests itself immediately and directly in human affairs, the rhetoric of this address, while retaining the eschatological core of the ideological message of the Taliban, is much more pragmatic. Mullah Omar is now acting like the government-in-exile of Afghanistan. While the references to “colonialism” are continuous with last year’s address, this year’s address is much less a pastiche of criticisms of the West and encomia on the Mujahid fighting in Afghanistan than it is a practical blueprint for an ideal Afghanistan-to-be under future Taliban rule.

After the opening remarks, the statement is divided into nine (9) sections that address, in turn, 1) the “Mujahid Nation of Afghanistan,” 2) fellow Mujahideen fighting throughout the world, 3) “Religious Scholars, Statesmen, Teachers, Writers and Poets,” 4) Former Mujahideen and Employees of the current government of Afghanistan, 5) the nature of a future Taliban government in Afghanistan, 6) the foreign policy of the same, 7) “the Islamic World and the Muslim Ummah,” 8) “Coalition Forces Stationed in Afghanistan,” 9) “Americana [sic.] Rulers and the Misinformed American People.” This gives a sense of the breadth and comprehensiveness of the document, but for all this ground that it covers, it remains a relatively concise statement.

This is obviously no longer a mere call to arms for Jihadis to fight American invaders, this is a comprehensive statement of principles for a future Taliban administration. It is not only more pragmatic than past statements, it is also a little more cautious. There are warnings for Mujahideen not to, “…commit activities under the name of a Mujahid that malign the name of Mujahideen and be cautious not to harass people on mere pretexts and baseless reports.” This puts one in mind of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi cautioning the latter to moderate the violence of his campaign in Iraq and, “…avoid any action that the masses do not understand or approve, if there is no contravention of Sharia in such avoidance, and as long as there are other options to resort to, meaning we must not throw the masses — scant in knowledge — into the sea before we teach them to swim.”

If the Taliban should at some point engage in negotiations with the current administration in Kabul and enter into some kind of power-sharing agreement or amnesty or governmental participation, we would only need to strip out a few statements from this document to make it serviceable as a party platform for Taliban candidates to run in future Afghan elections. A jihadi manifesto that can double as a party platform is truly a moderate manifesto, if judged by the standards of that genre.

Of Mullah Omar’s most recent statement, Section E, “Regarding the Upcoming System of the Country,” is worth quoting in more detail for the ways in which it underlines the pragmatic, mature ambitions of the Taliban. Having learned some lessons in bad public relations that ultimately unseated them once, they are ready to return to power on the basis of a platform with which few in the world could strongly object:

“…we will try to establish an Islamic, independent, perfect and strong system on the basis of these principles –- a system with economic, security, legal, educational and judicial aspects being based on the injunctions of Islam and conducted through a consultative body joined by persons with experience, knowledge and expertise. All God-fearing, experienced and professional cadres of the Afghan society will be part and parcel of this system without any political, racial and lingual discriminations.

“Administrative responsibilities will be devolved on them according to their talent and honesty. We will respect the Islamic rights of all people of the country including women; will implement Sharia rules in the light of the injunctions of the sacred religion of Islam in order to efficiently maintain internal security and eradicate immorality, injustice, indecency and other vices; will strictly observe the law of punishment and reward and auditing in order to bring about administrative transparency in all government departments. The violators will be dealt with according to the Sharia rules.”

This is quite explicitly not a Western plan for government, but it is clearly a plan for government that would have the approbation of the Islamic world, and could be the basis of Islamic advisers from more developed Muslim nation-states that would work with the Taliban to produce a regime that could be recognized by the UN and accepted into what Toynbee called, “a single world-wide comity of states.”

All sides in this conflict have been becoming more pragmatic and less ideological over the course of the present conflict, and in this sense we could, from a very abstract perspective, see the parties to the conflict narrowing their differences and coming together. Except, that is, for the feeling of confidence in this current statement from Mullah Omar. Clearly, he sees the light at the end of the tunnel. There is not only the official policy that an Afghanistan pull-out will begin a year from now (a policy that has been sharply criticized at the highest levels of the US military), but there is the long history of US engagement of which the Taliban will will not be ignorant: despite the predictable rhetoric about colonialism, everyone knows that the Americans never come to stay, at least in terms of a military presence. Truly democratic governments cannot support sustained wars of attrition; it is not only a matter of the pain of sacrifice of blood and treasure, but also the lack of steady focus and continuing interest.

The Afghans will always be in Afghanistan, but the Americans will only be there for a short time. For the Taliban to have to wait a year is nothing. They would wait far longer than a year if need be. Needless to say, the US will not be cleansing Afghanistan of the Taliban in the coming year, so if the pull-out begins as scheduled, Afghanistan will return to its perennial feudal character and internecine conflict.

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A population map of Afghanistan that shows the population primarily conforming to the valleys of this mountainous country.

The President has given a speech about Afghanistan. It is a long-awaited speech that commits the US to an Afghanistan “policy” and to certain actions, most notably the deployment of another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. The speech (as is to be expected) was very polished, but at 4,617 words it was rather longer than I expected.

US soldiers in Afghanistan.

One can’t really say that the speech was about a strategy for Afghanistan, for announcing a troop surge is not yet a strategy. The troop surge in Iraq, sometimes credited with turning around the situation in Iraq, was probably not so much responsible for the gains in stability there as was the program of creating the Sunni Awakening Councils. This latter is a strategy; the surge was a component of the strategy. The speech was primarily given over the justifying the US presence in Afghanistan and arguing that Afghanistan is not Viet Nam. Strategy is mentioned without being given an explication:

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 — the fastest pace possible — so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centres. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

And a little later in the speech there is this nod to strategy:

These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

In other words, the President has given nothing away. There is nothing new here. The important thing is that this does not mean that new initiatives will not be undertaken on the ground; it only means that any new initiatives were not announced in the President’s speech. And one would not expect the Commander in Chief to give away any crucial element of strategy in an address to the nation.

There is already a statement purporting to be a response from the Afghan Taliban. This comes from the same website that I mentioned in The Graveyard of Empires as the source of a recent statement from Mullah Mohammad Omar. The most recent Taliban statement does not claim to come from Mullah Omar, and it is not as well (or as extensively) translated as that previously referenced statement. But it is quite concise, at a mere 780 words.

Like the Eid-ul-Fitre statement from Mullah Omar, the response to President Obama is a pastiche of many elements, mentioning colonialism, anti-Afghanistan conspiracies, and unlawful invasion, liberally sprinkled with name-calling and glittering generalities, and even invoking a term that sounds like it was taken from a contemporary book on management: “results-oriented” (as in, “The [sic] Obama’s assertion to increase and train more soldiers and police for the Kabul Administration is pointless and not result-oriented”). While many of the elements are similar to Mullah Omar’s statements, this was obviously written by a different person, probably the work of a Taliban booster who has no privileged access to Taliban strategies and could not reveal them even if he had a desire to do so.

The Taliban, like the President, have given nothing away. There is nothing new in their statement, any more than there was nothing (strategically) new in the president’s statement. We don’t really know how the US is going to go about waging the next stage of the war in Afghanistan, and we don’t really know how the Taliban will respond to the US escalation. At this point, the escalation is an escalation of the war of words. According to news reports, nothing of significance has changed on the ground, but this, too, is to be expected: offensives in Afghanistan wait for the spring. When the spring comes, and the 30,000 additional US soldiers are in position for a spring offensive, then we will see what the strategy is, and not before.

I previously made the point that Afghanistan (and parts of Pakistan) have never been politically assimilated to the nation-state paradigm. This is as much as to say that these geographically difficult regions have never been unified under the territorial principle in law. The essentially feudal character of governance in Afghanistan means that what institutions there are more or less exemplify the personal principle in law, such that an individual is assimilated to a legal system on the basis of his ethnicity and not on the basis of this citizenship in a geographically defined political entity.

To further refine the conflict at issue, we could say that Afghanistan represents the confrontation between the personal principle in law and the territorial principle in law. Islam, by laying its emphasis on the Ummah rather than upon any state structure, could be said to assimilate the personal principle in law to a trans-ethnic community of the faithful, so that all Muslims everywhere ought to be judged by Islamic standards and not by the laws of a nation-state in which an individual Muslim happens to find himself. This constitutes a generalization of the personal principle in law, and I think it is not an unfair characterization of contemporary pan-Islamic thought.

Thus while there is a sense in which the US is fighting in Afghanistan in order to deny any future safe haven of Al Qaeda or similarly inspired groups of militants, there is also a sense in which the US is fighting to impose the territorial principle in law upon a landscape and a people for whom this institution is foreign. This is partly the fault of a lack of political imagination. Western diplomats don’t seem to be able to grasp any solution to regional problems other than the cookie-cutter nation-state. The international system, on this view, is like a recently built suburb in which all the houses look the same because they are all built to the same plan.

True diplomacy and statesmanship would be revealed by an effort that sought to intervene in Afghanistan without attempting to impose a nation-state system or the territorial principle in law. This is important not least because of the powerful role of Islamic jurisprudence in the history of Islam. Such an effort could mark the transition from a war of words to a war of ideas, and from a war of ideas to a war that could win hearts and minds. But hearts and minds will not be won by imposing Western structures of governance upon a landscape and a people for whom these institutions are alien. It does not have to be so, but it will continue to be so as long as our diplomats and politicians lack imagination and are unwilling to engage in political experimentation. Political imagination and experimentation are the missing elements in our strategy.

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Another population map of Afghanistan, but this from worldmapper shows regions re-sized based upon population.

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The Graveyard of Empires

21 September 2009


Mullah Mohammad Omar

Mullah Mohammad Omar

An Eid-ul-Fitre Statement

There are only a handful of known photographs of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, none of them flattering. He seems to be as camera-shy as Thomas Pynchon, though presumably for different reasons. Although Mullah Omar is not well represented by photographs, he is quite well represented in public statements. It was widely reported in the western press today that Mullah Omar had issued another statement, and with a little bit of searching I found a website with translations of the statement into English, Arabic, Finnish, German, Spanish, Russian, French, Somali, Malay/Indonesian, Urdu, Pashto and Farsi. The online text does not specify the original source language.


An early example of attempted empire-building in what is now Afghanistan, and one to which Mullah Mohammed Omar referred in his recent statement.

The above-mentioned website gives the full title of this statement as “Message of Felicitation of the Esteemed Amir-ul-Momineen (Leader of the Believers) Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid (May Allah preserve him) on the Occasion of Eid-ul-Fitre” — a wonderfully eighteenth century title of the sort one expects to find on a minor pamphlet unearthed from the Enlightenment.

Flag used by the Taliban for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

Flag used by the Taliban for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

Mullah Omar, when he ruled Afghanistan, styled himself Commander of the Faithful from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. His current statement simply identifies him as “The Servant of Islam, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Though speaking as a humble servant, in keeping with the traditions of his faith, Omar is one of the most prominent leaders in the Taliban. As the man who engineered the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet retreat, temporarily imposing an Islamic state of the sort favored by militants, Omar has the ultimate “street cred” among radical Islamists. That a man of his stature (and similarly with the case of Osama bin Laden) has eluded capture for several years says something both about his cunning and about the landscape that he calls home.

Afghanistan map

This impressionistic map of Afghanistan from the 1920s gives a sense of the difficulty of the landscape.

The rough terrain of Afghanistan is legendary, and like the neighboring regions of Pakistan where the central government of the nation-state has had little power, the power structure that has emerged from this difficult land is essentially feudal in character. Institutions are local, and have only vague if any connections to any larger political structure or principle. Not only have these regions never been brought under the power of an invading or occupying force, these regions have never been brought under the effective control of a regional invading or occupying force. We could fairly say that Afghanistan and significant portions of Pakistan have never been assimilated to the nation-state paradigm.


The difficulty of centralized political rule in Afghanistan has both safeguarded the Afghan people from rule by a foreign empire and also made it nearly impossible for the Afghans themselves to organize into a coherent whole. Afghanistan is not a nation-state, it is what is left over in central Asia when all the portions amenable to exterior political rule have in fact been incorporated into some larger political entity.

Afghanistan ethnic map

In addition to the difficulty of the landscape, there is the complexity of the ethnic and tribal structures that overlay the landscape.

The difficult terrain of Afghanistan has produced the difficult history of Afghanistan, and this has earned in the poetic sobriquet of being The Graveyard of Empires. And we are not just talking about recent historical phenomena like the British Empire or the contemporary de facto American Empire. This region of the world has seen a succession of empires from earliest antiquity, and in fact Mullah Omar referenced the empire of Alexander the Great in his recently released remarks.

afghanistan raisins

Before the Soviet invasion and the civil war, Afghanistan was an exporter of raisins.

Perhaps as a consequence of their geography and history, the Afghan people have come into the reputation of being among those warrior peoples who come from the periphery of the civilized world and which throughout history have been recruited into the armed forces of more coherent and organized political entities. As a warlike people, the Afghans, in public pronouncements such as Mullah Omar’s, take pride in being the Graveyard of Empires. But it is a perverse pride, because the land that can be the graveyard of empires is also the graveyard of simpler ambitions like a stable civil society in which ordinary Afghans can make a life for themselves unmolested either by novel attempts at empire building or ancient tribal feuds.

Afghanistan apples

Afghanistan also produces apples for export. Industry remains on quite a small scale, but this is the future, if there is any future at all, for Afghanistan.

Mullah Omar’s recent statement invokes this pride of being the graveyard of empires, but it is also a pastiche of a great many diverse elements. There is, of course, Islamic rhetoric of the kind meant to appeal to the most conservative of believers, and there is as well much on colonialism, such as one would expect from a 1960s or 1970s leftist tract from Third World struggles for independence. But these twin influences have long been mutually at play in what Tamim Ansary has called the “Middle World.” The statement also has significant elements of contemporary political discourse — both popular and technical — that belies the common implication that the Taliban are political primitivists who want to return to the time of the Prophet. They may in fact self-identify their movement as being one of a return to pristine Islam, as many political movements have appealed to the pristine past, but the Taliban are, in fact, thoroughly modern ideologues.

opium poppies

This, unfortunately, is the more common image of Afghanistan. When the Taliban were in power they attempted to curtail opium production, but now that they are fighting an asymmetrical conflict they are taking a cut of the opium business and revealing themselves to he thoroughly modern ideologues like the narco-trafficking guerrillas of Latin America.

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