PESHAWAR, Jan 3: Reclusive Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar has said he will never hold negotiations with the US-backed Karzai government in Afghanistan and warned that “the war” will be escalated to such an extent that foreign troops are compelled to leave the strife-torn country and institutions established by them are dismantled.

"Foreign troops should at once leave Afghanistan and then the institutions they created should be dismantled. Unless this happens, war will heat up further. It will not recede," the Taliban supreme leader said in response to written questions sent to him through his media spokesperson.

In what his spokesperson said was his first interview with a Pakistani newspaper since the puritanical militia were driven from power in 2001, Mulla Omar also responded to criticism of the hard-line Taliban rule, his stated aversion to negotiations with the Karzai government, provision of shelter to -- and subsequent refusal to hand over – Osama bin Laden to the United States, a clampdown on girls education, his whereabouts and alleged support from Pakistan.

Careful not to criticise Pakistan's policy vis-a-vis the Taliban, Mulla Omar also denied that the Taliban resurgence was a Pashtun uprising.

He made a distinction between the ultimate goals of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. According to him, jihad is the goal of the former. And, he said, the Taliban were determined to drive American troops out of Afghanistan. He said the Taliban never felt the need for a permanent relationship with Al Qaeda.

Mulla Omar made it clear that the Taliban were bitterly opposed to jirgas being planned by Kabul and Islamabad in an attempt to end violence in Afghanistan. He said only government officials – and traitors – would participate in such jirgas.

Taliban spokesman Dr Mohammad Hanif, who helped conduct the interview through email, said Mulla Omar read the questions and responded to them personally. He said that the

questionnaire was delivered to him through a special emissary.

Here are the excerpts of Mulla Omar’s answers, which were in his native Pashto and their Urdu translation was delivered to Dawn by Dr Hanif through email.

Q: Looking back, what mistakes do you think the Taliban made when they ruled Afghanistan -- mistakes that you would not want to repeat?

A: You know that our [Taliban] movement came to power at a time when Afghanistan was in a war-like situation. Though the Taliban had established its writ in areas that they had conquered but we were still fighting our enemy [the Northern Alliance] in other parts of the country. We could have formed a real government had we achieved full and total control over the entire country and we did manage to run the government in an organised manner with the blessings of shariah and divine laws. But if there were problems, those were largely because of the conspiracies of the infidels and foreign enemies. For instance, the imposition of sanctions on the Taliban, strengthening of anti-Taliban forces and preparing them to fight the mujahideen.

Without doubt, had there been no such difficulty, we would have overcome those problems. But still I can say this with confidence that the way we managed to form a peaceful government, it could not have been done by anyone else.

Q: Do you think that your stand on giving refuge to Osama bin Laden before the US invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake. Do you regret it now?

A: Our stand to grant refuge to Osama bin Laden was based on principles. If there were people who were opposed to us giving refuge to him, they should have used logic and reason. They should not have used threats.

Q: Your refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden distanced Afghanistan from two of its allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? Do you think it was the right decision?

A: I had never agreed to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States. If someone says that I did, then they must have been dreaming. If we had wanted to hand over Osama, we would not have given such a big sacrifice.

Q: The Taliban earned international criticism for destroying the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas, closing down schools for girls and a strict interpretation of shariah. When you look back, do you think those were right decisions?

A: Shariah is sharia. A number of Muslims have been influenced by other civilisations and that's why they seem to find Islamic injunctions too difficult [to follow]. Girls schools were either too few or were non-existent before we took over. We were preparing a strategy for girls education in accordance with shariah.

As for the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, for the rest of the world it was a matter of [preserving] archeology. It had nothing to do with political or diplomatic matters.

Q: When the ulema shura asked Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan, why did he not leave. His refusal eventually led to the fall of the Taliban government after 9/11?

A: This is based on a big misunderstanding the media has created. There is no truth in it. If someone looks into it, they would find that the ulema had asked him to leave of his own accord. They had not told him to leave. On the contrary, the ulema had declared jihad against the United States in total opposition to his surrender to the Americans.

Q: Some analysts say that the Taliban were too weak to oust Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda from Afghanistan who were very strong? Is this true?

A: I have already answered this question.

Q: What are your views on suicide bombings? Do you think Islam allows them?

A: The mujahideen do not take any action without fatwa [Islamic edicts]. They seek fatwas before they take any action.

Q: What is the present relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda?

A: We have never felt the need for a permanent relationship in the present circumstances. But they [the Al-Qaeda] have set jihad as their goal while we have set the expulsion of American troops from Afghanistan as our target. This is the common goal of all the Muslims.

Q: Have you met Osama bin Laden since the Taliban were driven out of power in 2001?

A: I have neither seen him nor have made any effort to do so, but I do pray for his health and safety.

Q: The Afghanistan government believes that you and other Taliban leaders are hiding in Pakistan and are getting support from Islamabad. What do you think of Pakistan's present government and is it supporting the Taliban?

A: We have not received any assistance so far. Nor can anybody prove it. The propaganda by the western media is always without any proof and is meaningless, that's why they [the US] are using the media as a loudspeaker for their war command. The leadership, resistance and shura are all based here in Afghanistan.

Q: Pakistan and Afghanistan are jointly coordinating efforts to hold jirgas to end violence in Afghanistan? How do you view these efforts? Will the Taliban support jirgas to end the conflict and will they participate in such jirgas if asked to do so?

A: A jirga is supposed to consist of neutral people. I cannot recognise such jirgas [as being planned by Islamabad and Kabul] which I believe are a conspiracy hatched by the American intelligence to use the courageous people of Afghanistan for their own vested interests. But I can say with absolute certainty that no one other than government officials will participate in such programmes. Only those people would participate in them who are sold out to foreign forces. Our participation is absolutely out of the question.

Q: What in your opinion can be done to end violence in Afghanistan? Do you have any suggestions?

A: First of all, foreign troops should leave Afghanistan and then the institutions they created should be dismantled. Unless that happens, war will heat up further. It will not recede.

Q: What is the Taliban's motivation for the present insurgency? Is this Pashtun nationalism seeking to drive out foreign forces? Or is it the Taliban wanting to drive out foreign forces, remove the present government and establish "Islamic Emirate"?

A: The people [of Afghanistan] have risen to fight the Americans. Nobody can tolerate this kind of subjugation and sacrilege of their culture and religion. It would be humiliating for anybody to think that the nation does not want to evict American forces. No nation can accept the dictates of a handful of dollar-greedy and treacherous people. In fact the Taliban are not confined to a particular tribe or people; the Muslims of the entire region take pride in them.

Q: Pakistan says the Taliban movement is dead and what is now happening is actually a Pashtun uprising. Do you agree with this?

A: In short, I would like to say that without doubt the people of the region are behind us, not on a tribal or ethnic basis but in a national and Islamic spirit.

Q: Can there be a peaceful settlement of the present situation in Afghanistan? Do you agree to any mediation by a third party and whom would you want to play this role?

A: There is no permanent government in Afghanistan. Therefore, first, I don't recognise any such set-up that calls itself government. Instead of negotiating with those who have come into power on the backing of foreign powers, it would be appropriate to give them the message to leave Afghanistan along with their [foreign] masters.

Q: How do you view Pakistan's role before and after 9/11?

A: I am confronted with problems in my own country. [Therefore] it would be difficult for me for to comment on issues outside the country.