On civilian casualties, Taliban try to look like victims

Two recent reports show that Afghanistan’s insurgents are responsible for most civilian casualties (CIVCAS) in the country so far this year. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s (AIHRC) Aug. 8 report, “Report on Civilian Casualities, January 1-July 31, 2010” [PDF], states that 68 percent of Afghan CIVCAS were caused by insurgent activity. Similarly, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) latest report, dated Aug. 10, “Mid Year Report 2010: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict” [PDF], notes that 73 percent of CIVCAS were caused by insurgents. The UN report also observes that there has been an increase in assassinations of Afghan civilians seen to be working for or with the Afghan government or ISAF forces.

It hasn’t taken the Taliban long to respond.

On Aug. 12, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid was quoted in Afghan and Pakistani media as calling the statistics “far from reality.”

The Taliban have also issued not one, but two statements attacking the findings, posted to the Taliban’s official “Voice of Jihad” English-language web site, one on Aug. 12 [VOJ version here, screen capture of full statement at Scribd.com here], the other on Aug. 15 [VOJ version here, Scribd.com version here].

The Aug. 12 statement seems to be aimed at reinforcing the Taliban’s message that the latest stats are “lies, all lies” ….

Observing the statistics issued by UNAMA, it appears crystal clear that the report is based on political expedience, exaggeration and propaganda instead of surfacing the facts. The essence of the report is similar to that of Pentagon decision, saying “A large scale propaganda campaign, pinning the civilian casualties on Taliban, has to be held and beefed up in order to create and exacerbate rifts within Afghan masses ending up in a clash between civilian and Taliban.”

And the Taliban argue that the UN is being far from impartial:

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan expresses its utter disbelief and regret over the UNAMA report and over the fact that the UN with all the neutrally slogans, plays a major role of a propaganda organization for the American imperialism and keeps covering up the blatant crimes of the Pentagon which is similar to betrayal by UN against the bloodshed and the massacre of the Afghan nation.

The second message is not new. Although the Taliban have occasionally called for UN help, as they did following last year’s airstrike against a fuel tanker in Kunduz [Scribd.com], the Taliban info-machine has more than once denounced the UN for appearing to take sides [examples at Scribd.com here and here].

Some media outlets [Agence France-Presse and Pakistan’s Frontier Post] have picked up on the Taliban’s call for an “independent” commission to look into civilian casualties. We see a bit more detail on this in the Aug. 15 Taliban statement:

1. A committee, consisting of special representatives of Islamic Conference, UN’s human rights organizations as well as representatives from ISAF forces and Islamic of Emirate of Afghanistan, should be formed to assess the very issue and conduct investigations into the civilian casualties across the country.

2. The stated committee should by given a free hand to survey the affected areas as well as people in order to collect the precise information and the facts and figures and disseminate its findings worldwide.

And what if this committee isn’t formed?

3. Failure to pay attention to the said proposal outlined by Islamic Emirate may be the same as denial of the human rights of the Afghans by UN and violation of the fact that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, which may leads up to the conclusion that the Afghans can not enjoy their equal and free rights, therefore, the frequently-repeated and raised issue concerning the civilian casualties by so-called human right organization and others can only serve as a propaganda tool encouraging and daring the killers to push the war-stricken and oppressed Afghan masses far deeply into the fire set by ISAF forces ….

Translation: If you’re not for us, you’re against us.

This isn’t the first time the Taliban have called for an ‘independent’ commission to look into civilian casualties – Mullah Omar himself called for such a body in 2007 [more on that from Canada’s Postmedia News chain here]. The Taliban’s strategy is to make it look as if they have nothing to hide, that they’re the ones who are willing to cooperate, and that they’re not the bad guys.

That said, the directives the Taliban leaders are giving their troops (“it’s OK to kill civilians if they’re working with ISAF or the AFG government,” “it’s OK to kill people while they’re praying in mosques,” and “it’s OK to get the disabled to do our suicide bombings”) still speak louder than any Taliban web page statement.

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