In a sign that the Afghan Taliban are eager to join the mainstream, they have released a detailed report about their recent fight against Central Asian militants loyal to the Islamic State (IS) and allied with a Taliban splinter group.
The document, called The Report Of A High-Level Taliban Delegation About Uzbekistani Daesh Fighters, refers to the ultra-radical Islamic militants now controlling large parts of Syria and Iraq by IS’s Arabic name, Daesh.
It attempts to prove that the Uzbek fighters whom the Taliban once sheltered in Afghanistan are nothing more than criminals bent on violating Afghan honor and sabotaging unity and harmony among the country's diverse ethnic groups.
The unusually detailed Pashto-language report, released on November 25, claims a group of Central Asian fighters teamed up with a dissident Taliban commander, Mansoor Dadullah, in the southern Afghan province of Zabul after they were driven out of their sanctuaries by a Pakistani military offensive last year.
"They adopted a posture of opposition and competition against the Islamic Emirate (formal name of the Taliban)," the report says.
"Soon they began robbing locals and also engaged in kidnapping civilians," It said. "They particularly targeted the Hazaras and repeatedly kidnapped them. The victims also included women."
The report consistently refers to the Central Asian militants it says are loyal to IS as Uzbekistanis. This appears to be a deliberate attempt by the Taliban to emphasize their foreign origin and avoid confusing them with Uzbeks, who comprise a sizeable percentage of Afghanistan's estimated 30 million people.
The report accuses the Central Asian militants of grave abuses including beheadings and burning a Hazara woman alive. In veiled terms, it accuses them of sexually abusing kidnapped women.
The Taliban report attempts to prove that the Central Asian militants tried to foment an ethnic war by kidnapping Hazara women.
"The repeated kidnapping of Hazara women prompted them to kidnap 14 Pashtun women and children from Gazey village in the Khak-e Afghan district [of Zabul Province]," the report said. "They were attempting to pave the way for an ethnic war between Afghan ethnic groups, which prompted the Taliban to intervene, and they secured the release of the 14 kidnapped women from the Hazaras [this summer]."
In recent months, the hard-line Sunni Taliban have attempted to distance themselves from attacks against Hazaras, most of whom are Shi'ite. At the height of the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, the student militia fought against Hazara militias and was accused of widespread abuses against Hazara civilians.
The Taliban report says such atrocities forced locals to seek their help in getting rid of IS militants.
"Locals asked us to intervene or else they would continue to suffer under their oppression," the Taliban report said. "They also told us that the issue of kidnapping women is a very sensitive one that might foment a war between the ethnic groups."
The write-up then describes the efforts the Taliban made to convince Dadullah to break his alliance with IS and rejoin the Taliban.
Toward the end, the report alludes that the Taliban crushed the IS militants by killing most foreign fighters or forcing them to surrender. "All their families are now living in peace in the areas controlled by the [Taliban] mujahedin. There is no threat to their lives, honor, or property," the report concluded.
But a Taliban splinter group has forcefully disputed this account. In a statement e-mailed to journalists on November 29, Qari Hamza, a spokesman for Dadullah, termed the report "a pack of lies" grounded in "baseless claims" with no evidence.
The statement says Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur began the current fighting in Zabul by attacking Dadullah and Central Asian allies on November 9.
Hamza accused Mansur of teaming up with Iran and Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq to fight IS militants in Zabul. Mohaqiq is a second deputy of the Afghan chief executive and is considered one of the most influential figures in the Afghan national unity government.
"This battle was planned in Iran, while Mansur and Mohaqiq joined an alliance to implement it," the statement said.
Sources in southern Afghanistan say some 90 Central Asian militants were killed in this month's clashes while the Taliban have also detained some 70 militants. Media reports had claimed Dadullah was also killed in the fighting on November 12.
These sources, however, say Dadullah survived the fighting and is likely plotting future confrontations with former Taliban comrades, most of whom are now loyal to Mansur.
He is the deputy leader of a new Taliban faction that was formally launched in early November. After the showdown in Zabul, Afghan observers are now bracing for further Taliban infighting in more provinces.