London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive and continues to lead the movement’s political and military operations, official Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“He stands at the apex of the Taliban’s political, military and administrative hierarchy. Mullah Omar is carrying out his actions at the highest level,” the Taliban spokesman said.
Mullah Zabiullah Mujahid is the official spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan and a high-ranking member of the extremist movement, believed to be a close aide to shadowy leader Mullah Omar. Mujahid, who speaks Pashto, Persian and Arabic, answered questions from Asharq Al-Awsat in an e-mail exchange.
Mujahid denied Taliban contact with the outgoing government of Hamid Karzai, but confirmed that it is negotiating with the American side over a prisoner exchange. “We do not negotiate with the Karzai government. There have been negotiations with the Americans, but these did not touch on political issues. These negotiations were limited to one topic, namely prisoner exchange, but they failed.”
Mujahid’s comments came just days before Washington announced that Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, had been freed. US officials on Saturday said that Bergdahl’s release was part of a negotiation that included the release of five Afghan detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.
Commenting on the presidential election runoff between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani scheduled for June 14, the Taliban spokesman said: “They are all the same side of one coin.”
“The elections are nothing more than an attempt for the US to expand its occupation of Afghanistan. The Taliban does not recognize the elections or support any of the candidates who participate in the election process. We do not have a peace problem in Afghanistan; the problem is one of occupation which must be expelled by force,” he said.
Zabiullah denied that Taliban’s attempts to “disrupt” the polls had targeted Afghan citizens. “The Taliban is most concerned with the Afghan people and does not target them for any reason. The obstruction of the election process only targeted the government that was supervising the elections,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Hundreds of attacks were reported during the first round of the Afghan presidential elections in April, with statistics released by the US military confirming a total of 286 attacks on the first day of elections, mostly in eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban’s presence in strongest.
“The page of occupation is turning and the armies of occupation are disappearing, as are their supporters, in terms of outcast politicians and mercenaries,” the Taliban spokesman warned in reference to the expected withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan by 2016.
As for whether the Taliban will seek to work with the new government, Zabiullah said: “We will continue our jihad until we purge Afghanistan from the last soldier of occupation. We will continue our jihad against all foreign forces and will not recognize any government that is established in the presence of foreign forces.”