ISLAMABAD: The Taliban say they do not want to monopolize power, but insist that there will be no peace in Afghanistan until there is a new government negotiated in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is removed from office.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group’s negotiating team, laid out the insurgents’ stance on what should happen in a country on the brink.
The Taliban have quickly seized territory in recent weeks, seized strategic border crossings and are threatening several provincial capitals as the last of the US and NATO soldiers leave Afghanistan.
This week, the top US military official, General Mark Milley, told a Pentagon press conference that the Taliban have a “strategic drive” and did not rule out a total takeover of power by the Taliban. But he said it is not inevitable. “I don’t think the final game is written yet,” he said.
Memories of the last time the Taliban were in power some 20 years ago, when they applied a harsh form of Islam that denied girls education and prohibited women from working, have stoked fears of their return among many. Thousands of Afghans who can afford it are applying for visas to leave Afghanistan, fearing a violent descent into chaos. The US and NATO withdrawal is more than 95 percent complete and is due to be completed by August 31.
Shaheen said the Taliban will lay down their arms when a negotiated government acceptable to all parties to the conflict is installed in Kabul and the Ghani government is gone.
“I want to make it clear that we do not believe in the monopoly of power because the governments that (sought) to monopolize power in Afghanistan in the past were not successful governments,” Shaheen said, apparently including the five-year-old Taliban himself. rule in that evaluation. “That is why we do not want to repeat that same formula.”
But he was also intransigent towards Ghani’s continued rule, calling him a war monger and accusing him of using his speech on Tuesday on the Islamic holy day of Eid-al-Adha to promise an offensive against the Taliban. Shaheen rejected Ghani’s right to rule, resurrecting accusations of widespread fraud that surrounded Ghani’s victory in the 2019 elections. After that vote, both Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah declared themselves president. After a compromise agreement, Abdullah is now No. 2 in government and heads the reconciliation council.
Ghani has often said that he will remain in office until new elections can determine the next government. His critics, including those outside the Taliban, accuse him of seeking only to maintain power, causing divisions among government supporters.
Last weekend, Abdullah led a high-level delegation in the Qatari capital Doha to speak with Taliban leaders. It ended with promises of more talks, as well as greater attention to protecting civilians and infrastructure.
Shaheen said the talks were a good start. But he said the government’s repeated demands for a ceasefire while Ghani remained in power amounted to demanding the Taliban surrender.
“They don’t want reconciliation, but they want to surrender,” he said.
Before any ceasefire, there must be an agreement on a new government “acceptable to us and to other Afghans,” he said. Then “there will be no war.” Shaheen said that under this new government, women will be able to work, go to school and participate in politics, but they will have to wear the hijab or headscarf. He said that women will not be required to have a male relative with them to leave home, and that Taliban commanders in recently occupied districts have orders that universities, schools and markets operate as before, even with the participation of women and men. girls
However, there have been repeated reports of captured Taliban districts imposing harsh restrictions on women, including setting schools on fire. A gruesome video that emerged to show the Taliban killing captured commandos in northern Afghanistan.
Shaheen said that some Taliban commanders had ignored the leaders’ orders against the repressive and drastic behavior and that several have been brought before a Taliban military court and punished, although he provided details. He claimed the video was fake, a splice of separate images.
Shaheen said there are no plans to make a military push in Kabul and that the Taliban have so far “refrained” from taking provincial capitals. But he cautioned that they could, given the weapons and equipment they have acquired from the newly captured districts. He argued that most of the Taliban’s battlefield successes were due to negotiations, not fights.
“Those districts that have fallen to us and the military forces that have joined us … were through the mediation of the people, through conversations,” he said. “They (did not fall) through the fighting … it would have been very difficult for us to take 194 districts in just eight weeks.”
The Taliban control half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers and, while they have yet to capture any of the 34 provincial capitals, they are putting pressure on about half of them, Milley said. In recent days, the United States has carried out airstrikes in support of besieged Afghan government troops in the southern city of Kandahar, around which the Taliban have been gathering, the Pentagon press secretary said Thursday, John Kirby.
The rapid fall of districts and the seemingly disheartened response by Afghan government forces have led US allied warlords to resurrect militias with a violent history. For many Afghans weary of more than four decades of war, that raises fears of a repeat of the brutal civil war of the early 1990s in which those same warlords fought for power.
“You know, nobody, nobody wants a civil war, including me,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen also repeated promises by the Taliban aimed at reassuring Afghans who fear the group.
Washington has promised to relocate thousands of American military interpreters. Shaheen said they had nothing to fear from the Taliban and denied threatening them. But, he added, if some want to take asylum in the West because Afghanistan’s economy is so poor, “that’s up to them.”
He also denied that the Taliban have threatened journalists and Afghanistan’s nascent civil society, which has been the target of dozens of killings in the past year.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for some, but the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for most of the killings, while the Taliban in turn accuse the Afghan government of carrying out the killings to defame them. Rarely has the government made arrests for the killings or disclosed the results of its investigations.
Shaheen said journalists, including those working for Western media, have nothing to fear from a government that includes the Taliban.
“We have not sent letters to journalists (threatening them), especially those who work for foreign media. They can continue with their work even in the future, ”he said.