KABUL: The reclusive leader of the Taliban said on Tuesday that his group was willing to start peace negotiations, even as he urged more attacks — including insider shootings by government security forces — on foreign troops.
In a wide-ranging emailed message, Mullah Mohammad Omar blamed America and the Afghan government for the derailment of talks two months ago. He also called Afghans to boycott next year’s presidential elections, describing them as being manipulated by the United States.
In a message issued ahead of the Eidul Fitr holidays marking the end of the holy month of Ramazan, the one-eyed chief of the Afghan Taliban urged the army and police personnel to turn their guns on foreign forces, government officials and the Afghan troops who are cooperating with the US-led coalition forces.
The Taliban’s longstanding policy is to continue attacks even as it pursues negotiations. The five-page message was emailed to news organisations. Mullah Omar regularly issues such messages for the two yearly Eid holidays.
Striking a conciliatory tone elsewhere in the message, he denied that the militants were seeking to monopolise power in Afghanistan and said his group favoured what he described as an “Afghan-inclusive government based on Islamic principles”. He called on Afghans, however, to stay away from the April 5 elections for a new president and councils that would run Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, saying the polls were “a waste of time”.
The reclusive leader has not been seen after he reportedly fled a village in southern Afghanistan on motorcycle three months after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. There are no known audio recordings of his voice since early 2002 or any pictures of Mullah Omar.
In the message, Mullah Omar did repeat a key US demand for opening the way for peace talks by pledging not to use Afghanistan as a base to threaten other countries, although he again did not openly denounce Al Qaeda — one of the original conditions set by the United States that was temporarily dropped to get talks going.
“Our fundamental principle according to our unchanging policy is that we do not intend to harm anyone, nor we allow anyone to harm others from our soil,” the message said, echoing the original language used by the Taliban on June 18 when they announced the opening of a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar. Some elements of the Taliban, including the Haqqani network, are believed to still have ties with Al Qaeda.
“The aim of our contacts and talks with the invaders which are conducted through the Political Office is to put an end to occupation of Afghanistan. No one should perceive that the mujahideen will relinquish their lofty religious principles and national interests. I assure you that I will not reach any illegitimate compromise or unlawful deal,” said the message, which was also written in English.
He complained the talks faltered because “the invaders and their allies are creating obstacles in the way of resolving problems by making various pretexts.”
Mullah Omar warned that whatever the result of peace talks, the Taliban would not accept the signing of a bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States that would allow the presence of foreign troops beyond the end of 2014, when all international combat forces are to leave the country.
When signed, such an agreement would allow a small force of trainers and possibly counterterrorism troops to remain. Although no numbers have been announced yet, it is believed they would be about 9,000 from the US and 6,000 from its allies.
“The Afghans consider the presence of a small number of invading troops as an encroachment against their independence as they are not willing to accept presence of thousands of foreign troops,” the message said.
Meanwhile, Mullah Omar denied responsibility for increased civilian casualties, despite a recent US report that blamed militants for more than three-quarters of them.
But he said his fighters would not stop fighting, despite conciliatory hints about political inclusiveness and his belief that Afghan youth should have a “modern education”.
“I urge all Afghans who perform duties in the ranks of the enemy to turn barrels of their guns against the infidel invaders and their allies instead of martyring their Muslim Afghans,” the message said.
“The Islamic Emirate considers it its religious and national obligation to liberate the country from the occupation. When the occupation ends, reaching an understanding with the Afghans will not be a hard task because, by adhering to and having common principles and culture, the Afghans understand each other better.”—AP