The Afghan Taliban have announced a 24-hour telephone “hotline” for any government employees wishing to defect to the group, as the militants try to bolster public support.
“The Islamic Emirate will provide safety to anybody who defects from the Kabul puppet regime,” the Taliban said in a statement on their website on Sunday, using their formal name.
“They can get in touch with us 24/7 through these phone numbers and email addresses,” it added, listing two for each.
The move demonstrates the Taliban’s efforts to boost public support for their resilient but unpopular insurgency following a string of defections to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in recent months.
It marks a rare attempt by the Taliban to reach out to government officials, frequently targeted in growing insurgent attacks that have sent casualties soaring.
A militant representative who identified himself as Mullah Jalid when contacted by AFP news agency said they had received more than 20 calls from government employees since the statement was posted.
“They all said labayk (Arabic for 'we are at your service’) to our invitation,” Jalid said, a claim that was impossible to verify independently.
“This invitation is for all the employees of the government, military and civilian. They are welcome to come to us and we will protect them from the invaders and the stooge government.”
The statement, posted by the insurgent group’s “invitation and guidance commission”, also mentioned a radio communication code to help establish contact with the insurgents.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, almost all electronic products were outlawed as un-Islamic. Photographs of living things were illegal and ownership of a video player could lead to a public lashing.
But the Taliban have avidly embraced electronic communication and social media in recent years as a recruitment tool and to promote their propaganda.
Their efforts pale in comparison to Isil, which has actively exploited social media to lure thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq.
The Taliban are seeking to halt defections to Isil after some insurgents adopted the Isil flag to rebrand themselves as a more lethal force as Nato troops depart.
Last Tuesday the Taliban warned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isil, against waging a parallel insurgency in Afghanistan, saying there was room for only “one flag, one leadership” in their fight to re-establish strict Islamist rule.