ISLAMABAD (AP) – The Taliban say they do not want to monopolize power, but stress that there will be no peace in Afghanistan until a new negotiated government is in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is removed.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group’s negotiating team, stated the insurgents’ views on what should happen next in a land on the brink.
The Taliban have swiftly conquered territory in recent weeks, seizing strategic border crossings and threatening a number of provincial capitals as the latest US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan. This week, the top US military officer, General Mark Milley, told a Pentagon press conference that the Taliban had “strategic momentum”, and he did not rule out a full Taliban takeover. But he said it is not inevitable. “I don’t think the endgame has not been written yet,” he said.
Memories of the last time the Taliban came to power some 20 years ago, when they imposed a harsh mark on Islam that girls were denied education and women denied work, have fears for their return to many thrown up. Afghans who can afford it can apply for thousands of visas to leave Afghanistan, for fear of a violent descent into chaos. The US-NATO withdrawal is more than 95% complete and should be ready by 31 August.
Shaheen said the Taliban will lay down their arms if a negotiated government acceptable to all sides in the conflict is installed in Kabul and Ghani’s government is gone.
“I want to make it clear that we do not believe in the monopoly of power, because all the governments that (sought) monopolizing power in Afghanistan in the past were not successful governments,” Shaheen said, apparently including his own five-year Taliban. . rule in that assessment. “That we do not want to repeat the same formula.”
But he was also uncompromising about Ghani’s ongoing rule, calling him a war mongrel and accusing him of using his Tuesday speech on Eid al – Adha’s Islamic holy day to launch an offensive against the Taliban. Shaheen denied Ghani’s right to rule, raising accusations of widespread fraud surrounding Ghani’s 2019 election victory. After that vote, both Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah declare themselves president. Following a compromise election, Abdullah is now No. 2 in government and leads the Reconciliation Council.
Ghani has often said he will remain in office until new elections can determine the next government. His critics – including outside the Taliban – accuse him of seeking to retain power only, causing divisions among government supporters.
Last weekend, Abdullah sent a high-level delegation to the Qatari capital Doha for talks with Taliban leaders. It ended with promises of more talks, as well as greater attention to the protection of citizens and infrastructure.
Shaheen called the talks a good start. But he said the government’s repeated demands for a ceasefire while Ghani remained in power were tantamount to demanding a Taliban surrender.
“They do not 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 may work, go to school, and participate in politics, but wear the hijab, as a headscarf. He said women should not be required to have a male family with them to leave their homes, and that Taliban commanders in newly occupied districts have ordered universities, schools and markets to operate as before, including with the participation of women and girls. .
However, there have been repeated reports of conquered Taliban districts imposing severe restrictions on women, even setting fires in schools. One gruesome video that emerged appeared to show Taliban killing prisoner commands in northern Afghanistan.
Shaheen said some Taliban commanders had ignored the command of the leadership against repressive and drastic behavior and that several had been arraigned and punished before a Taliban military tribunal, although he provided specific information. He stated that the video was fake, a split of separate footage.
Shaheen said there were no plans to put military pressure on Kabul and that the Taliban had so far “restricted” them from provincial capitals. But he warned that they could, seeing the weapons and equipment they had taken over in newly conquered districts. He claimed that the majority of the successes of the Taliban’s battlefield came through negotiations, not fighting.
“Those districts that have fallen to us and the military forces that are with us … were through the mediation of the people, through talks,” he said. “They (did not fall) by fighting … it would have been very difficult for us to take 194 districts in just eight weeks.”
The Taliban control about half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers, and although they have yet to capture any of the 34 provincial capitals, they are pushing for 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 gathered, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.
The rapid fall of districts and the seemingly discouraged response by Afghan government forces have prompted US-allied warlords to resurrect militaries with a violent history. For many Afghans who are tired of more than four decades of war, this creates fear of a repeat of the brutal civil war in the early 1990s in which the same warlords fought for power.
“You know, no one wants a civil war, including me,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen also reiterated Taliban promises targeting Afghans who feared the group.
Washington has promised to relocate thousands of U.S. military interpreters. Shaheen said they had nothing to fear from the Taliban and refused to threaten them. But, he added, if some want to take asylum in the West because Afghanistan’s economy is so bad, “that’s up to them.”
He also denied that the Taliban had threatened journalists and the emerging civil society, which has been targeted by dozens of killings in the past year. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, but the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for most of the killings, while the Taliban has blamed the Afghan government for carrying out the killings. to blaspheme them. Rarely has the government made arrests after the murders or revealed the findings of its investigation.
Shaheen said journalists, including those working for Western media, have nothing to fear from a government that includes the Taliban.
“We have not issued any letters to journalists (who threaten them), especially to those who work for foreign media. They may continue their work even in the future,” he said.