The New York Times reports: Some Taliban officials, particularly those sent to international conferences, have grown savvier during their long exile, and they suggest that the movement has grown more moderate.
For example, the group no longer puts much effort into stamping out television or music recordings now that cellphones have become a fact of life across much of Afghanistan. Taliban-themed ringtones have become common. And the Taliban’s own propaganda wing, which provides battlefield videos and photographs of insurgent commanders and suicide bombers, makes a mockery of the old prohibition on photography and other depictions of the human form.
Where the Taliban remain an insurgency competing with the government for the people’s loyalties, the group’s social restrictions do in fact appear to have mellowed slightly, particularly in the country’s north.
“The Taliban have realized imposing Islamic laws by force will not make people admire us,” a Taliban commander named Fazlullah, who operates in Afghanistan’s far northwest, said in a recent phone interview. “It is our good governance and performance that will win people’s hearts and minds.”
Although the harsher ways have prevailed in Baghran [a district in Helmand province that has been governed by the Taliban for the last decade], residents’ complaints often had less to do with the Taliban’s treatment of them than the deprivations that have taken hold: the lack of good doctors and the need to travel to other districts to buy staples, like cooking oil. And some said they were saddened by the lack of opportunities for their children, many of whom tend to work in the opium fields alongside their fathers.
Many residents who were interviewed said they were mostly satisfied with the Taliban’s rule. Some agree with the Taliban’s principles, others have come to accept them. [Continue reading…]