The Layha: Calling the Taleban to Account
This latest report by Kate Clark, Senior Analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), discusses the Taleban Code of Conduct or the Layha. The latest Layha was issued a year ago, and the two previous in 2006 and 2009. Each new version of the Code has been longer, more detailed and more polished. The Layha is a rule book for the Taleban, but it is also an aspirational document, projecting an image of an Islamic and rule-bound jihad and a quasi-state.
In her report, Kate Clark analyses the four main themes of all three codes. That is, how to deal with those who surrender; how to deal with crime, punishment and prisoners; how to deal with the local population, and; how to deal with the Taleban’s own organizational structure and hierarchies. In her analysis, Clark uses the Layha as a means of analyzing the Taleban itself and the movements changing concerns, but she also asks whether the Layha could be approached in much more practical terms, as a rulebook which if applied could help reduce suffering in the conflict.
Some articles in the Layha amount to orders to violate both international and Afghan law. However, there are also a number of articles that if applied could reduce civilian suffering. For example, the Code threatens punishment against fighters and officials who do not ‘with all their power’ take care of the ‘lives and belongings of the common people’ and it includes attempts at judicial safeguards, such as bans on torture and forced confessions. There are also numerous attempts to stamp out what could be called ‘jihadi entrepreneurship’, using the fight as cover to exploit people and make money.
Obviously, large gaps exist between rules and action and the articles that call for the protection of civilian lives and property are often not heeded or are intentionally violated: attacks leave dozens of civilians dead, suspected spies are assassinated and local people are forced to pay taxes. However, the fact that winning the support of the local population is crucial appears also to have led to some changes since 2006. For example, orders in the 2006 Code to beat and (eventually) kill recalcitrant teachers, burn schools and have nothing to do with NGOs – which were described as ‘tools of the infidels’ – have been quietly dropped in 2009 and 2010.
Through examples, Clark shows how pro-active use of the Layha has resulted in reactions from the Taleban. For example, when UNAMA reported in mid-2010 that most civilian casualties were due to insurgent attacks and criticised the Taleban for violating their own Code, it hit a raw nerve. The Taleban reacted strongly, with denial, indignation and a call for the setting up of a joint commission on civilian casualties. A small scrap of common ground was opened up in the stated desire by all parties to protect Afghan civilians.
Date of publication: 4 July 2011