In an interview with the Associated Press, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group’s negotiating team, outlined the insurgents’ position on what should happen in the country on the edge of the abyss.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have swiftly seized territory, seized strategic border crossings and threaten a number of provincial capitals as the last US and NATO soldiers leave Afghanistan. This week, the top U.S. military officer, General A. Mark Millie said at a press conference at the Pentagon that the Taliban have “strategic impetus” and did not rule out full Taliban seizure of power. But he said it was not inevitable. “I don’t think the final game has been written yet,” he said.
The memory of the Taliban last in power about 20 years ago, when they imposed a harsh Islam that deprives girls of education and does not allow women to work, has raised fears among many about their return. Afghans those who can afford it are applying by the thousands for visas to leave Afghanistan for fear of being forced into chaos. The withdrawal of US and NATO troops is more than 95% complete and should be completed by 31 August.
Shahin said the Taliban would lay down their arms when an agreed government acceptable to all parties to the conflict is established in Kabul and the Ghani government leaves.
“I want to make it clear that we do not believe in monopoly of power because any governments that (sought) to monopolize power in Afghanistan in the past were not successful governments,” Shaheen said, apparently including the Taliban’s own fifth anniversary. The rule is in this assessment. “Therefore, we do not want to repeat the same formula.”
But he was also uncompromising about Ghani’s continued rule, calling him a warmonger and accusing him of using his speech on Tuesday, the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha, to promise an offensive against the Taliban. Shaheen rejected Ghani’s right to rule, reviving allegations of widespread fraud that surrounded Ghani’s 2019 election victory. After this vote, both Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah declared themselves presidents. After a compromise, Abdullah became number one. 2 in government and head of 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 only trying to maintain power, which is causing a rift among government supporters.
Last weekend, Abdullah led a high-level delegation to the Qatari capital, Doha, to negotiate with Taliban leaders. It ended with a pledge to hold more negotiations, as well as pay more attention to the protection of civilians and infrastructure.
Shahin called the negotiations a good start. But he said the government’s repeated demands for a ceasefire while Ghani remained in power amounted to demanding surrender for the Taliban.
“They don’t want reconciliation, but they want to surrender,” he said.
Before the ceasefire, he said, an agreement must be reached on a new government “acceptable to us and other Afghans.” Then “there will be no war.”
Shahin said that under the new government, women will be allowed to work, go to school and participate in politics, but they will have to wear a hijab or headscarf. He said women would not need to have a male relative with them to leave their home, and that Taliban commanders in the newly occupied areas are under orders to keep universities, schools and markets operating as before, including with the participation of women and girls.
However, there have been repeated reports from captured Taliban areas of harsh restrictions on women, even arson attacks on schools. A grisly video that emerges shows the Taliban killing captured commandos in northern Afghanistan.
Shaheen said that some Taliban commanders ignored leadership orders against repressive and harsh behavior, and that some of them were brought before the Taliban’s military tribunal and punished, although he provided details. He claimed that the video was a fake, stitching together individual frames.
Shahin said there are no plans for a military offensive against Kabul and that the Taliban are “refraining” from taking provincial capitals for now. But he warned that they could, given the weapons and equipment they acquired in the recently captured areas. He argued that most of the Taliban’s combat successes were achieved through negotiations, not fighting.
“Those areas that passed to us, and the armed forces joined us … were through the mediation of the people, through negotiations,” he said. “They (did not fall) as a result of the fighting … it would be very difficult for us to take 194 areas in just eight weeks.”
Milli said the Taliban control half of Afghanistan’s 419 regional centers, and while they have yet to capture any of the 34 provincial capitals, they are putting pressure on about half of them. In recent days, the United States has launched airstrikes in support of besieged Afghan government forces in the southern city of Kandahar, around which the Taliban are concentrated, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.
The rapid collapse of areas and the seemingly disappointing response from Afghan government forces have prompted US-allied warlords to revive militias with a brutal history. For many Afghans tired of a war that has lasted more than four decades, this raises fears of a repeat of the brutal civil war in the early 1990s, in which the same warlords struggled for power.
“You know, no one, no one wants a civil war, including me,” Shahin said.
Shaheen also reiterated the Taliban’s promises to appease Afghans who fear the group.
Washington has pledged to relocate thousands of US military translators. Shahin said they had nothing to fear from the Taliban and denied threats to them. But, he added, if anyone wants to seek refuge in the West because of the poverty of Afghanistan’s economy, “it’s up to them.”
He also denied that the Taliban had threatened journalists and Afghanistan’s nascent civil society, which has been the target of dozens of killings over the past year. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for some, but the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for most of the killings, while the Taliban, in turn, blame the Afghan government for the killings in order to defame them. Authorities rarely made arrests on murders or disclosed the results of their investigations.
Shahin said that journalists, including those working for Western media, have nothing to fear from the government, which includes the Taliban.
“We did not write letters (threatening) to journalists, especially those who work for foreign media. They can continue their work even in the future, ”he said.