ISLAMABAD – The Taliban say they do not want to monopolize power, but they insist there will be no peace in Afghanistan until a new government is formed in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is ousted.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group’s negotiating team, spoke on the militants’ stand on what should come next in a country.
The Taliban have increasingly seized territory in recent weeks, taking over strategic border crossings and threatening several provincial capitals – advances that come as the last US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan.
This week, the top US military official, General Mark Milley, said at a Pentagon press conference that the Taliban had “strategic momentum”, and did not rule out a complete takeover of the Taliban. But he said it was not inevitable. “I don’t think the final game is written yet,” he said.
Memories of the Taliban last in power some 20 years ago, when they enforced a harsh brand of Islam that deprived girls of education and barred women from work, created fear of their return among many. done. Afghans who can afford it are applying for visas by the thousands to leave Afghanistan, fearing that a violent dynasty would turn into anarchy. The US-NATO withdrawal is over 95% complete and is due to end on August 31.
Shaheen said the Taliban would lay down their arms when a negotiated government acceptable to all sides of the conflict was established in Kabul and Ghani’s government would be gone.
“I want to make it clear that we do not believe in a monopoly of power because no government that monopolized (demanded) power in Afghanistan in the past was a successful government,” Shaheen said, apparently under the Taliban. Your five years rule in that assessment. “That’s why we don’t want to repeat the same formula.”
But he was also not compromising on Ghani’s continued rule, calling him a war monger and accusing him of using Tuesday’s speech on the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha to promise an attack against the Taliban. . Shaheen has rejected Ghani’s authority to govern, reviving the widespread fraud allegations that surrounded Ghani’s 2019 election victory. After that vote, both Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah declared themselves presidents. After a settlement agreement, Abdullah is now number 2 in the government and heads the reconciliation council.
Ghani has often said that he will remain in office until new elections determine the next government. His critics – including those outside the Taliban – accuse him of merely seeking to retain power, leading to a split among government supporters.
Last weekend, Abdullah led a high-level delegation to Qatar’s capital, Doha, for talks with Taliban leaders. It ended with the promise of more talks, as well as a greater focus on protecting civilians and infrastructure.
Shaheen described the conversation as a good start. But he said the government’s repeated demands for a ceasefire during Ghani’s time were tantamount to the Taliban’s demand for surrender.
“They don’t want reconciliation, but they want to surrender,” he said.
He said that before any ceasefire, there should be an agreement on the new government “acceptable to us and other Afghans”. Then “there will be no war.”
Shaheen said that under this new government, women would be allowed to work, go to school and participate in politics, but would have to wear a hijab or headscarf. He said women would not need a male relative to leave their homes, and Taliban commanders in the newly occupied districts ordered universities, schools and markets to operate as before, with the participation of women and girls. is included.
However, there have been repeated reports from Taliban-held districts imposing harsh restrictions on women, even setting schools on fire. A gruesome video that surfaced showed the Taliban killing captured commandos in northern Afghanistan.
Shaheen said some Taliban commanders ignored the leadership’s orders against repressive and harsh treatment and that many were put before the Taliban military tribunal and punished, although he provided specifics. He argued that the video was bogus, a split of different footage.
Shaheen said there were no plans to launch a military attack on Kabul and that the Taliban had so far restrained themselves from capturing provincial capitals. But he warned that they could hand over the weapons and equipment they had acquired to the newly occupied districts. He argued that most of the Taliban’s battlefield successes have come through dialogue, not fighting.
“The districts that fell on us and the armed forces that came with us were through people’s mediation through dialogue,” he said. “They (didn’t fall) through the fight … it would have been very difficult for us to take 194 districts in just eight weeks.”
Milley said the Taliban controls half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centres, and while they have not yet captured any of the 34 provincial capitals, they are exerting pressure on nearly half of them. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Thursday that in recent days, the US has carried out airstrikes in support of Afghan government troops in the southern city of Kandahar, around which the Taliban are gathering.
The rapid collapse of the districts and the dismal response from Afghan government forces have prompted American-allied warlords to resurrect militias with a violent history. For many Afghans weary of more than four decades of war, raising fears of a repeat of the brutal civil war in the early 1990s in which the same warlords fought for power.
Shaheen said, “You know, no one wants a civil war, including me.”
Shaheen also reiterated the Taliban’s promises that were intended to reassure Afghans who feared the group.
Washington has promised to relocate thousands of US military interpreters. Shaheen said he had nothing to fear from the Taliban and denied threatening them. But, he said, if some people want to seek refuge in the West because Afghanistan’s economy is so bad, “it’s up to them.”
He also denied that the Taliban 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 have accused the Afghan government of carrying out the killings to discredit them. Rarely has the government made arrests in the killings or disclosed the findings of its investigations.
Shaheen said journalists working for Western media outlets, including the Taliban, have nothing to fear from the government.
“We have not issued letters (threatening them) to journalists, especially those working for foreign media outlets. They can continue their work in future also.”