The Afghan Taliban, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, has issued a comprehensive book outlining a code of conduct for Taliban members. The book, "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Rules for Mujahideen" is comprised of 13 chapters and 67 articles, detailing the many things which one can and cannot do as a member of the Taliban. The code of conduct essentially seeks to centralize Taliban operations, limit erratic behavior from individual Taliban commanders, especially the use of suicide attacks, and, to quote Mullah Omar directly, engage in actions that will “bring the hearts of civilian Muslims closer to [the Taliban].” After analyzing the Taliban’s new document, it appears not only that Mullah Omar is trying to establish the “business of the Taliban”, but that a more mainstream version of the Taliban may be emerging.
The first thing that becomes apparent from the Taliban’s code of conduct is the overarching goal to regulate and standardize behavior across franchise factions of the Afghan organization. In contrast to the present behavior of many groups operating under the Taliban umbrella, the book directly states that no suicide bombings will take place unless a “high and important target” is involved. It says further on that any mission, suicide or other, will come only from the imam’s directions. Mullah Omar continues by outlining a precedence to follow in instances of prisoner capture, saying, "whenever any official, soldier, contractor or worker of the slave government is captured, these prisoners cannot be attacked or harmed,” as well as adding that holding foreign officials captive for a ransom is forbidden. Finally, the book states, “If unofficial groups or irregular battalions refuse to join the formal structure they should be disbanded.” Such measures would suggest that the Taliban no longer wants to be accountable for the actions of outlying factions, especially those who utilize harsh and extremist activities. Thus, in an effort to not only distance themselves from such behavior but to hopefully prevent undesirable actions associated with the Taliban name in the future, the code of conduct will be used to help regulate and standardize all Taliban activities.
The goals of the Taliban appear to go beyond simply standardizing the network, but also aim to promote a particular type of behavior. Our second finding would therefore suggest that a conscious effort has been made to cultivate a specific brand image of the Taliban. For example, because Mullah Omar does not want the Taliban to be associated with acts of criminality, releasing prisoners in exchange for money, an activity qualified as criminal, is strictly prohibited. Furthermore, as the document emphasized the non-use of suicide attacks, it would appear that a clean and more reasonable Taliban, rather than rash and extremist organization, is being promoted. Finally, as the code of conduct explicitly stated that any factions not willing to comply with the regulations would be disbanded immediately, the document would appear to suggest the Taliban was taking a tough stance against those not operating under the tightly bound brand image.
The last major feature of the Taliban’s code of conduct to become visible is the broad base of civilian support they appear determined to gain. With the creation of a more moderate stance regarding the Taliban brand image and the regulation of all franchise behavior, it seems that the Taliban is after the support of the rank and file population of Afghanistan, not just the smaller extremist base. The book directly states, “the Mujahideen have to behave well and show proper treatment to the nation, in order to bring the hearts of civilian Muslims closer to them. The Mujahideen must avoid discrimination based on tribal roots, language or their geographic background." In this manner the Taliban appear to be promoting not only egalitarian image of their organization, but also a softer, more civilian-friendly version of the Taliban. Combined with their pledge of non-use of suicide attacks, except for high and important targets, and their promise to minimize civilian casualties at all costs, the Taliban appears to be desperately trying to cultivate support from the masses in Afghanistan.
With the code of conduct, it seems as though the Taliban no longer wants to be seen as an extremist militia, fighting in a haphazard manner to gain control of Afghanistan through force. Instead, they have put forth a new image, one of a well organized company, with all members operating under the same banner in a standardized fashion, working towards centrally stated goals. In this manner they seek legitimacy and the support of the people of Afghanistan. While such strategies individually are not new – wining the hearts and minds of the people is reminiscent of Guevara's and Mao; the style of military organization mimics that of modern forces – the combination of both tactics marks a monumental development for the Afghan organization. The degree of professionalism espoused from the document suggests a more conventional military strategy, and the more mainstream ideology marks new efforts to establish a broad base of civilian support. The culmination both marks an important transformation worth taking notice of in business of Mullah Omar’s Taliban.