KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban has issued a new code of conduct ordering fighters to protect civilians, as long as they don't side with the Afghan government or NATO coalition. If they do, the punishment is death.
The 69-page directive follows an acceleration in Taliban attacks on Afghan officials, a campaign that threatens the NATO goal of bolstering local government to help turn back the insurgents.
"The Taliban must treat civilians according to Islamic norms and morality to win over the hearts and minds of the people," says the code, which the insurgents began distributing about a week ago.
On the other hand, the code makes clear that civilians who work with foreign troops or the Afghan government are fair game. "They are supporters of the infidels" and can be killed, the code says.
The code updates a similar directive released a year ago that limited the use of suicide bombers and mandated that prisoners cannot be harmed or ransomed without the approval of a Taliban regional commander. NATO and Afghan officials criticized last year's code as propaganda and insisted it did not reflect how the Taliban really fights.
The new code confirms what is becoming increasingly apparent: The ranks of Afghanistan's civil servants are under siege. Roadside bombs are planted on their routes. Ominous letters threaten their families. Taliban fighters on motorbikes shoot them in the streets.
An average of three government officials have been attacked or killed every month this year, according to police reports. Attacks have occurred in about a dozen of the 35 provinces. In one of the most dramatic attacks, gunmen assassinated the deputy mayor of Kandahar city in April as he knelt for evening prayers in a mosque.
The attacks undermine efforts by the government of President Hamid Karzai to earn the trust of the people. They also make it more difficult to recruit Afghans for the civil service and strengthen administration, especially at the provincial and district levels where the threat is greatest.
"It's natural that when security deteriorates, targeted killings, kidnappings, and assassinations make people fear to participate in government," said Barna Karami, of Afghanistan's Independent Directorate of Local Governance.
The Taliban is stepping up its attacks on local officials because Afghan and foreign troops are ramping up their pressure on the insurgents.