The Afghan Taliban has released a statement, attributed to “Zabihullah Mujahid,” the group’s official spokesman, condemning the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar today.
The statement was released on the Afghan Taliban’s official Urdu website. The Pakistani Taliban is not named in the short statement, but the Afghan Taliban says it expresses “sorrow over the tragedy and grief for the families of the victims.”
“Innocent men, women and children were killed intentionally” and this is against “Islamic principles.” The Afghan Taliban claims it has “always condemned the killing of innocent people and children.”
Of course, the Afghan Taliban regularly kills innocent people. For example, the United Nations reported in July that there were approximately 4,853 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2014. The UN attributed 74 percent of these casualties to anti-government elements, including the Taliban, and said that the “onus” was on the Taliban and other anti-government forces to reduce civilian casualties.
Still the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, has been attempting to avoid high-profile attacks on civilians. In a message celebrating the end of Ramadan earlier this year, Omar stressed, “Every caution should be taken to protect life and property of the public during [jihadist] operations, so that, God forbid, someone is harmed.” Omar said that the Taliban’s “Department of Prevention of Civilian Casualties should seriously pay attention to its task to prevent civilian casualties.” [See LWJ report, Analysis: Mullah Omar addresses governance of Afghanistan, war against ‘invaders’ in new message.]
Omar’s speech shows that the Afghan Taliban is sensitive to the criticism that its operations cause far more damage to civilians than its opponents do. Like al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, the Afghan Taliban is attempting to win additional hearts and minds for its cause. And the attack on the school in Peshawar, where dozens of children were slaughtered, will likely reduce, not increase, popular support for the jihadists’ goals.
The inner workings of the relationship between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups are not clear. The Pakistani Taliban and its leader, Mullah Fazlullah, are openly loyal to Mullah Omar.
In October, for instance, several Pakistani Taliban commanders reportedly swore bayat (oath of allegiance) to the Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, thereby breaking their previous allegiance to Omar. The circumstances surrounding this defection remain murky. [See LWJ report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition.]
However, the Pakistani Taliban released a statement saying that Mullah Fazlullah had previously pledged his organization’s loyalty to the “Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar.” This was a not so subtle indication that the Pakistani Taliban’s existing leadership was not going to break ranks with the Afghan Taliban leader in favor of Baghdadi.
It remains to be seen if the Afghan Taliban’s condemnation of the school assault has any additional ramifications, or is merely rhetoric.