A week after they violently fought their way to power in Afghanistan overthrowing the Ashraf Ghani-led government, the Taliban are still putting out fires breaking out across the war-torn nation as a result of redolent fears of their oppressive rule. Expats are making a beeline for Kabul airport desperate to be evacuated out of the country. Foreign embassies have all but emptied out. Women are out on the streets protesting for their rights; foreign aid has been stopped.
For the Taliban, who will assume power in Afghanistan for the second time after being driven out by the US troops following the 9/11 attacks, it is not only important to be recognised by the international community, they also desperately need acceptance from the Afghans.
In a candid and exclusive interview with CNN-News18, the militant group’s spokesperson Suhail Shaheen presented a roadmap of their intended regime specifying their terms and conditions and expectations from the world, including India.
Excerpts from the interview:
It’s been a week since your victory but the Taliban still struggling to form a government. Your representatives have also reached out to former Vice President Amrullah Salleh. How do you see the situation and how long it will take to resolve?
Yes, the time taken for consultation and deliberation shows that we intend to have all Afghan personalities and politicians in the new future government. That is why we are focussing on having all Afghan personnel in this discussion. Otherwise, it was easy for us to announce the new government on the first day of our entering Kabul city. But we didn’t do that and rather we decided to have a vast consultation with our opponents and non-opponents. We hope to announce our new government very soon.
India has in the last two decades invested heavily in Afghanistan’s development. It has built roads, dams and even the parliament building. But it has been reported that the Taliban have stopped trade with India. Is this true and is it permanent?
About their (India’s) projects which are good for the people of Afghanistan and which contribute to the welfare of people of Afghanistan, if they are incomplete then they can complete it. What we were opposing was their siding with the former government. What we have wanted for the last 20 years is that countries, including India, should have a relation with the people of Afghanistan. And they should also acknowledge the intention of the people of Afghanistan for the liberation of the country. It was our point and our position and we have always said that no one should not side with that puppet government. They should support the people of Afghanistan.
You have said that Afghanistan will not have a western-style democracy. What will you do to the Parliament building which was built with an electoral democracy in mind?
We will draft a constitution soon. We will make a committee to draft the constitution when the government is formed and the situation returns to normal. Of course, that building will be used for some purpose. People Shura or Islamic Shura, the building can be used for that.
Some very positive developments have been announced recently after the takeover by the Taliban like the general amnesty. But still, women are still not being allowed to work, Ghazni girls are being beaten for wearing jeans. On Friday, 17 incidents of human rights violations were reported. Don’t you see this as a major concern in today’s time?
It is temporary because the policy is already in place. Women can have education and can work while following the rules of Islam. The other issues are very small and will be sorted very soon and easily. A general policy is there. Women can have access to education and work. No one should worry about that.
But after the promise of amnesty, Afghan government employees are worried. Their list is made and Talib cadres are apparently searching for them home to home. Some recent videos of such killings have also been seen on social media. How will you address this or do you see this as your cadres being out of control?
The door to door search report is not true. Yesterday too I had refuted that. There are no incidents. Our soldiers are investigating everything. The culprits will be brought to justice. Our policy has not changed and we have given a message to all to abide by that policy and if anyone violates that policy they will be brought to accountability
All employees are not keen to join work because of killing fear. And now the Taliban also need to show governance. From airport to civic amenities, all are challenging jobs. How soon will you address it?
Those who are going abroad, if they have proper documents and visa then they will have no problem reaching the airport. We have received reports that members of Daesh ISIS are going to western countries and that is why we are strictly checking everyone and not allowing anyone who does not have proper documents.
For the first time protests are happening in Afghanistan. Women are out on the streets and want their share in all processes. Is the decision to allow them access due to the presence and pressure of international media or will these concerns be addressed in reality?
We are committed to women’s access to work. That’s our policy and they can have that. But being a Muslim, they have to follow the hijab rule and then they can work and do their job. About their grievances, we have announced Whatsapp numbers and they can reach them to air their grievances. They can complain, that is their right and we have to address their grievances.
There were reports that the Taliban kidnapped some Indians and released them later. Though they reached India safely also. Don’t you think that the message should be clear to allow all those who want to go?
I refute this. I do not align with the word kidnap. We had already issued a statement that we will provide proper arrangements for the functioning of embassies and diplomats. I know that they had some problem with their documents and they were stopped for that for few hours. Whatever we had promised, we are committed to that. Of course, there are some spoilers present in and outside the country. And they are providing raw materials for propaganda against us and when you investigate then you will know that these reports are not true.
When one thinks of India and Afghanistan’s friendship, one is reminded of Bollywood movies like Kabuliwala and Khuda Gawah by Amitabh Bachhan. Apparently, in 1996, you provided heavy security for the safety of the crew of Khuda Gawah. Do you see something like this happening again?
I think it depends on your action and your policy. Whether you adopt a hostile policy towards Afghanistan or it is a policy based on relations with the people of Afghanistan and constructive posturing. If it is positive then our people will reciprocate. The dam made by India and other projects for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan, we will welcome that.
Your message to the international community on their participation in the development work in Afghanistan?
My message to them is that we just finished the war and we are leaving that chapter behind. It’s a new chapter and the people of Afghanistan need help. Now, all countries should financially help the people of Afghanistan to help build their life and rebuild Afghanistan. Then, we will also have a relation with other countries. Good relations. It is also their humanitarian compulsion to come forward to help the people of Afghanistan as 70% are below the poverty line. Also, we have 20 years of war and bloodshed. We will appreciate their help immensely.
Where is top Taliban leader Mulla Akhundzada?
He will come very soon and will show up openly because for 20 years we have struggled against the occupation. He had to be away from public eyes due to certain compulsions. But now he will come out inshallah soon. I have a request for the media – there is a lot of propaganda in the media which is not true and is widening the gap between the people of Afghanistan and others. They are not based on reality. It is best to publish only what is true and real rather than the claims of our opponents.
Coming back to Bollywood. If our relationship turns out fine, can we expect Indian movies to be shot again in Afghanistan?
This is something for the futre. I have no comment on that right now. What is important right now is the peace and stability of Afghanistan. We need a new Afghanistan, and peace, security and national unity. This is our priority and everything else I leave for the future.