With American troops in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan after nearly two decades, the Taliban has made quick gains, overrunning several districts. An eruption of violence has lent an urgency to efforts to find a negotiated end to the country’s continued conflict. Talks between the government and insurgent forces have made little headway so far. CNN-News18 Security Affairs Editor Manoj Gupta spoke to Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, member of the Taliban negotiating team and spokesman of the political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), who outlined the outlook for the trouble-torn nation, how his side expects to usher in peace, and the contours of relations with India and Pakistan.
We have seen a positive gesture by the Taliban recently where they have given assurances to foreign missions, foundations and other NGOs working in Kabul that they are safe. How do you see this? Is this a genuine bid to engage the international community or an act in fear that they withdraw and that would lead to the questioning of the Taliban motives? Or is it just a way to ensure that the world doesn’t turn its back on Afghanistan?
As per our policy, we don’t target embassies, consulates and NGOs. We only attack military forces of the Kabul administration that are engaged in fighting with us. We want to have relations with the international community and the world. We are an Islamic liberation force that has fought against the occupation for the last 20 years to gain independence. It is our legitimate right. No one should worry that we will pose a threat to them. After gaining independence, we will focus on the reconstruction of our country and maintain good relations with the world on the basis of mutual respect and interests.
We have seen Afghan forces surrendering before the Taliban onslaught in Afghanistan. The Taliban is taking their weapons and even fighting vehicles are confiscated. Don’t you think you are making Afghanistan a weak nation by this kind of display? What is the possibility that the Afghan army and the Taliban become a consolidated force and are absorbed as part of national reconciliation? What will be the future shape of the Afghan army? Will it just be the Taliban or will the ANA troops be part of the new army? Don’t you think if thousands of soldiers are demobilised, they could become a source of instability?
Most of the districts falling to us recently was the result of negotiations and intermediation of religious scholars and tribal elders. Hundreds of armed forces of the Kabul administration joined us voluntarily. All weapons, whether heavy weapons or light ones, that were handed over to us, are duly registered and kept securely. There is no risk of their being lost or damaged. Many of the current Afghan forces can be part of the future Afghan army after vetting when a new Islamic government is in place. They are Afghans and have the right to serve their country, but right now, they should stop killing their own people for the sake of prolongation of a moribund foreign-installed regime.
In an earlier interview to us, you had said that this time the Taliban will be different. You also said that the world is changing and you too have to change. But there is evidence, including videos, of women being punished openly even for small indiscretions by the Taliban. Will that change because the world is watching? You have said that the Taliban will allow women and minorities rights under Shariah and Afghan culture and traditions. Can you specify what exactly that means? Will women be allowed to work? Will they be allowed access to education? Will minorities be required to pay jaziya? Will minorities be allowed to hold government jobs and join the army?
We have no problem with women’s education and work, but it should be as per Islamic rules, i.e., they should wear a decent uniform and clothes in school and workplace. Minorities have full right to profess their faith and hold government posts. No one is required to pay jaziya in Afghanistan.
International troop withdrawal has begun and the Taliban is moving closer to Kabul with speed. How will you deal with the elected Afghan government in Kabul? Will there be reprisal killings, summary executions, or will you reconcile even with those who fought you but lost? What will be the attitude towards the people in government? Will they be treated as enemies and punished? Or will the Taliban act magnanimously and not take any action against the defeated adversaries?
Our Supreme Leader has announced amnesty for all our adversaries if they abandon their hostility against us or leave the files and ranks of the enemy forces. You may have watched videos showing our mujahideen putting garlands of flowers around the necks of those who are coming over to us. We don’t harbour any intention of revenge when they stop fighting. We, the Afghans, should accept each other and start peaceful coexistence in a new Islamic government. The Afghans have passed through a lot of sufferings and tragedies.
The government is clear that it has come through a democratic process. What will be the power-sharing mechanism? What will be the future governance structure? Will it be something like Iran? Or will the Taliban rule under its Emir? How will the successor of the Emir be selected? Will it be through a shura or an election? Does the Taliban believe in democracy?
We have left this question to the two negotiating teams to decide and reach a solution. We can’t say anything before the conclusion of the negotiations because it is an issue to be discussed on the table. Any decision taken there by the two negotiating teams will be acceptable to us.
Pakistan’s ties with the Taliban are well-known and documented and need no elaboration. Earlier, Musharraf had said the Taliban are our heroes. Rehman Malik, former interior minister, too said the Taliban have forgotten how Pakistan brought them up. Recently Pakistan interior minister Sheikh Rashid said Pakistan is hosting three million Afghan/Taliban refugees. This is a major statement. That India-Pakistan ties are cold is a known fact. Do you think the bilateral relationship between India and the Taliban in the days to come will be a tightrope walk as Islamabad is almost saying that it controls and manages the Taliban?
Pakistan is a neighbour Muslim country. We have shared values and history and want good relations with them on the basis of mutual respect and interests. They have been hosting the Afghan refugees for decades, which we appreciate. However, we take our decisions independently. This is important to us.
Many people in India see the Taliban as influenced by Pakistan, who will do whatever Pakistan asks to do. How much will your policy on India be your own and how much of it will be what Pakistan asks?
As far as the ground realities in Afghanistan are concerned, the Indians are living almost in a vacuum. Furthermore, they look at us from their angle of discrimination, bias and hostility. This is their origin of perception about us but it has not served them in the long run. They are siding with a foreign-installed government in Kabul which is killing its own people to stay in power. India should remain at least impartial in the Afghan issue, rather than supporting an occupation-born government.