Taliban deputy leader says 'committed' to peace in op-ed

Kabul, AfghanistanUpdated: Feb 21, 2020, 12:12 AM IST

File photo. Photograph:(Reuters)

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

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 as 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 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 article, Haqqani repeats 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 masterminding some of the most deadly attacks during the war and the frequent use of suicide bombers also says 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 writes. 

But he also admitted that the group is "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 resistance to returning to life under the militants' repressive regime -- though many others simply want security and for the violence to end.

"My response to such concerns is that it will depend on a consensus among Afghans," Haqqani writes, adding that the Taliban was ready to agree on "a new, inclusive political system in which the voice of every Afghan is reflected and where no Afghan feels excluded".

He also states that concerns about Afghanistan being used by foreign militant groups to "threaten regional and world security" are "inflated".

The US invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon by Al Qaeda, who were guests of the Taliban at the time. 

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 Haqqanis are long suspected of having links with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), while Siraj's father Jalaluddin was alleged to have had nurtured close ties to al Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden.