Acting Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani has said the Taliban regime in Afghanistan does not look at the United States "as enemies" and wants to have good ties with it but that they have reservations over Washington's intentions based on its conduct.
The deputy chief of the Afghan Taliban — who is still wanted by the US that has offered a reward of $10 million for information leading to his arrest — made these remarks during his first on-camera interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Kabul, more than two months after making his first public appearance in the Afghan capital to address a passing-out parade for police.
During the interview, Amanpour asked Haqqani that "do you consider America still to be your enemy?"
Haqqani — whose replies were translated and played as a voiceover — began his answer with saying that he wanted to make a "small clarification".
"The period of the last 20 years was a situation of defensive fighting and war," he said, recalling that when an agreement was reached between the Afghan Taliban and the Trump administration in Doha in February 2020, "we decided that we would not be talking about this". He did not elaborate further as to what was not to be talked about.
The Taliban deputy chief then added that in the future, "we would like to have good relations with the United States and the international community, based on rules and principles that exist in the rest of the world".
"And based on their arrangement, we have made [a] commitment with them," he continued, adding that currently, "we do not look at them as enemies".
But, he said, "based on their conduct, the Afghans have reservations about their intentions".
"From our side, the freedom of the country and struggling for the country's defence is a legitimate right, in accordance with international rules," he said, reiterating that as of now, the Taliban did not consider the US an enemy.
"And we have time and again spoken about diplomacy. We are committed to the Doha agreement. Like the rest of the world, we want relations with them based on principles and diplomatic norms that they establish with us, and that they don't go back on that," Haqqani said.
Leading on from there, Amanpour pointed out to Haqqani that he not just had a multi-million dollar bounty on his head but was also under sanctions by the US. She then went on to quote a "top Western official" speaking about Haqqani.
"This is what a top Western official told me just before I got here. He said: 'We are in a new world. The guy (Haqqani) has a huge amount of American blood on his hands. He has got, in the Taliban, the tightest ties to extremist movements. He was one of the first to put women back to work in his ministry. We have seen his ministry take promising steps to contain terrorism. To call it a paradox is an understatement. This is not just my opinion. It is the opinion of every single envoy working on these issues.'"
She then underscored that while the US, on the one hand, believed Haqqani to be a terrorist, on the other hand, it thought it could work with him.
"What do you say to that?"
In response, Haqqani maintained that "this is a judgement that they should make".
He added that in order to create a secure Afghanistan, the Taliban had sent a positive message to the world, as well as the Afghan nation.
"While the previous condition had concealed our real picture. And currently, praise God — and that the conditions of freedom — our conduct is being revealed gradually to the international community and also, this is being revealed to certain circles within the country who are thinking negatively about us," Haqqani said.
'Our land will not be used as a threat to anyone'
During the course of interview Amanpour also referred to a recent increase in attacks in Afghanistan and reminded Haqqani that the Taliban had made a pledge to the US that Afghanistan would not be used as a basis for terrorism or its allies.
"Are you still committed to that?" she asked.
To that, Haqqani again went back to the 2020 Doha accord, saying that during 14 months after the agreement there had been "a large number of transgressions" against the Taliban from the "opposing side".
Yet, he said, "our leadership was making recommendations to us repeatedly that we should stick to our commitment, as well as the fact that until the liberation of Kabul, we were making effort[s] to uphold our commitment and come to power through peaceful means".
In this connection, he added that here, "we have internal threats" and, without naming anyone, he said "some are deliberately elevating the threats to portray them as a cause of concern for the nation and for the international community".
"There can be threats to the rest of the world that are orchestrated by a government, but we would like ... to reassure the rest of the world that our land will not be used as a threat to anyone," Haqqani asserted.
The CNN journalist also questioned the Taliban leader on the issue of human rights, particularly those of women, and restriction on access to education for girls in Afghanistan.
She quoted a paragraph from a 2020 opinion piece that Haqqani had written for the New York Times.
The paragraph reads: "I am confident that, liberated from foreign domination and interference, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected, and where merit is the basis for equal opportunity."
Citing this, Amanpour asked the Taliban leader whether he still believed in what he had written two years ago.
To that, Haqqani pointed our that such commitments were made at a time when the situation was that of a war.
"The opposing parties had provided a very bad picture and definition of our administration. We wanted to take over the government by peaceful means, and the former government, with the assistance of some other circles, sabotaged our particular plan for — the transfer of power," he said.
Coming to the present, the Taliban deputy chief said there were many rumours and hearsay. He followed up by vaguely saying: "For this reason, this ... decision is in their way. So that we can implement the commitments that have been made by us in an environment of trust. So that we can implement those commitments."
When Amanpour specifically asked him whether he believed girls should be allowed to attend school, he clarified that "there is no one who opposes education for women".
Girls, those studying in grades up to six, had been allowed to go to school, Haqqani pointed out, adding that work was under way to devise a mechanism for the girls to be able to attend secondary school.
"This (education for girls) is not opposed at the level of leadership or the cabinet, but the issue has been postponed until further notice. In the declaration provided by the Ministry of Education, there were some shortcomings within the preparation[s] that were ongoing," Haqqani added.
"Through this interview and news channel, I am assuring [everyone] that there is no one opposed to education. Only that work has started on the mechanism."
At that, the CNN journalist asked Haqqani whether any decisions on the matter had been taken the past few days.
"What I am saying to you is that very soon you will hear very good news about this issue, God willing," replied Haqqani. "We will specify the time. On the arrangement that has been provided by the leadership, work is ongoing on that and you will hear very good news soon."
Amanpour then asked him whether he favoured his daughters, if he had any, attending school.
To that, the Taliban began his answer with saying: "We all believe that education has been created as a blessing from God, which has been essential to both men and women."
"As I mentioned earlier, no one is opposed to education," he reiterated, adding that the issue at hand was "education [needed to be] based on the Afghan way of thinking and understanding".
"There is an issue of making [an] arrangement of Islamic rules and principle. On a broader level, the situation that exists in Afghanistan concerns the issue of hijab [...] We must establish conditions so that we can ensure their (girls') honour and security," he explained.
The international community has made the education of girls a key demand for any future recognition of the Taliban administration, which took over the country in August as foreign forces withdrew.
Despite that, the Taliban has restricted girls and women from working and limited their travel unless accompanied by a close male relative. Most girls were also barred from going to school beyond seventh grade.