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Afghanistan: Neo-Taliban Free To Communicate With Media

In a commentary titled "Who Is The Taliban Spokesman?" in early August, the government-owned Kabul daily "Anis" questioned how the militants opposing the Afghan government can have a specific spokesman who is seemingly able to communicate with the media with ease from Pakistan. Calling the "freedom of action accredited" to the spokesman "a controversial matter," "Anis" asked why he has not been silenced.

Death Of The Taliban, Rise Of The Neo-Taliban

Since the demise of the Taliban regime in December 2001, remnants and loyalists of that regime, disenchanted Pashtuns, religious conservatives, and increasingly criminals involved in Afghanistan's flourishing narcotics business joined forces to terrorize parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan. This loose coalition -- the neo-Taliban -- has its bases of operation in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan. And according to Kabul, they continue to receive assistance from elements within the Pakistani military, intelligence, and religious establishments.

The neo-Taliban began their disruptive activities against the Afghan government and its foreign backers in 2002 in a rather disorganized fashion and without any announced structural cohesion.

It was not until early in 2003 that the neo-Taliban issued a public statement of their intentions. In February 2003, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) cited a fatwa signed by "Amir al-Mo'menin, the Servant of Islam, Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahed" saying that some 1,600 "prominent scholars from around Afghanistan" adopted two common articles.

The first article stipulated that it was every Muslim's duty to wage jihad "at a time when America has invaded Islam's limits and the Muslim and oppressed nation of Afghanistan." The second article warned that anyone who "helps the aggressive infidels and joins their ranks under any name or task" deserved death.

The statement requested the "Muslim people of Afghanistan" to either wage jihad against the U.S. forces or, if they were unable to join in the struggle, to separate themselves from the Americans, "their allies and their puppet that Muslims are differentiated from Christians."

Finally, the statement warned that after the issuance of the fatwa, people working with the coalition or the Afghan administration headed by Hamid Karzai would "be considered Christians by God and [by] the Muslims," and they would face punishment "in accordance with human society and by the mujahedin of Islam and the scholars."

In June, Mohammad Mokhtar Mojahed, who purported be the spokesman for the neo-Taliban, announced the formation of a 10-member leadership council. Three months later, Hamed Agha again reported the establishment of a 10-member leadership council under the chairmanship of Mullah Omar and claimed that he had been appointed as the neo-Taliban spokesman.

Since then, several people have claimed to be speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban, often in contradictory terms. The list of people who have purported to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban includes, in addition to Mojahed and Hamed Agha: Mullah Abdul Samad, Mohammad Amin, Saif al-Adl, Ustad Mohammad Yasir, and the person mentioned by "Anis," Mufti Latifullah Hakimi.

In February 2004, refuting some comments made by Saif al-Adl, the neo-Taliban faxed a statement to several news organizations naming Hamed Agha as the movement's only authorized spokesman (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). Increasingly in 2004, Hakimi emerged as the person speaking for the neo-Taliban and unlike Hamed Agha, who usually faxed his statements to news organizations, Hakimi began giving telephone interviews, beginning with Pakistan-based news organizations and then to other outlets, including Western and Kabul-based media.

In December 2004, AIP quoted Hakimi as saying that Mohammad Yasir "has replaced Hamed Agha as the head of the Taliban cultural council." According to "Islam," a jihadist daily published in Karachi, in January 2005 Mohammad Yasir was appointed the chief spokesman for the neo-Taliban while Hakimi was made his assistant. Whereas Mohammad Yasir has appeared on an Arabic television network, Hakimi has been the main voice of the neo-Taliban since the latter half of 2004.

Who Is The Neo-Taliban Spokesman?

Hakimi -- whose first names have appeared in various sources as "Latif," "Abdul Latif," and "Latifullah," and who has been given the religious titles of "mufti," "mawlawi" and "mullah" -- is not an unknown figure. In early 1999, Shari'a Zhagh (Voice of Shari'a) -- the Kabul government radio station during Taliban rule -- mentioned Hakimi as the head of the justice department in the western Herat Province. Later in 1999 and in 2000, Taliban-run media referred to Hakimi as the head of the information and culture department in Herat. In all early references available, Hakimi has been identified as Mufti Latifullah.

The fact that Hakimi was a known personality in the ousted Taliban regime was one of the complaints that "Anis" presented and also one with which the Afghan government has been uncomfortable. In June, Jawed Ludin, who was then spokesman for Afghan President Karzai, called on Islamabad to curb the activities of the neo-Taliban, including their media access. Ludin charged that Hakimi had lived in the Pakistani city of Quetta. In its commentary, "Anis" goes further, charging that Hakimi maintains an office with a "specific" telephone number in Quetta.

Neo-Taliban Media Campaign

Recently the neo-Taliban have not only managed to increase their terrorist and disruptive activities, but have also become bolder in their use of the media.

In April, residents of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar were once again able to hear Shari'a Zhagh from what Hakimi claimed were mobile transmitters (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 May 2005). Although the radio was no longer detected after a few broadcasts, the fact that the neo-Taliban dared to transmit radio waves, even for few hours, was seen by their supporters as an accomplishment.

The neo-Taliban also flirted with a website in July, though it is no longer accessible.

The area where the neo-Taliban have made great strides is in using outside media to portray themselves as a legitimate opposition group in Afghanistan, not a as a terrorist group set on destroying the government. Hakimi seems to have no fear of being found through his telephone number and gives almost daily and lengthy interviews to an array of news organizations.

As "Anis" asks with some surprise, with the available technology to trace the location of telephone calls, why has Hakimi not yet been arrested?

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