KABUL: US President Donald Trump is serious about getting out of Afghanistan, the Taliban said on Friday, outlining the “Islamic system” comprising “all Afghans” that the group says it hopes to establish under any peace deal.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid spoke to AFP via WhatsApp a day after the US said talks with the militants are “on the right path”, fuelling speculation of a breakthrough in the 17-year conflict.

The US president’s apparent eagerness to pull troops out has weighed on the negotiations, which culminated with six straight days of meetings in Qatar last week.

Spokesman says Taliban want to establish an Islamic system in Afghanistan

“An agreement was reached on a principle framework... which, if implemented, and if the Americans take honest steps and stick to it truthfully, then God willing we are hopeful that the Americans will end the occupation of Afghanistan,” Mujahid said.

“It appears that Trump is serious,” the Taliban spokesman continued.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad also spoke this week of a “draft framework” for a deal, though he warned that major hurdles — including any US withdrawal — remain.

Experts have hailed the development as a milestone in the conflict.

But it has prompted concerns from Afghans and observers who feared foreign troops could withdraw before a lasting peace is reached between the insurgents and the government in Kabul.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, imposing their brutal interpretation of Shariah law on the country until they were toppled in the US invasion of 2001.

They have since fought an insurgency demanding foreign troops leave and an Islamic state be re-established.

Mujahid said a foreign withdrawal was the first goal.

“Secondly, we want the establishment of an Islamic system,” he continued, dampening tentative hopes among Afghans that the insurgents would agree to participate in the existing democratic system built since 2001.

He said they would establish such a system through “negotiations with different political sides, even if they have so far been under the umbrella of the invaders”.

If the government in Kabul will not stand in the way, he added, “then of course there will be no need for war”.

Mujahid said the insurgents are not seeking to monopolise power.

Talks ongoing

He admitted that the Taliban regime of the 1990s experienced “a lot of economic, social and security problems” — a key one being how to separate men from women.

Under the Taliban women were largely confined to their homes, venturing outside only with a male escort and hidden beneath a burqa.

Girls education was banned and women were prohibited from the workplace save in some few areas such as medicine.

Now, the militants “don’t oppose the education of women”, Mujahid said.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2019