Amidst media reports that an Indian security team had met Taliban members in Doha, The Sunday Guardian spoke to Suhail Shaheen, the spokesperson of Taliban political office, who is based in Doha, where the Taliban political leadership has been stationed since June 2013.
Shaheen, a key member of team Taliban, while responding to The Sunday Guardian’s queries, said that he had no knowledge of any meeting taking place between Indian officials and Taliban leaders.
Earlier, Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, the Special Envoy of Qatar’s foreign minister for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution, at a virtual seminar, had stated that Indian officials had visited Doha to speak to the Taliban.
The Ministry of External Affairs on 10 June, while responding to queries about possible engagement with the Taliban, had responded by stating it does not want to comment on the matter and that it was in touch with various stakeholders in pursuance of India’s long term commitments towards development and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Edited excerpts:
Q: How is the peace deal placed considering that US forces have withdrawn substantially from the country?
A: The occupying forces must complete their withdrawal soon. We are ready to speed up the peace process to reach an Afghan inclusive Islamic government, acceptable to all. But the other side of the intra-Afghan negotiations should also show flexibility and focus on reaching a negotiated solution rather than focusing on prolonging their stay at power.
Q: What is the next step for the Taliban?
A: Our aim is establishment of an Afghan inclusive Islamic government through the current intra-Afghan negotiations where all Afghans would have participation. We neither believe in monopoly of power nor military takeover, because these are not durable solutions to the Afghan issue.
Q: How much of Afghanistan is under the control of the Taliban as of today?
A: As of now, more than 80% of the territory of Afghanistan is under our administration.
Q: When can the world expect violence to end in Afghanistan?
A: As soon as we reach a political solution to the issue, the violence will immediately cease and we will have a new dispensation acceptable to the majority of Afghans.
Q: India is also deeply involved in the Afghanistan peace process. Has the Taliban team met Indian officials in Doha?
A: I have come across this news report on social media, but I don’t have knowledge about the meeting.
Q: Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, the Special Envoy of Qatar’s foreign minister for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution has stated that Indian officials had visited Doha to speak to the Taliban.
A: Please ask him, I myself have no knowledge of that.
Q: Does the Taliban believe that it will be able to make decisions independent of what Pakistan desires once the Taliban leadership assumes power in Kabul?
A: Our leadership takes decisions independently, taking into account our national and Islamic values and interests. It is mere propaganda that we are not taking our decisions independently. We totally reject this allegation.
Q: One of the main concerns among international observers is that the status of women will deteriorate once the Taliban takes over. How would you respond to this concern?
A: We acknowledge basic rights of women, which is access to education and work. We believe they will be more secure and happy in a new Islamic government than they are today. We are victims of our opponents’ propaganda. They have made us larger than life figures in a negative manner. What they say and claim is not true.
Q: Is the Taliban leadership ready to transform itself from a “terror” group to an entity that will run a country and send representatives to international forums?
A: We were never a terrorist group. We are an Islamic national liberation force, struggling against foreign occupation. If what you say is true, then all your leaders who struggled against Britain were terrorists. Please don’t see us from your angle of bias, hostility and political expediency.