Reuters ran a story yesterday that caught my eye. It seems the Taliban have appealed to the UN, the EU, and just about anyone else who will listen, to place pressure on President Karzai in order to try and prevent him from approving the execution of around 100 (mainly Taliban) prisoners whose death sentences have recently been approved by the Afghan supreme court.
A statement on their web site read:
“We … demand the UN, the European Union, Red Cross and human rights organisations to take quick steps for stopping this barbaric act and stop the killing of innocent prisoners.”
While not personally in favour of the death penalty, my first reaction was a certain wry amusement that the Taliban – who are not exactly known for their liberal sentiments, or for their sense of restraint when it comes to executing criminals or prisoners of war – should take such a moral stance against “this barbaric act”.
However, beyond the apparent hypocrisy, this story is also of interest on another level. Irrespective of the content of the Taliban’s complaint, the actual appeal to the UN itself is highly significant.
A central and non-negotiable tenet of radical Islamist groups, from the Al-Qaeda nexus through to legal entities such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), is a rejection of all ‘man-made’ rules and organisations – particularly democracy, and its globalised embodiment, the UN – which are seen by the Salafists as rivals to the word of God, as dictated in the Qur’an.
This position is set forth by one of the most influential jihadi ideologues, Abu Muhammad ‘Aasim al-Maqdisi, in his treatise Democracy: A Religion! [PDF]. Similarly, Article 186 of the draft HT constitution reads: “The State is forbidden to belong to any organisation that is based on something other than Islam or which applies non-Islamic rules”.
As such, while it may seem a small matter, the Taliban’s appeal to the UN, which in and of itself is a de facto recognition of the UN’s authority, clearly distinguishes it from groups such as Al-Qaeda and HT, who on point of principle would never appeal to the UN under any circumstances. Taken in isolation this might not be regarded as significant, however, as has been detailed in earlier posts on this blog, it is symptomatic of an emerging cleavage between the Taliban – whose goals are essentially local – and Al-Qaeda type groups, whose goals are more disembodied and transnational.