Suhail Shaheen, a key member of the political wing of Taliban, says they want a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue.


New Delhi: Suhail Shaheen, a key member of the negotiation team of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan or as the political wing of Taliban calls itself, spoke exclusively to The Sunday Guardian on the failed US-Taliban peace talks, the role of India in Afghanistan and why India as a regional power should revisit its stand vis-a-vis Taliban and Kabul.

He sought to allay the concerns of the Indian security apparatus and stated that no Taliban fighter would try to enter Kashmir once US troops left Afghanistan as was being discussed by people in India.

Shaheen, who has been a journalist and editor of a Kabul-based English newspaper, is expected to play a crucial role in the future administrative set-up that is likely to come up in Afghanistan. Excerpts:

Q: The Taliban has blamed US President Donald Trump for the collapse of the peace talks, but questions are being asked why Taliban executed the 5 September Kabul bombing despite knowing that any such attack would jeopardise the talks?

A: There was no ceasefire between us as such (at that time). The occupying forces and their domestic supporters started launching night raids and offensives against our forces in many provinces, killing our men and civilians; we just retaliated. I think those who started (the violence) first, should be blamed.

Q: Are there factions within the Taliban who do not want/had not wanted the talks to succeed?

A: All our ranks and files obey order of the leadership. There is no such factionalism. If we sign the agreement and agree on ceasefire, there will be no violation. However, before that, we have no obligation to observe ceasefire as we have not agreed to anything. Similarly, the other side is also not committed to ceasefire before the signing of the agreement.

Q: How does Taliban see the role of Pakistan when it comes to Afghanistan? The political leadership of Afghanistan has repeatedly claimed that Pakistan will never allow peace in the country. How important a role does Pakistan play in the future of Afghanistan?

A: These are empty claims of the Kabul administration officials. We follow our policy based on our national and Islamic interests. The peace agreement is finalised along with its annexes. We stand on what we have agreed, but it is the US which retracted and opted for war. The choice is theirs. Whether they want to resolve the issue peacefully or through military ways, we are there and we will defend our country and our values. But we prefer a peaceful solution.

Q: Post the collapse of the US peace talks, your delegation has spoken to and met Russian and Chinese officials. Why is China being involved in the issue?

A: China is an important neighbouring country and a member of the UN Security Council. We know they want a peaceful solution of the Afghan issue and want withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

In the past, they have played their part in the peace process. After the abrupt tweets by President Trump, they wanted to know why all these suddenly happened after everything was concluded and the agreement was to be signed in a ceremony participated by international witnesses and media. So our delegation led by Mullah Bradar visited Beijing to brief them on the recent developments in the process and exchange views with them about the peace process.

Q: How do you see the role of India in this whole situation? Will the Taliban delegation approach the Indian government as it has approached the Russian and the Chinese?

A: India supports the Kabul administration and opposes the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban). It is more appropriate for India, as a regional power, to maintain its neutrality in the Afghan issue. India should stand with the people of Afghanistan at least on moral grounds in their struggle for liberation as Afghan people did stand with Indian people in their struggle of liberation from the colonial claw of Britain in the mid-20th century. Rulers go but people remain. We are the people.

Q: The Taliban of the 1990s and early 2000s destroyed statues, enforced laws against women and the minorities. Has the Taliban of 2019 changed?

A: In the 1990s, anarchy was prevalent all over Afghanistan because of factional fighting among warlords and former Mujahideens. We had to restore normalcy and put an end to the then chaotic situation.

Some strict steps may have been taken then, but now it is the story of the past. We are committed to all basic rights of the Afghans, including women and minorities—whether it is their right to education, work, religious practice etc. Similarly, we want good relations with neighbouring and regional countries.

Q: There are concerns among Indian policymakers that once the US troops leave Afghanistan, its fighters will turn towards India in general and Kashmir in particular? How would you like to respond to this?

A: Our country and people have been passing through war and sufferings for the past four decades. After the end of occupation and formation of an all Afghan-inclusive Islamic government in the country, we will solely focus on reconstruction and development of our ruined country. For that, we want to have good relations with all countries of the world, including the regional countries and seek their assistance for a new Afghanistan. Of course, we will play our own role to contribute to peace and stability of the region. So, there is no question of our fighters turning toward India. It is an unfounded fear. As for the Kashmir issue, we want its peaceful solution.