April 30, 2009
An important interview with senior Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid attracted little attention in Western media despite indications in the interview of several important new directions in Taliban policy (Afghan Islamic Press, April 21). Most notably, Zabihullah appeared to distance the Taliban movement from al-Qaeda. Repudiating the suggestion that the resistance in Afghanistan was led by al-Qaeda rather than the Taliban, Zabihullah declared; “The ongoing resistance against the foreigners in Afghanistan is a pure Afghan resistance. The commanders and leaders of this resistance are Afghans and everything to do with this struggle is led by Afghans… The leader of our resistance is known and he is Mullah Omar Mujahid. Local commanders in each and every province and region are known.” Western media and governments have long regarded the two movements as inseparable.
While conceding the presence of foreign fighters in the Taliban ranks, the spokesman compared the situation to the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, when many foreign fighters were found in the ranks of the mujahideen; “It was obvious that the struggle was a purely Afghan movement. The current ongoing jihad and resistance is also a pure Afghan affair.” Zabihullah ended his comments on al-Qaeda by suggesting that international concerns about the terrorist group had nothing to do with the program and operations of the Afghan Taliban, saying “We are not responsible for the affairs of other parties or the world. We are only concerned about Afghanistan. It is up to al-Qaeda and the rest of the world whether they resolve their problems or not. Such issues have nothing to do with the Taliban.”
A second shift in Taliban policy was outlined in Zabihullah’s remarks on Taliban inclusiveness. The post-invasion movement is generally regarded as exclusive to Afghanistan’s Sunni Muslim Pashtun tribes, but Zabihullah insists, “This is a wrong opinion. The Taliban is composed of all the tribes and nations of Afghanistan. The Taliban appoint their commanders in each province and district from among the inhabitants of those areas. The only condition is that the individual must be a Muslim and Afghan.” Most surprising is Zabihullah’s claim that the Taliban has a growing following in Afghanistan’s Shi’a communities, despite a long history of Taliban animosity for Shi’ism, as expressed in a number of massacres of Shi’a civilians. “[The Shi’a] also do not want the foreigners and infidels to dominate Afghanistan. Therefore, they are also fighting against the foreigners in the ranks of Taliban.”
Lastly, Zabihullah commented on the expansion of the Taliban’s war to parts of northern Afghanistan previously considered stable. “The northern provinces are also part of Afghanistan. When the Taliban declared jihad against the forgoers [of religion] a few years back, some people in the northern provinces came under the foreigners’ influence and were saying that the Taliban were not mujahideen but terrorists, and that the foreign forces were in Afghanistan to help the people. But now people in the north have also realized that the Taliban are fighting and performing jihad just for the sake of Almighty Allah.”
The Taliban spokesman said that suicide bombings would play an important part in the Taliban’s offensive in northern Afghanistan. The expansion of the war to northern Afghanistan will help nullify the impact of the influx of new American troops to Afghanistan while relieving pressure on Taliban operations in other parts of the country. Suicide bombers will also play a role in disrupting the upcoming national elections. During the month of April there were a number of suicide bombings and ambushes of national security forces in the previously secure northern provinces of Balkh, Kunduz, Samangan and Baghlan (Cheragh [Kabul], April 21, Afghan Islamic Press, April 12; Voice of Jihad, April 12, April 19).
This article first appeared in the April 30, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor