The Taliban recently said that the US drone strike that killed its last emir, along with other targeted killings and detentions of its leaders, would not weaken its resolve. Rather, it is the Taliban’s “religious obligation” to continue fighting despite such losses. The Taliban stated that the West has been mired in Afghanistan for 15 years because it has “failed to understand the psychology” of the jihadist group.
That statement was published on Voice of Jihad’s English language website on June 13. Voice of Jihad’s English language section was offline for three weeks and was restored on June 12. The Taliban have been slowly restoring content to the website.
The Taliban issued the statement in response to calls by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for the group to enter in negotiations with the Afghan government lest the US continue to target more leaders. The US killed Taliban emir Mullah Mansour in a drone strike in Baluchistan, Pakistan on May 21 as he was traveling from Iran. The strike was the first of its kind in the Taliban stronghold of Baluchistan.
“The Taliban consider the ongoing struggle against the foreign occupation as a religious obligation (Jihad) and are willing to face all kinds of hardship to accomplish this,” the Taliban responded to threats of further attacks on its top leaders. “They consider any hardship in this struggle including being tortured, injured, imprisoned or dying as means towards gaining their Lord’s pleasure. Death in this struggle amounts to martyrdom in their eyes.”
To justify its view that its followers embrace the thought of dying while waging jihad, the Taliban cited the Koran:
In numerous places of the Holy Koran Allah Almighty has described martyrdom as a holy blessing. So much so that Allah Almighty declared in one place to his creation that ‘Do not call those killed in the path of Allah as dead for they are not dead but living, yet you know not’. In another place He Almighty states ‘You should not think as dead who in the path of their Lord have scattered their heads, for they are living and provided for by their Lord’.
The Taliban then said that the West does not understand its motivations to continue fighting, and denied that it only seeks power. This failure merely fed the Taliban’s resolve to continue fighting:
The greatest failure of our enemies is that they have failed to understand the psychology of the Taliban. For example several times they Americans and Kabul officials have offered to give the Taliban a role in the government of Afghanistan. Yet they truth is that the Taliban are not fighting for the seat of power. If the aim of the Taliban was power then why would they have refused American conditions?
They could have simply accepted the American proposals and today there would have been no blacklists, no wanted posters, no terrorism charges, no Guantanamo, no Bagram and Kandahar prisons and no drone strikes. Yet the truth of the matter is that the Taliban’s struggle is not for material gains. Taliban consider their struggle as Jihad. They are willing to risk their life and limb in this cause and a means to gaining their Lord’s pleasure. And what’s more they congratulate each other for the difficulties faced in such a struggle.
Is it not absurd then that one party yearns for martyrdom, raises their hands five times a day for it, considers it as the greatest achievement possible, is proud of it, always ponders on it and nostalgically reflects that so and so was lucky because he gained martyrdom. Yet the other party then threatens it with the same yearning (martyrdom) and barks at him that if you do not give up your resolve then we will fulfill this yearning of yours.
While the Taliban’s rhetoric is often viewed as mere propaganda, the group has followed these principles. Numerous Taliban leaders have been killed or detained since the US invasion of Afghanistan. And the US-led surge from 2009 to 2012 put enormous stain on the group’s leadership and rank and file. Hundreds of leaders and thousands of fighters were killed as US forces ejected the Taliban from strongholds in the south. These losses did not force the Taliban to the negotiating table. Instead, the Taliban regroups and waited for US forces to draw down, then launched its own campaign to retake lost ground. The Taliban insisted all along that it did not seek a negotiated settlement and maintained its goal was the expulsion of foreign forces, the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, and the return of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has acted similarly with respect to its relationship with al Qaeda. Instead of turning over Osama bin Laden and the cadre of al Qaeda leaders, operatives, and fighters based in Afghanistan after 9/11, the Taliban insisted it had a religious obligation to protect its “brothers.” Fifteen years after the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban still refuses to denounce al Qaeda, and instead has publicly accepted Ayman al Zawahiri’s oath of allegiance to its last emir, Mullah Mansour.