Mullah Omar’s Eid messagePosted: 19/09/2012
By Hameed Hakimi, Research Assistant, Armed Conflict Database
A statement released by Taliban leader Mullah Omar to mark the end of Ramadan conveyed a tone of optimism for the Taliban’s tactical achievements, as well as a vision for the future and a statement of commitment to the Afghan people. In the following weeks, facts on the ground have challenged both Mullah Omar’s assessment of Afghanistan and his claims about the Taliban’s intentions. But these realities should also serve as a reminder that ordinary citizens face conflicting messages and broken promises from both the Taliban insurgency and Afghanistan’s political leadership.
Mullah Omar’s Eid-ul-Fitr message was published on the Taliban’s website on16 August 2012. In 34 points, it set out his vision for a post-2014 Afghanistan, and reiterated the movement’s criticisms about the presence of Western troops and the government in Kabul. For those who lived under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a direct message from the reclusive Mullah Omar is a rarity. During its control of the country until 2001, the Taliban leadership’s communication with ordinary Afghans was restricted to public order commandments and moral judgments on points of Sharia law.
In the statement, Mullah Omar praised the achievements of the Taliban offensive in 2012 and claimed victory over NATO and Afghan forces, insisting that they had been pushed on the defensive. While he will no doubt have interpreted NATO/ISAF’s recent decision to temporarily reduce its partnering with Afghan forces as further evidence of this claim, the Taliban’s position is in reality not as strong as he claimed. He also asserted that a recent spate of attacks by Afghan forces against NATO personnel was the result of successful Taliban infiltration – though some research has suggested that many incidents have been spontaneous.
Moreover, the current situation in Taliban-controlled rural parts of Afghanistan does not match the promising picture portrayed in Mullah Omar’s message. In his statement he cautioned local Taliban commanders against harming civilians in the course of armed offensives, but in practice the civilian casualty toll remains high. In 2011 alone, there were 2,332 civilian deaths at the hands of anti-government forces in Afghanistan, according to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). On 8 September 2012, less than a month after Mullah Omar’s Eid message, a teenage Taliban suicide bomber killed four children in an attack on the ISAF headquarters in Kabul. They were selling trinkets in the streets. UNICEF statistics show a total of 1,756 children were killed or injured in 2011 as a result of the conflicts in Afghanistan involving the Taliban.
The Taliban leader’s assertion that the movement is committed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan also does not ring true. Article 19 of the statement claims: ‘The Islamic Emirate will focus on reconstruction of the country, development of agriculture, construction of roads, bridges, hospitals,’ but local media sources have reported several incidents in southern Afghanistan in which Taliban insurgents have forced communities to destroy infrastructure. Because of intimidation by the Taliban, residents of Panjwai district in Kandahar province were forced to damage a newly-constructed road. Taliban insurgents plant explosives on roads – not easily done if the road is asphalted.
In setting out his vision for the future, Mullah Omar appeared to take a more pragmatic and conciliatory tone. He said the Taliban were committed to addressing women’s rights to education in the light of ‘Islamic principles, national interests and [the Afghan] culture’. He also asserted that a Taliban-controlled state would allow the Afghan diaspora and the educated classes to ‘use their academic and professional abilities in the service and welfare of their country and its people’.
Hameed Hakimi was born in Afghanistan and is a Research Assistant on the Armed Conflict Database.