London, Asharq Al-Awsat- If you’ve ever wondered how the Taliban of Afghanistan recruit new followers, or how it communicates with the outside world, or what the average monthly salary of a Taliban fighter is; then all you have to do is visit the official [Taliban] website and put your questions to Qari Yousef Ahmadi, media spokesman for Taliban.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Ahmadi stresses that winning the media war is winning more than half the battle, and that what is most important in the media war is “winning over the hearts and minds of followers, which can only be won by telling the truth.
The interview is as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Tell us about your background?
[Ahmadi] I am 37 years old. I studied modern sciences at a high school. I have memorized and chant the Koran, God willing. I finished sharia education in various religious schools. I recite poetry and am good at writing all forms of Arabic and Persian calligraphy. I speak Pashtu (mother tongue), Persian, and have some knowledge of Arabic, English, and Urdu.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How long have you been involved in the Afghan jihad?
[Ahmadi] Since the final days of the jihad against the Communist rule in Afghanistan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you married? Do you have children?
[Ahmadi] Yes, I am married and have sons. My son, Muhammad, is the oldest, and is 12 years old.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In view of your engagement in jihad, how do you communicate with your family?
[Ahmadi] Most often I am away from my family and kinsfolk, but I am in constant touch with them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As an authentic Pashtu, which holy Koran’s verse do you recite the most?
[Ahmadi] As a Muslim muhajid, I often recite verse 23 of Sura Al-Ahzab: “Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant with God: of them some have completed their vow to the extreme, and some still wait, but they have not changed their determination in the least [Al-Ahzab, verse 33:23]
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you good at using social communication media, like the internet, Facebook, and Twitter?
[Ahmadi] Yes, praise be to God; I use computers and have pages on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did you ban computers, television, girls’ schools, and the internet during the Taliban rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001?
[Ahmadi] Afghanistan’s circumstances were then extremely difficult. Besides, there was the local fighting behind which many foreign parties stood. There was also the unjust blockade and sanctions imposed on us, let alone the poor economic situation. These factors prevented us from carrying out basic development projects in terms of education and health facilities, and other public services and utilities. We should not forget that the Soviets left the country in ruins, and planted millions of landmines, which killed and wounded people every day. In addition, the Soviets did not pay compensation for the ferocious war that destroyed Afghanistan. For this reason, the ban you mention was not deliberate on our part as much as it was imposed on us. It is like the aggressive war that the United States has imposed on us for more than 10 years. The things you mentioned were not banned in Afghanistan, for we did use computers in our administrative offices, and girls went to schools for medical education. We used and benefited from the internet; they were not banned, rather, their misuse was.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have experts in computers and information technology?
[Ahmadi] Our youths are characterized by intelligence, resolve, and patience. They have learned a great deal under the harsh war circumstances. They will learn more after our country has been liberated and the Islamic rule is re-established. The world will be astonished by the Afghan youths’ achievements in all modern fields.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is communication through the internet currently important to the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan?
[Ahmadi] The media is a basic and important part of the on-going war between us and the occupation enemy. [Winning] the media war means, perhaps, winning more than half the war. We communicate with our people in Afghanistan and beyond, explain our cause, and make our voice heard among all Muslims and in the world in general. Needless to say, we lack technical and material resources, but we do not lack determination and faith, something that our enemy does not have. More important than resources are truthful reporting. This makes our media outdo the enemy’s media, notwithstanding the enormous resources at the latter’s disposal. It is the Islamic values that make us triumph and outdo the enemy in the media field as well as in the battlefield.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Many people visit your website; do you correspond with them?
[Ahmadi] Visiting websites is not more difficult than joining jihad and the battlefield. More important than visiting websites is winning over the minds and hearts of the masses who visit websites. This can only be won by truthful reporting, and faith in the justice of our people’s cause and in their jihad against aggressors in defense of our religion and homeland.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you read Arabic newspapers or follow up, for instance, what is written in US and Western papers, or do you regard the latter as satanic?
[Ahmadi] We follow up everything we can have access to, such as media reports and scientific material, which is part of our mission. We particularly follow up any reports relating to our cause, even if indirectly. Naturally, this is the mission of our media organ, which follows up and analyzes what it monitors and submits reports to the higher echelons. We can easily recognize satanic acts whether in newspapers or in other domains.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did the Taliban of Afghanistan agree to hold talks with the United States although it is waging a fierce combat against the world’s most powerful army? Why were the Doha talks suspended? Have you closed down the Taliban office in Qatar?
[Ahmadi] The objective of continuing jihad against the occupiers and of holding talks with them is the same, namely to expel the aggressive armies and re-establish Islamic rule in the country. Continuing or suspending the negotiations is contingent on achieving that objective. We stopped the talks because we found out that the enemy sought to prolong the negotiation for no useful purpose, and to exploit the talks to serve his interest.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do the Afghan youths communicate with the Taliban? And how do new members join the Taliban?
[Ahmadi] The Islamic Emirate is an authentic part of the Afghan people. The sons of our people join the ranks of Taliban everywhere in the country. So there is no problem of communication or of joining all forms of jihad. The jihadist activity accommodates youths, the elderly, and children. A jihadis t home can only stand on jihadist women who make sacrifices and take care of their homes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is a Taliban jihadist’s monthly salary? Do you pay them in dollars? Where do you get your financial aid from?
[Ahmadi] First, we do not have people who are paid in dollars; that blight exists somewhere else. You can ask about this in Kabul or many other capitals. It is well known that the Afghan banknotes, which were printed by the occupation, are pegged to the currency of the occupiers, namely the US dollar. This is the case in all countries that are controlled by the United States. The Afghan people provide financial aid to Taliban. Were it otherwise, jihad would not have begun in the first place, or would have stopped long ago. The global US influence is well known, and no one dares challenge it except few, rare people. The Islamic Emirate pays salaries to only a limited number of people who devote their time to particular missions. The majority of the mujahidin are provided for by their families or tribes.
Taliban offers part of the financial aid and logistical support to various fronts while the Afghan people and tribes offer the other part, as the mujahidin are the sons of those tribes. Even during the Taliban rule, tribes would send their sons to join our forces and undertake to pay their personal cost and that of their families. Tribes play a very major social role in Afghanistan, a role of great effectiveness in time of jihad that the country is going through.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your response to those who defect from Taliban, according to Afghan government statements as part of the reconciliation program?
[Ahmadi] Taliban have already explained this issue as part of the psychological warfare against the mujahidin aimed at frustrating the people to depart from jihad. The elements that surrendered are government supporters and war lords’ followers who receive enormous funds from the occupation in return for propagating those empty claims. In the final days of the Soviet occupation, we witnessed a similar government campaign using the pretext of reconciliation, a campaign that cost a great deal of funds. In addition, weapons were distributed as bribe to those who jumped on the wagon of that reconciliation campaign to reap material benefit. However, the mujahidin forced the Soviet occupiers to flee the country and brought down the Kabul government. The mujahidin now have the same program, which absolutely has nothing to do with reconciliation with the occupation or with the Kabul regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The question that is often asked is what will happen to girls’ schools if Taliban returns to power?
[Ahmadi] This question is part of the psychological campaign. It is an early attempt against Taliban’s upcoming rule, and is aimed at diverting attention from the key problem, namely the problem of occupation and its continuing crimes against the Afghan people — men, women, and children. The occupiers are not friends of education or women. They are enemies of all Afghan people and of all Muslims. Under the rule of the Islamic Emirate, no one no matter how powerful, would take more than the Islamic sharia determines; and no one, no matter how weak, would be denied one’s rights that are enshrined in the sharia. The question has absolutely nothing to do with whims, temperaments, or the wishes of the corrupt or the oppressive states no matter how powerful they are. What counts with regard to education is compliance with the sharia tenets, whether with regard to the education of boys or girls. The sharia urges education for boys and girls from early age to the end of life. Education of boys and girls, for instance, is being used by the occupation to combat Islam in the hearts of the coming generations, just as the Soviets had sought to do in Afghanistan. We are opposed to the misuse of the education process aimed at changing the faith, identity, and culture of the nation. We are not opposed to education in itself whether for boys or girls.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can we say that you are determined to win the media war until the end?
[Ahmadi] As long as we are in a state of war, we will use all modern means available, and acquire all possible expertise. After we liberate the country, the acquisition of modern science and technology will be our basic challenge to develop and strengthen our country and improve the standard of living of our people who suffered a great deal from the aggression of the occupiers and the greedy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have a sharia mufti? Or do you turn to the so-called Afghanistan Religious Scholars Council?
[Ahmadi] We have numerous religious scholars in most parts of the country. They offer advice and explain sharia tenets on all aspects of life that face the mujahidin and citizens alike. They also conduct trials to settle disputes in liberated areas, which currently cover most parts of the country. The Islamic Emirate offers advice and sharia verdicts on important issues referred by field commanders and religious scholars in all areas. The Islamic Emirate appoints to the Fatwa Council those who have the required qualifications in religious education, who are pious, and well-versed in jihad culture. Those who make use of their religious education to serve a government appointed by the occupation and protected by its forces do not have such qualifications.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can we regard your posting Koranic verses on Facebook, Twitter, and websites as jihad, or is that intended to proliferate Islam?
[Ahmadi] The use of appropriate means of communication is left to the discretion of the preacher and his assessment of the situation. It is wise to say that every situation requires particular manner of handling. Spreading Islam is the duty of every Muslim, if he can.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are civilians who are killed in battles because of you or by NATO forces regarded as martyrs?
[Ahmadi] This question is inspired by the UN bodies’ statements, which hold the mujahidin responsible for the killing of many civilians. This is not a surprising calumny coming as it does from this international body. What every Afghan national knows is that the US and NATO forces practice systematic annihilation of our Muslim people. They use every means everywhere to kill people, in villages, on roads, in safe homes, in transportation means, in funerals and in weddings, they do this day and night. They also use aircraft and airborne forces for that purpose. War generals in the Pentagon and in Kabul plan for such massacres, which are carried out by mercenaries and soldiers who are sane or half insane. Fortunately, American soldiers themselves took photos of many of these massacres. What has been leaked about these massacres, notwithstanding their heinous and horrific nature, only shows a small part of our people’s bloody tragedy. And you ask me if these victims are martyrs? I leave the answer to your question to your sharia knowledge and your conscience as a journalist.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As the Taliban’s official spokesmen, what has been the hardest situation you’ve faced in that capacity, and what has been the most difficult question you have been asked?
[Ahmadi] No doubt, the most difficult situation any mujahidin media official faces is receiving news of the martyrdom of commanders or of media soldiers in the battlefield. As for the most difficult question I have ever heard, it is your question about the most difficult question.