London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Afghanistan has returned to the headlines once more, with the recent escalation of violence in the south, and greater attention being paid to the peace negotiations that are taking place in Kabul. In addition to this, the extremist organization has opened a political office in Qatar, and is reportedly in the process of opening other political offices elsewhere.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Taliban spokesman Mullah Qari Mohammed Yousef Ahmadi spoke about the US reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, the political future of the extremist movement, as well as the situation in Afghanistan today. The Afghan Taliban spokesman also spoke about the Taliban suicide attack against the heavily fortified diplomatic district of Kabul last year, as well as the extremist group’s views on girls’ education and women’s rights in Afghanistan.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion about the reports that Washington has agreed to the proposal to allow the Afghan Taliban to open a political office in Qatar? The British press is reporting that this represents a critical step on the road to reconciliation with the Taliban, more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks?
[Ahmadi] Yes, this is true…after the US and its allies failed to militarily control the “Islamic Emirate” [the Taliban refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan], it has been forced to deal with us, and this is by opening the door to direct dialogue. The Islamic Emirate will play its role following the opening of this office, which will serve the jihadist interests, guarantee the end of occupation and bring security to Afghanistan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the Taliban’s major conditions for entering negotiations?
[Ahmadi] Our conditions during the negotiations will be an end to occupation and for the US to leave the affairs of Afghanistan to the Afghan people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think the Arab Spring will reach Afghanistan?
[Ahmadi] There can be no doubt that the Afghan resistance against the occupiers during the past century, and the ongoing efforts of the Afghan people against US occupation and its NATO allies, have inspired the resistance of the vulnerable people in the world and prompted them to revolt against regimes that are ruling them against their will. We must therefore say that the “resistance spring” against the occupiers began in Afghanistan and ended, by the grace of God, with the autumn of US hegemony and the collapse of its authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the Taliban intend to open other political offices in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Turkey, Egypt, and elsewhere, as is being claimed by some?
[Ahmadi] After 10 years of jihad and steadfastness on the part of the Afghan people against the arrogant occupiers, the entire world is aware of the strength of the Afghan jihad and has accepted the reality of the situation in the Afghan arena. This has caused many countries in the world to desire contact with the Islamic Emirate and the political office of the Islamic Emirate. The Islamic Emirate will welcome the opening of its political offices in these countries and others, if this is approved.
A Saudi official in Riyadh announced last week that his country would require the Taliban movement to “renounce” the Al Qaeda organization and lay down its arms, in the event of the Kingdom mediating between it and between Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The source, who refused to disclose his name, said that “Saudi Arabia has conditioned – for agreeing to mediate between the Taliban and the Karzai government – that the Taliban lay down its arms, engage in the political process, and renounce the Al Qaeda organization.” We must note that the conditions for Saudi Arabia mediating between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with regards to the Taliban laying down its arms, does not contain anything new. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister [Prince Saud al-Faisal] confirmed 4 years ago that Riyadh had put in place 3 conditions [to the Taliban] relating to laying down arms, entering the political process, in addition to cutting ties with Al Qaeda.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your assessment of what is being repeated by the American side in Afghanistan, namely that they are ready to negotiate and that there is a reconciliation strategy in place?
[Ahmadi] The US side is prepared to negotiate with the Islamic Emirate after it did everything in its power to forcibly eliminate our jihadist power; however it failed to achieve anything tangible in this regard. The Islamic Emirate told the Americans ten years ago that the ideal solution to all problems was peaceful negotiations without depending on the use of force. The Americans now being prepared to negotiate represents recognition of the strength of the Islamic Emirate and the legitimacy of the Afghan people’s jihad. They should have put forward this initiative before thousands of their soldiers were killed and injured, as well as losing billions of dollars in Afghanistan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, previously informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Washington has spent over $20 billion in civilian assistance to the Afghan people since 2001, which has resulted in many tangible achievements on the ground, including seven million Afghan children in primary and secondary education, and statistics indicate that 37 percent of Afghan students are girls. However during the Taliban era, girls were prohibited from education. Do you have any comment on this?
[Ahmadi] Our comment is: compare the achievements of the Americans [in Afghanistan] with the negative results of the US occupation which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, including women and children, as well the heavy destruction caused to the Afghan infrastructure. In his statements, the US ambassador must make reference to the large thefts that have taken place in front of his eyes as a result of the rife corruption that is hanging over the people [of Afghanistan].
The US ambassador claims that $20 billion has been spent on infrastructure in Afghanistan, however he is ignoring the rampant corruption that is present in government institutions under the auspices of the US embassy.
We ask the ambassador, where has this huge amount of money been spent [in Afghanistan], in light of the fact that 27 Afghan children died in a refugee camp in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul – which is news that the international media is ignoring – only a few kilometers away from the US embassy? These deaths were due to the lack of adequate housing [in Kabul]…therefore these children were forced to live in the refugee camp and endure terrible weather conditions including snow and bitter cold.
When the US ambassador is listing the alleged achievements [of the Americans], he must mentions the criminal acts carried out by American soldiers recently against the Afghan people, from desecrating the corpses of the slain to committing sexual assaults against children to utilizing fighter jets to bomb and kill innocent people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the Taliban returns to rule in Afghanistan, do you have social and economic plans in place to raise the standard of living in the country? How will you engage with the outside world?
[Ahmadi] The policy of the Islamic Emirate with regards to creating economic and development plans and projects to raise the standard of living of the Afghan people and its future dealings with the outside world have been clearly made in the official statements of the Islamic Emirate which have been issued from the office of the Commander of the Faithful [Mullah Omar], and anybody who wants to know this need only refer to these statements.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the objective of Taliban operations that have taken place in the heart of Kabul in broad daylight, for example, the latest attack on the diplomatic district? Is the goal to expose the inability of the Karzai government to maintain security?
[Ahmadi] This will not be the last time that the US embassy and the military headquarters of foreign troops will be targeted; we will attack them in the future as well, in addition to using other tactics. The objective of this is to show the power of the mujahedeen and their military presence in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul, and invalidate the claims of the Americans that they have pushed out the mujahedeen from some areas.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been reported in some western media that Mullah Mohammed Tayyib Agha, the Afghan mediator in the peace talks, fled Germany – where he was in the process of negotiating a peace settlement – after his name was revealed in the press. Is this true?
[Ahmadi] Escape is not a habit of the mujahedeen, brother Mohammed Tayyib Agha did not flee, rather he is carrying out his effective and active role with regards to the policies of the Islamic Emirate, and this is something that is confirmed by the western press itself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your own view, to what extent does NATO bombardment in Afghanistan result in civilian causalities?
[Ahmadi] To a very great extent indeed, and far greater than what is revealed by the international media.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the Taliban sources of funding? Does the Taliban enjoy Arab and Gulf support in this regard?
[Ahmadi] The most important source of funding for the mujahedeen is the Afghan people themselves; the Afghan people are funding and assisting the mujahedeen, financially and materially. We must also not forget the assistance provided by our brothers in the Islamic world, and their standing with us against American imperialism.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it true, as US officials claim, that the Taliban is dependent upon opium-production to fund its operations?
[Ahmadi] Do not believe everything the Americans say, for they say that they have eliminated the Taliban and removed them from the areas that they control…if you believed such claims then we do not have anywhere to sit down, let alone harvest opium.
We have repeatedly stated, and I will say this once again here, that jihad is a legitimate obligation and we have never funded this with drugs, nor do we intend to do so in the future. It is the explicit policy of the Islamic Emirate to eradicate drugs [from Afghanistan].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] US forces have claimed, on more than one occasion, that the Taliban receives support from Iran, in the form of technology, improvised explosive devices [IEDs], etc. Is this true?
[Ahmadi] Let me tell the Americans that if foreign assistance was effective on the Afghan battlefield then you [the Americans] would have been victorious, because you receive military assistance from more than 47 foreign states.
Yes, we acknowledge that we have made developments, with the grace of God, in the making of IEDs that have defeated the Americans and their allies, and we will further develop this, God willing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us how many fighters the Taliban has? What is your view of the Taliban members who have put down their arms and joined reconciliation programs?
[Ahmadi] The number of fighters that the Islamic Emirate possesses is the entire Afghan people, not including Karzai and the number of ministers in his government, in addition to some of his [Karzai’s] mercenary officials. As for the reconciliation program, and the announcements they make every day regarding the number of people who have joined this, in reality this is nothing more than a buying and selling project between senior Karzai government officials and foreign parties, and this is in order to exchange and access large amounts of money that they have earmarked in this regard.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How much does a Taliban member or fighter earn a month? What is a Taliban fighter’s daily life like?
[Ahmadi] A mujahid who sacrifices his body and soul in order to uphold the word of God will refuse to take financial reward for his priceless sacrifice.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why have the Americans so far failed to capture Mullah Omar?
[Ahmadi] The secret of this can be seen in the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, in the hadith when he said “if the whole ummah (nation) were to unite and try to benefit you in something, they would never benefit you except by that which Allah has written for you. And if the whole ummah were to unite and try to harm you in something, they would never be able to harm you except that Allah had written it upon you.” Narrated in Sahih al-Tirmidhi and in Mushan Ahmed and authenticated by Sheikh al-Albani.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think somebody betrayed Bin Laden and revealed his whereabouts in Abbottabad, Pakistan to the Americans, thus leading to his death?
[Ahmadi] It would be better if you asked this question of the Americans themselves.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of the rampant corruption that has plagued Afghanistan?
[Ahmadi] Looking at the corruption of the members of the Karzai administration, his administration is the very definition of corruption and is akin to a mafia in itself. The people view all members of this administration as being a corrupt gang put in place by America to plunder the wealth of the Afghan people, and we do not expect anything good of them in administering an Islamic country like Afghanistan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the Taliban return to power, will you host Al Qaeda once more, or will you avoid this, having learnt the lessons of the past?
[Ahmadi] You must notice that the Americans acknowledged, on more than one occasion, that Al Qaeda is no longer centered in Afghanistan, whilst on the other hand the situation in the Islamic world has experienced huge change, with successful revolutions having taken place in Arab states, in a phenomenon that has been named the Arab Spring. Islamic movements have succeeded in suppressing authoritarian governments that previously unjustly expelled or forced these movements to flee their countries. Therefore Al Qaeda and other Islamist organizations have now found what they need elsewhere, and I believe they are no longer interested in Afghanistan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did the Taliban movement ban Afghan women from education when it was ruling the country? Why did it ban satellite dishes, despite the fact that Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil previously informed Asharq Al-Awsat that during this period he used to watch international news media on a daily basis?
[Ahmadi] The Islamic Emirate, during its rule of Afghanistan…was in the process of creating the correct conditions for girls’ education, and we did not say that we comprehensively prohibited this. Girls’ education during the Taliban era was not zero, as is claimed, but rather many girls schools were opened in mosques in Kabul and elsewhere, but this did not spread throughout the country due to economic reasons, and unfortunately no institutions or states helped us in this regard.
As for the prohibitions of satellite dishes, we did not comprehensively prohibit this; indeed some satellite channels even had official offices in the capital Kabul, such as Al Jazeera, the Abu Dhabi channel, CNN and other news agencies. Your statement that Mr. Muttawakil would watch international news channels on a daily basis is the best evidence of this. We prepared all our capabilities for such news channels; however the Americans, during the first day of the fall of Kabul, bombed the Al Jazeera office, and destroyed all its broadcasting capabilities.
Yes, we ordered the closure of lewd channels because of the intellectual and moral damage they cause to the Afghan people. Today, and in light of the American hegemony on Afghanistan, as soon as people realized the corruption this was causing to the Afghan people, everybody began calling for the closure of such channels, even members of the Karzai National Assembly, after they witnessed the negative impact such corrupt channels have had on the behavior of our children.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why are Afghan women apprehensive regarding news of reconciliation with the Taliban, or reports of the Taliban returning to power, viewing this as a threat to women’s rights in the country? Is this true? If the Taliban return to power, what is the fate of the thousands of girls’ schools that have been opened?
[Ahmadi] Establishing security in Afghanistan by any legitimate means is something that Afghan women want even more than Afghan men, and the Islamic Emirate has been committed to women’s rights, including the right to education, in light of Islamic teachings, and we will continue to be committed to this in the future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In light of the high cost of bloodshed and destruction in the country, has the time come to establish peace and return stability to Afghanistan?
[Ahmadi] Establishing safety and security in the country is the demand of every Afghan citizen, and this is their legitimate right, and so it is up to the Americans and their allies to end the occupation of Afghanistan to allow the people to live in freedom away from the atmosphere of war that has been imposed on them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, are Taliban affiliated judges implementing Islamic Sharia law?
[Ahmadi] Our judges are present even in areas that the Karzai administration is in control of, and people refer to them in solving all their legal and judicial problems; because they are known for their integrity and their lack of corruption and avoidance of bribes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you satisfied that 350 Afghan religious scholars called for Islamic Sharia law to be implemented in the country? Do you consider this a move to reconcile with Afghan society?
[Ahmadi] Implementing Islamic Sharia law is the only guarantee for the happiness of all human beings, and millions of Afghans have been martyred to ensure that this is implemented in their country. The Islamic Emirate considers the implementation of Islamic Sharia law to be one of its political priorities in Afghanistan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why do some Afghans resort to Taliban courts to settle their disputes?
[Ahmadi] This is simply because the Karzai administration courts are mired in corruption and bribery.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you think we can solve the problem of drug cultivation in Afghanistan? Does Afghanistan truly benefit from this with regards to taxation and the economy, as claimed by the Western media?
[Ahmadi] As for drugs, the Taliban clamped down on this during its rule of Afghanistan and was able to solve this problem by completely prohibiting this across the country. However when America and its allies came to our country, they supported the cultivation of drugs, and encouraged farmers to do so by paying them money. The Americans worked to increase the drug trade and open new markets, and they trafficked these drugs via planes; so they are responsible for the increase in the drug trade.