AFGHAN Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has confirmed talks between the insurgency and the US, and laid out a manifesto for a Taliban government that protects private business, exploits the country’s mineral wealth and maintains good foreign relations.
An internet message purportedly written by the one-eyed militant to mark the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr claims the Afghan insurgency is close to victory, citing recent foreign troop casualties, Taliban expansionism and the killing of a string of high-level Afghan officials. “All these give us good news of an imminent victory and a bright future,” it said.
This month was the deadliest for US forces in the nearly decade-long conflict, with 66 troops killed, 30 of them when a helicopter was shot down on August 6.
The message appeared to acknowledge mistakes of the former Taliban regime overthrown in October 2001, and seemed aimed at projecting a more mature face to an international community hoping to negotiate an exit from the war in Afghanistan. “The future transformations and developments would not resemble the developments following the collapse of communism, when everything of the country was plundered and the state apparatus damaged entirely,”it said.
“Contrarily, strict measures will be taken to safeguard all national installations, government departments and the advancements that have occurred in the private sector. Professional cadres and national businessmen will be further encouraged, without any discrimination, to serve their religion and their country.”
It confirmed talks between the US and the Taliban, although negotiations were restricted to prisoner release and did not represent “comprehensive negotiation for the solution of the current imbroglio of the country”.
Afghan and US officials this week confirmed secret direct talks between Taliban and US representatives collapsed after Afghan officials leaked details for fear President Hamid Karzai was being sidelined.
On three occasions US officials met Taliban negotiator Tayyab Aga, primarily to discuss the release of US army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured more than two years ago, in return for Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bagram Air Field near Kabul.
But Omar warned in his message there could be no negotiated end to the conflict without the full withdrawal of all foreign troops. A “limited withdrawal” that left behind US military bases would “in no way solve the issue of Afghanistan”, he said.
In what appeared a softening toward the Karzai administration, he insisted the Taliban did not seek to monopolise power. He called on Taliban fighters to pursue self-improvement through daily exercise, reading and religion, and to avoid extortion, kidnapping or random bans that hurt the common man. Intelligence analysts Stratfor said Omar’s message, and recent willingness to negotiate, suggested the Taliban leader was attempting to build support within and outside of Afghanistan in preparation for the 2014 withdrawal of foreign troops and the inevitable civil war.
“By opting for negotiations the Taliban, who remain the single largest political force in the country, hope to dominate a post-NATO political dispensation and avoid international isolation,” Stratfor said. “This tactic does not mean the Taliban are moderating; rather they are adjusting to constraints that limit their ability to achieve their goals of resurging to power.”