Moscow, Feb 6: The Taliban do not want to seize the entire Afghanistan by “military” power as it will not bring peace to the war-torn country, the militant group’s key official who led the peace negotiations with the US has said.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who until recently was the head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, spoke to the BBC while attending a meeting in Moscow with a number of senior Afghan opposition politicians. He said the group would not agree to a ceasefire until foreign forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan.
The meeting in Moscow was separate from the US-Taliban peace talks. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai was present, but the Afghan government was not part of the talks. Topics of discussion included how Afghanistan could be governed in the future if the Taliban were to become a mainstream political force, the BBC said on Wednesday.
The Taliban official said that 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”.
Stanikzai said that he believed the Donald Trump administration wanted to “bring peace to Afghanistan” as he has overseen several meetings with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in recent months.
In January, they reached what 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 that time indicated that a number of issues still needed to be resolved. However, Trump made clear his desire to bring an end to the 17-year conflict and withdraw the vast bulk of American forces.
“Peace is more difficult than war,” Stanikzai said, referring to the difficulties in reaching a settlement.
The Taliban governed Afghanistan from 1996-2001 with an ultra-conservative and brutal interpretation of Islamic law. According to UN data, the group was responsible for more civilian casualties than any other warring party.
It was also notorious for its treatment of women, banning most of them from working or going to school.
However, Stanikzai said “women should not worry” about the prospect of increasing Taliban influence in the country 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, called it a “positive step that the Taliban who were using bullets against the people, especially women, were now… listening to women’s voices”.
She, however, said “we need to make sure everything they say here, they mean it”.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly called on the Taliban to begin direct negotiations with his representatives, but so far the group has refused.
US negotiators had tried to persuade the Taliban to meet Afghan officials, but Stanikzai remained vague when questioned about the circumstances under which they would ever agree to do so, the BBC said.
He said that “when the American forces announce the withdrawal of their troops” there could be further “intra-Afghan dialogue”.
Officials in Kabul called the discussions in Russia “an attempt by political rivals to undermine the Afghan government”, and explore a potential deal with the Taliban without their input.
Despite the talks in Moscow and a further round of US-Taliban discussions being scheduled for February 25, violence in Afghanistan continues unabated.