Spokesman Suhail Shaheen is the face of Taliban 2.0; an attempt at presenting a more sensitive and liberal global image as not just the movement’s spokesman but is also part of its negotiating team in Qatar.
Andrew Whitehead describes the man as soft-spoken and media savvy, who has pledged that Afghanistan’s reborn Islamic Emirate won’t take revenge on political rivals, won’t stop girls from going to school, and won’t enforce the burqa.
A report by Quint says he insists that the Taliban has learnt from some of its missteps when it was in power the first time round in the 1990s, and has promised “an inclusive government in which all Afghans will have participation”.
Shaheen was the head of the Taliban’s only remaining embassy in Pakistan. The movement’s last diplomatic outpost held regular news conferences on the grounds of its mission in Islamabad. These were chaotic events, with camera crews jostling for the best spot and a PA system that sounded as if it was on life support. But they served the Taliban’s purpose, allowing its message of defiance to reach a global audience.
A BBC journalist, after interviewing him, described Shaheen as: “He was everything that you don’t expect a Taliban representative to be — calm, courteous, composed, and willing to answer questions and enter into conversation rather than simply ram home a message. And he was unnervingly prophetic in predicting a very, very long war”.
Shaheen studied at the International Islamic University Islamabad and Kabul University. He is a fluent English speaker and writer. He edited the English language, state-owned Kabul Times during the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, before being appointed Deputy Ambassador at the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan.
In an exclusive interview with CNN-News18, he had very calmly put, “India should remain at least impartial in the Afghan issue, rather than supporting an occupation-born government.”