KABUL: A top Taliban leader has said the group is not seeking to monopolize power in Afghanistan, and reiterated its commitment to peace talks with the government and ensuring women’s rights to work and learn “in a proper environment.”
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s statement on Sunday follows a series of military gains by the Taliban since May 1, when US-led foreign troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan as part of a phased initiative that ends on Sept. 11.
It comes amid concerns that the Taliban has not yet devised a proposal for the resumption of talks with the Afghan government in Qatar ahead of the total departure of foreign forces.
“We understand that the world and Afghans have queries and questions about the form of the system to be established following the withdrawal of foreign troops,” Baradar, head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in an open letter released to the media.
It is “best to discuss crucial issues” related to Afghanistan’s political future during the Qatar talks, he added.
“We are committed to forging ahead (with the talks), with the other sides, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and reach an agreement about a new political system that embodies the voices of all Afghans.”
Baradar said the Taliban has committed itself “to accommodate the rights of all citizens of our country, whether they are male or female, in light of the rules of the glorious religion of Islam and the noble traditions of Afghan society.”
The letter emphasized ensuring a “proper environment and facilities ... for women’s work and education so they can carry out their activities with confidence and with a feeling of assurance.”
Since the Taliban’s ouster in the US-led invasion in 2001, Afghan women have regained the right to education, to vote, and to work outside their homes.
Still, it is not an easy place to be a woman, with forced marriages, domestic violence and maternal mortality continuing to be prevalent across the country, particularly in rural areas.
But access to public life has improved — especially in Kabul, where thousands of women work — and more than a quarter of Parliament is female.
The steady gains by the Taliban in recent weeks, however, have reignited fears among locals and foreign allies that it will try to regain power militarily and enforce harsh policies as it did in the past.
Baradar stressed the need for a robust and “genuine Islamic system” in the country, saying: “A powerful, united, and corruption-free Afghanistan is better for the world and the United States than a powerless, decentralized and corruption-rampant administration.” He did not elaborate on the mechanism devised by the Taliban to achieve these goals.
Baradar touched upon the issue of ethnic minorities, saying: “The rights of minorities and all citizens will be secure in the coming system; no one needs to worry about it.”
He also said the Taliban is keen on taking measures “in coordination with … the international community to eliminate narcotics by providing an alternative livelihood, and treat addicts who unfortunately number in the millions now.”
Baradar assured the international community that there will be no threats to foreign diplomats and NGO workers based in Afghanistan once the group assumes office.
Afghan government officials were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Sunday.
Experts, however, said there is a lot to read between the lines in Baradar’s letter. “It’s an assurance to the world that the Taliban aren’t the Taliban of the past and are committed to women’s rights to learn and work,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a Kabul-based analyst, told Arab News.
Torek Farhadi, an adviser to former President Hamid Karzai, agreed, saying: “Clarifications are welcome because we didn’t have such level of detail before on how they see governance. It’s time for Afghans to find peace through these clarifications, rather than use guns and bloodshed against one another.”
However, he was quick to add a caveat. “Can this declaration in nice words by Mullah Baradar be matched with deeds of all their fighters in the field as well? The major concern is whether this declaration is in tune with the military wing of the Taliban as well, or is this just a public relations piece? Time will tell,” Farhadi told Arab News.