Interview with The Associated Press: Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen (also a member the group's negotiating staff) outlined the insurgents stance on what to do next in a country at the brink of collapse.
As NATO and the U.S. soldiers leave Afghanistan, the Taliban have quickly seized territory and seized strategic border crossings. General Mark Milley, the U.S. top military officer, stated this week that the Taliban possess "strategic momentum" and that he does not rule out a Taliban takeover. He said that it was not likely. He said, "I don’t believe the end game has yet been written."
Many are still haunted by the Taliban's reign of terror 20 years ago. They enforced a strict brand of Islam that denied girls education and prohibited women from working. Afghans with the means to pay for it are applying in large numbers for visas to leave Afghanistan. They fear a descent into chaos and a violent fall into poverty. The U.S. NATO withdrawal is over 95% complete, and will be completed by August 31.
Shaheen stated that the Taliban will surrender their weapons once a negotiated government in Kabul is established.
Shaheen stated, apparently including the Taliban’s five-year rule, that "we don't believe in the monopoly power." "So, we don't want to repeat the same formula."
He was uncompromising about Ghani's continued rule, calling him a warmonger and accusing his Tuesday speech on Eid-al-Adha, an Islamic holy day, to promise an offensive against Taliban. Shaheen rejected Ghani’s right to govern and resurrected allegations of widespread fraud surrounding Ghani’s win in 2019. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah were elected president after the vote. Abdullah has been elected No. Abdullah is now No. 2 in the government, and heads the reconciliation committee.
Ghani has stated many times that he will continue to be in office until new elections are held. Ghani's critics, including those outside the Taliban, accuse him of wanting to retain power and causing divisions among supporters.
Abdullah led a high-ranking delegation to Doha, Qatar last weekend for talks with Taliban leaders. The meeting ended with the promise of more talks and greater attention to infrastructure protection and civilian safety.
Shaheen called the talks a positive start. He said that repeated requests by the government for a ceasefire, while Ghani was still in power, were equivalent to asking for Taliban surrender.
He said, "They don’t want reconciliation. They want surrendering."
He said that before any ceasefire can be reached, there must be an agreement to create a new government that is "acceptable to us" and the other Afghans. There will be no war if there is an agreement on a new government.
Shaheen stated that women will be allowed work, school and politics under the new government. However, they will still need to wear the hijab or headscarf. He stated that women will not be required to take a male relative to leave home and that Taliban commanders have ordered that schools, markets, and universities operate the same way as before.
There have been numerous reports that Taliban captured districts impose severe restrictions on women and even set fire to schools. One disturbing video showed Taliban killing commandos in northern Afghanistan.
Shaheen claimed that some Taliban commanders had ignored orders against repressive or drastic behavior. He also stated that many have been brought before a Taliban military tribunal, and they were punished. However, he didn't give specifics. The video, which he claimed was fake, was a splicing together of different footage.
Shaheen stated that there is no military push against Kabul, and that the Taliban have "restrained" from taking over provincial capitals. He warned them they could due to the weapons and equipment they had acquired in newly captured areas. He claimed that negotiations were the key to most of the Taliban's victories on the battlefield.
He said that "those districts which fell to us and those military forces who joined us... were achieved through mediation of people and through talks." "They did not fall through fighting... It would have been difficult for us to capture 194 districts in eight weeks."
Milley stated that the Taliban control approximately half of Afghanistan's 419 districts centers. They have not yet captured any of the 34 provincial capitals but are pressing for them to do so, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby stated Thursday that the U.S. had carried out airstrikes to support the beleaguered Afghan government troops in Kandahar's southern city. This is where the Taliban have been building their base.
U.S.-allied warlords have revived militias with a violent past, following the rapid fall of Afghan districts and their seemingly disillusioned response. Many Afghans are tired of four decades of war. This raises fears about a repeat of the civil war that erupted in the early 1990s, when the same warlords fought for power.
Shaheen said, "You know, nobody wants a civil war. Even me."
Shaheen also reiterated Taliban promises to Afghans in an effort to reassure them.
Washington has pledged to relocate thousands U.S. military interpreters. Shaheen stated that they have nothing to fear from Taliban and denied threatening them. He said that some may wish to seek asylum in the West, as Afghanistan's economy has been so devastated, but it was up to them.
He denied that the Taliban threatened journalists or Afghanistan's emerging civil society. This has been the target of dozens upon dozens killings in the past year. While the Islamic State group claimed some of the deaths, the Afghan government blamed the Taliban while the Taliban accuse the Afghan government with orchestrating the killings in order to defame them. Rarely has the government made an arrest into the killings, or released the results of its investigations.
Shaheen stated that journalists working for Western media outlets have nothing to fear if there is a government with the Taliban.
"We haven't sent threats to journalists, especially those working for foreign media outlets," he said. He said that they can continue their work in the future."