Taliban’s deputy chief says they are committed to peace

Updated February 21, 2020

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An opinion piece by Sirajuddin Haqqani in NYT says Afghan insurgents are “fully committed” to a deal with Washington. — AFP/File
An opinion piece by Sirajuddin Haqqani in NYT says Afghan insurgents are “fully committed” to a deal with Washington. — AFP/File

KABUL: The deputy leader of the Taliban and one of the world’s most wanted militants has written an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he says the Afghan insurgents are “fully committed” to a deal with Washington.

The article, headlined “What the Taliban want”, represents the highest-level statement from the group on months of negotiations with the United States, and comes when they are believed to be days away from signing an agreement that would see America begin to withdraw troops from its longest war.

It is also believed to be the first time that Sirajuddin Haqqani — who doubles as head of the Haqqani network, a US-designated terror group that is one of the most dangerous factions fighting Afghan and US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan — has given such a lengthy statement in English.

Previously, he has communicated mainly through rare audio messages, usually in Pashto. The most recent one on a Taliban website was dated June 2017.

In the Times article, Haqqani repeated many Taliban talking points from the negotiations, including how women would have rights granted by Islam — the problem being, as many observers have pointed out, the group’s repressive interpretation of the faith.

The leader of a group known for the frequent use of suicide bombers targeting civilians also said he is “convinced the killing and the maiming must stop”.

The Taliban have been conducting direct talks with the US since 2018 on a deal which would see Washington begin pulling troops out in return for security guarantees from the militants and a promise to begin peace talks with the government in Kabul.

The agreement could come as soon as February 29, though no date has yet been made public. “We are about to sign an agreement with the United States and we are fully committed to carrying out its every single provision, in letter and spirit,” Haqqani wrote.

But he also admitted that the group was “aware of the concerns and questions” over any potential Taliban return to power.

Many Afghans have voiced anger at being sidelined from the talks and seem reluctant to return to life under the militants’ rule — although many others simply want security and for the violence to end.

Haqqani wrote that the Taliban were ready to agree on “a new, inclusive political system in which the voice of every Afghan is reflected and where no Afghan feels excluded”.

The militant leader also stated that concerns about Afghanistan being used by foreign militant groups to “threaten regional and world security” were “inflated”.

One of the promises believed to be included in the deal is for the Taliban to ban any foreign militant groups on Afghan soil.

The US invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda, who were guests of the Taliban at the time. Sirajuddin’s father Jalaluddin spoke Arabic and was alleged to have had nurtured close ties to Al Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden.

The network has also been accused of assassinating top Afghan officials and holding kidnapped Western citizens for ransom — including US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, released in 2014.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020