KARACHI: Afghan Taliban have said that if they do end up having a say in the Afghan polity one day, they will approach Pakistan “as a brother and a neighbour”, seeking “comprehensive ties based on mutual respect, just as we seek such relations with all other neighbours”.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid was quoted as having acknowledged in an exclusive interview to Dawn.com on Sunday that Pakistan had remained “the most important hub” for Afghan refugees during the Soviet invasion, and that the Afghans even considered her a “second home”.

Mujahid outlined the motivation for talks with the US, the conditions in which they are prepared to negotiate and their vision for a new political order, while denying the role of Pakistan or any other country in bringing them to the negotiating table.

Responding to a question regarding the timing of the peace talks, he explained that even before the US invasion, the Taliban had asked Washington to engage in dialogue instead of war. He added that they had eventually even opened a political office in Doha in 2013 for this purpose, but Washington had been unwilling to negotiate at that time.

The spokesperson said now that the US was willing to talk they decided to engage with them.

About Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, Muja­hid said: “There is no role being played by any outside country. This has always been our own initiative and policy.”

Will regard Pakistan as brother when in power, says spokesman; denies Islamabad played any role in bringing them to talks with US

Taliban’s role in upcoming system Mujahid believed that the Taliban would have an “important role” in the new political order in Afghanistan, but declined to elaborate “before the right time”.

“When we say we want an inclusive political system, we mean that the [future] government will represent all ethnicities of Afghanistan,” he said, adding: “All will serve in it, and all will look [after the country’s affairs] themselves without any arguments”.

In reply to a question regarding the possible formation of an interim government in Afghanistan, the Taliban spokesperson said they had neither held any discussions regarding an interim government nor had they proposed such an idea.

The spokesperson admitted that the Taliban did not have a codified manifesto, but said their “clear objectives” were the end of the occupation of Afghanistan, establishment of an Islamic government, establishment of peace and security, reconstruction of Afghanistan and the provision of administrative services.

“Without a doubt,” the constitution of the incumbent Kabul administration “was drafted under the occupation of and interests of America”, Mujahid said.

“No country would ever accept a constitution drafted and imposed upon them while they were being bombed,” he added.

“Our society is nearly 100 per cent Muslim: our constitution will be drafted for us and implemented in light of the teachings of [the] Shariah.”

According to the spokesman, when the Taliban create their ‘Islamic government’, they will make the required changes and “correct” those stipulations in the Afghan constitution, “which are in violation of the Shariah”.

He said once complete independence was attained by Afghanistan, scholars from within the society would be gathered and the “current errors” in the constitution would be highlighted and rectified. “I cannot point out all the specifics because such work needs the analysis and research of qualified scholars. Following [their analysis], all errors will be made known.”

Status of women

About the “Islamic society” envisioned by the Taliban, Mujahid said they wanted to prepare a framework of rights “that do not violate Islamic principles [...] [and are accorded] to all male and female members of society”.

“Our nation has sacrificed two million people for this great objective; however, the problems of the past being alluded to are not all based on reality but are mostly based on propaganda,” the spokesperson said in reference to the concerns of Afghan women and rights groups who fear a return of the same restrictions that women had faced some 20 years ago when the Taliban were in power.

“Whatever problems that did exist at the time were either because we were in the very early stages [of forming our political ideology], or because it was the need of that time given the preceding war and corruption and the need for serious reform,” the Taliban spokesman explained.

He acknowledged that the present situation was different. “The intellectual capacity of people has expanded and a lot of experiences have been gained; hence there shall be no problems in affording women and men all their rights in the future,” he said.

Attacks during talks

The Taliban spokesperson said that while they were holding talks with the US in Doha, they had not yet reached any conclusion that would entail an immediate end to hostilities against the US and its domestic supporters.

Even in Moscow, he added, nothing concrete was achieved that would compel them to end the war and military pressure. “We are forced to wage war. Our enemies are attacking us; therefore, we are also combating them,” he said.

Explaining the Taliban position on refusing to talk to Kabul administration, Mujahid said any talks with the Ghani regime would have symbolic ramifications. He said that if the Taliban were to hold talks with the Kabul government, it would mean that they had “accepted this stooge regime as a legitimate government [even though it was] imposed upon us by aircraft and [the] bombing of invaders”.

He explained this would entail an acknowledgement that the Taliban were, in fact, “rebels” rather than a legitimate second power.

“But in the condition where no one accepts the imposed government, all agreements reached between the Afghan people and our Mujahideen will be binding [as a pact between equals],” he added.

He said talks between two opposing powers were meant to achieve a mutual resolution to outstanding issues and the re-establishment of peace and stability. “This process does not mean [a] partnership with anyone,” he said.

Mujahid said the Taliban believed that as long as Afghanistan was occupied, ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks would not amount to much.

“The shadow of occupation lingers over everything: decision-making power is with the invaders, while our leaders are attacked and bombed,” he said. He insisted that under such conditions, they did not see an opportunity for intra-Afghan dialogue and ceasefire.

“We first and foremost have to put an end to the occupation and then focus on resolving our internal issues.”

In reply to a question about the Taliban’s previous support to and protection of the Al Qaeda leadership, Mujahid said: “The Islamic Emirate sheltered those foreign Mujahideen [Al Qaeda operatives] that had arrived in Afghanistan during the period of jihad against the Soviet Union and remained behind as [an] inheritance. Their protection was a religious and cultural necessity.” However, he added, currently “no one needed [the Taliban’s] shelter”, and stated that “the Islamic Emirate shall never allow anyone to harm others from our soil”.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2019