Worried about whether Islamic verses on Facebook are allowed? Or that suicide bombers kill innocent civilians? Afghanistan’s Taliban have set up a new question-and-answer section on their website to address such issues.
The facility on Voice of Jihad, the official website of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — the Taliban’s own name for their movement — allows readers to submit queries to spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
It is a demonstration of how far the insurgents’ attitude towards technology has changed.
When they were in power the Taliban made televisions illegal on the grounds that they showed un-Islamic programmes, even hanging sets from trees using video tape.
But now they have embraced social media and even have a Twitter account — as does the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, with spokesmen on occasion arguing with each other online.
Last month Maulavi Qalamuddin, former chief of the Taliban’s “vice and virtue” squad, which whipped women without burqas and jailed men without beards, told AFP that he had two televisions in his house.
The Voice of Jihad site is packed with denunciations of the Kabul government as “slaves” or “puppets” of its Western allies — “infidels” and “enemies of Islam” — and often exaggerated claims of successes in the bloody, decade-long insurgency.
The answers have a consistent linguistic style and appear to be written by one person, who reveals himself to be married, middle-aged, and likes all types of halal food, declining to give more personal details for security reasons.
Most of the inquiries appear to come from Taliban supporters and often praise the militants, sometimes wishing them success in “the holy war against the crusaders”.
But a poster giving his name as Haseeb Ul Rahman asked: “Don’t you think that killing all these people in suicide and bomb attacks every day is a big sin? Who do you think will be held responsible by Allah?”
More than 3,000 civilians died in the Afghanistan conflict last year, more than three-quarters of them killed by the Taliban or other insurgent groups, according to the United Nations.
Mujahid blamed “technical problems” for such deaths.
“I agree killing civilians by anyone is not acceptable at all, but let’s remember that there are times when civilians get killed and there are times when it is not true but the enemy’s propaganda,” he said.
“It is a fact that civilians get killed during the enemy’s operations. I can tell you with confidence that civilians are not deliberately killed by the mujahideen (Taliban fighters), rather it happens because of technical problems or missing the targets.”
Attempts are being made to start negotiations to end the conflict as foreign combat troops prepare to leave in 2014. The Taliban said they would open an office in Qatar to facilitate the process, before saying they were suspending participation — but a hardline reader questioned the idea.
“Isn’t a peace deal a betrayal of the martyrs of the past 10 years and those who have sacrificed so much with their lives and property?” asked Ahmad Ahsan.
Mujahid responded: “We have not started talks about peace with anyone. The opening of office in Qatar should not be interpreted as a deal, this shows the weakness of the enemy.
“This is not compromising but rather reaching the goal through different means.”
Almost all of the questions are in Pashto, the language of the ethnic group from which the Taliban draw most of their supporters, with only two of the first 78 in Dari, Afghanistan’s other main tongue — and those answers are strewn with grammatical errors.
But even Islamists who use new media to disseminate Koranic quotes are open to doubt.
“I post verses and hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) on Facebook, and some people are telling me that it is not a good work, can it be called a jihad?” asked Awrangzib.
Mujahid reassured him: “Jihad has different kinds, including jihad using pens. May God grant you success in your kind of jihad. I approve of your work to use the Internet for the purpose of Islam.”
The Taliban also put their website to more practical use. One potential volunteer who did not give his name asked how to join the ranks of the insurgents.
“It’s a good question, everyone can easily join our mujahideen,” he was told. “But you have to provide identification to avoid any mistrust.
“If you have a problem contacting the mujahideen, please send me an email showing your region, God willing I will show you proper ways to contact them.”