'Obedience to the Amir', or how the Afghan Taliban govern



It’s finally out. I’m really glad that other researchers, journalists and anyone else with a bit of curiosity can read this translated volume.

In the last year of the Taliban’s government in Afghanistan, visitors to Mullah Omar’s office in Kandahar received a parting gift. As they left, the movement’s supreme leader asked them to take a slim volume from a pile beside the door. He told them that if they wanted to know how the Taliban were meant to behave, they should read the book. The books which Mullah Omar handed out were Pashto and Farsi translation of Eta’t Amir, or ‘Obedience to the Leader’. Mufti Rasheed published the original in Urdu after having toured Taliban-run Afghanistan. Mullah Omar’s endorsement indicates that he believed that Rasheed had captured the essence of the Taliban Movement. Michael Semple and Yameema Mitha have translated this important primary source and added a commentary and appraisal.

Long-time Afghan scholar and analyst Barney Rubin had this to say upon reading the manuscript:

“In war, and especially guerrilla war, the best organised party is likely to win. While numbers of fighters and weapons count, organisation determines whether the leader can use them. This book is the guide the Afghan Taliban used to organise themselves differently from other Afghan groups. Anyone who wants to defeat them or negotiate with them should understand the organisational principles that guide them.”

Michael Semple has written a useful introduction in which he outlines the context of the document, and he worked on the translation together with Yameema Mitha.

This is one of the most interesting documents coming out of the Afghan Taliban that I’ve read in terms of helping explain how power works within the movement and, accordingly, how they govern. If you’re interested in the history or the present state of the Afghan Taliban, give this book a read.

North Waziristan: A Reading List

Technically, this is South Waziristan...  Photo credit: Drregor (via  Flickr )

Technically, this is South Waziristan... Photo credit: Drregor (via Flickr)


I've been doing a bit of reading about North Waziristan in the English-language sources that are available outside Pakistan. It took a bit of time to put together a decent collection that gave real information. By 'real information', I mean things that speak of names, dates, places and events. I wasn't really interested in analysis, though that forms part of what follows. I was interested in the basic factual building blocks that must precede any analysis or understanding of a place. (That, and actually going there yourself). Most of these sources have are filled with stories and little details, all of which need triangulating with one another and with interviews on the ground.

I can't vouch for the veracity of any of it -- my experience in Afghanistan has given me an innate distrust for anything I read in a report, particularly if it was assembled outside the country -- yet this is what we have. There are, of course, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of news articles in the databases of Pakistan's media outlets, but I didn't trawl those yet. Needless to say, this is a work in progress and I will continue to update as and when I read more. It seems the area is also missing a well-sourced chronology akin to something like what I did for Kandahar or for the Taliban/Al-Qaeda relationship. I don't have the time at the moment to do this myself, but perhaps someone will be inspired to work on it. If you have any suggestions for additions to this list, please let me know.

Books (Core)

Books (Supplementary / Tangential)




UPDATE: This continues to be added to as recommendations come in from various places here and there. (Last Update: January 3, 2015)

Following Pakistan's Elections

Saba Imtiaz, a freelance journalist based in Karachi, has started a daily newsletter of updates relating to Pakistan's upcoming elections -- scheduled to take place this summer. She explains what she'll be offering in a recent blogpost:

Along with a round-up of the headlines and commentary from English, Urdu and Sindhi news sources, I’ll also be writing smaller profiles of candidates and major news issues, as well as doing smaller data dumps on voting patterns


View some of the updates here and subscribe to the newsletter via email here and via RSS here.

If you follow Colin Cookman's excellent Daily New Briefs then you'll probably want to subscribe to Saba's election update.