Taliban ‘not seeking to seize whole Afghanistan’

Afghanistan (HRNW): The Taliban official who has led the group’s peace negotiations with the US has told the media the insurgents do not want to seize “the whole country by [military] power”. “It will not bring peace to Afghanistan,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai said. However, he said the group would not agree to a ceasefire until foreign forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan. UN data shows that the Taliban are responsible for more civilian casualties than any other warring party. Mr Stanikzai, who until recently was the head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar and remains a leading figure in the group, was giving his first interview to the international media while attending a meeting in Moscow with senior Afghan opposition politicians.

He said the Taliban’s experiences in power in the 1990s, when it faced armed opposition from rival Afghan groups, had led the group to conclude it was preferable to reach a solution by “coming to the table”. “Peace is more difficult than war,” Mr Stanikzai added, alluding to the difficulties in reaching a settlement. But he expressed hopes that the conflict could be brought to an end. Mr Stanikzai has overseen a series of meetings with the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, in recent months. In January, they reached what Mr Khalilzad termed as a “draft framework” of an agreement. It was based on a commitment to withdraw US forces from the country, and a guarantee by the Taliban not to allow international jihadist groups to use Afghanistan as a base in the future.

Both sides have indicated that a number of issues still need to be resolved. However US President Donald Trump has made clear his desire to bring an end to the 17-year conflict and withdraw at least the vast bulk of American forces. Mr Stanikzai told the media he believed the Trump administration wanted to “bring peace to Afghanistan.” The meeting in Moscow is separate from the US-Taliban peace talks. In addition to a Taliban delegation, it was also attended by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as other high-profile opposition figures. Topics of discussions included how the country could be governed in the future, if the Taliban were to become a mainstream political force. Mr Stanikzai addressed the meeting in a hotel in Moscow, saying the group did not want “a monopoly of power” – but that Afghanistan’s constitution had been “imported from the West” and was an “obstacle to peace”.

The Taliban governed Afghanistan in 1996-2001 with an ultra-conservative and often brutal interpretation of Islamic law. The group was notorious for its treatment of women, banning most of them to work or go to school.However, Mr Stanikzai said “women should not worry” about the prospect of increasing Taliban influence as they would seek to grant women all their “rights according to Islamic rule and Afghan culture”. “They can go to school, they can go to universities, they can work,” he added. Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan MP and one of only two women present at the Moscow meeting, told the media: “It’s a positive step that the Taliban who were using bullets against the people of Afghanistan, especially women, are now using microphone and listening to women’s voices.” She said a Taliban member had told her a woman should not be able to become president but could serve in political office. “We need to make sure everything they say here, they mean it,” Ms Koofi added.The Afghan government were not part of the talks in Moscow. President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly called on the Taliban to begin direct negotiations with his representatives, but so far the group has refused, dismissing them as puppets of the US.

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