KABUL: The reclusive Taliban chief on Friday pardoned members of Afghanistan’s former Western-backed administration during a rare public appearance and joined thousands of religious and tribal leaders gathered in Kabul from throughout the country.
Some 3,500 representatives, including members of minorities, arrived in the Afghan capital on Thursday for the first loya jirga since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year, a grand assembly traditionally held by Afghans to reach a consensus on important political issues.
The conference took place after a number of former administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad and declared readiness to serve the country.
In Friday’s speech at the meeting’s venue, the Loya Jirga Tent at Kabul’s Polytechnic University, Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada said he had pardoned them but did not see their future in the country’s administration.
“I don’t hold them accountable for their past actions,” he told the loya jirga participants, the state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported.
“But amnesty doesn’t mean including them in the government.”
Most high-ranking officials left the country after its Western-backed government collapsed when the Taliban seized power in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war.
Akhundzada has been the Taliban ultimate authority since 2016. Rarely seen in public, he has long kept a low profile. His last public appearance was in Kandahar city during Eid prayers in May, but the congregation could not see him and only heard his voice.
His direct appearance before the loya jirga participants was confirmed by government spokesmen and Abdul Wahid Rayan, the chief of Bakhtar News Agency.
“He sat on the stage facing the audience and gave his speech,” Rayan told Arab News.
During the Kabul gathering, Akhundzada called on investors to return to the country and gave them security assurances, saying that dependence on foreign aid could not revive the country’s economy.
Afghanistan has been facing an economic and humanitarian disaster since the Taliban takeover, which prompted the US and other donor states to cut off financial assistance, freeze the country’s $10 billion assets, and isolate it from the global banking system.
“I ask businessmen to come to Afghanistan without any fear and invest in making factories, because foreign aid will not help boost our economy,” Akhundzada said.
The loya jirga was called by the Taliban to forge national unity, as unacknowledged by foreign governments they have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition.
Prof. Naseer Ahmad Nawidy, political science lecturer at Salam University in Kabul, said Akhundzada’s speech had delivered, “clear messages about tolerance, unity, obedience, and solidarity to members of the Taliban while acknowledging their sacrifices.”
He told Arab News: “This is promising and will boost the confidence of the Taliban about their leadership.”
However, he added that no perspective was provided about the country’s future, including “women’s rights, girls’ education, economic opportunities, utilizing technical expertise of all Afghans in governance, and optimism to the youth.”