The Taliban captured control of Afghanistan over a week ago following swift territorial gains that began as foreign forces withdrew from the country.
Last week, shocking scenes sowed the moments in which the Taliban entered the presidential palace in Kabul after capturing major cities across the country. With that, former President Ashraf Ghani fled to Tajikstan before moving on to the United Arab Emirates.
As the world watched Afghanistan descend into chaos, the Taliban held a press conference in the capital to ensure general amnesty for all, protection of women and hopes to “rebuild and reconstruct” the country after decades of occupation.
Despite this, weary Afghans remained concerned and global leaders have hesitated in their response to Afghanistan’s new leadership.
Doha News sat down in an exclusive interview with Taliban Political Office Spokesman Suhail Shaheen in Qatar to find out more.
Yesterday, in the most recent press conference you said that you stopped Afghans from going to the Kabul airport, why is that?
“We have stopped those Afghans who have no documents. We are searching all cars and Afghans because we received reports that ISIS members are trying under the cover of going abroad.. have the intention of carrying out sabotage activities inside the congestion of people at the airport.
“So that is why we are checking everyone and for those who have documents we have opened up a new gate, only those who have documents can pass through that gate. But the remaining who have no documents, they are prevented from going to the airport. Because, you know, there’s such a huge congestion of people, some people died there. But at the same time if they have passports and visas in the future, they can go through commercial flights.”
But not now?
“Right now, they do not have any kind of documents. So, it would be illegal to go.”
The Taliban recently warned that there could be consequences if the US further extends its deadline beyond August 31 for the troop withdrawal, what could those consequences be?
“You see, if they violate this, it will be the second violation. First, they violated the agreement because they were to withdraw completely by May 1. Then they announced, President Biden, that he will withdraw his forces by 31 of August. Now if he violates it, it
will be a second violation and it will create suspicion of course.
“There are reports that they are continuing occupation under one justification or another. So it will widen the mistrust, the gap of mistrust, so I think it is better for them that they go by their commitment, what they said by 31 of August.
“But if they have any concern regarding the evacuation of those Afghans who were working with them, we have an option—and that is they can evacuate them, those Afghans can go after 31 of August, only if they have passports and visas.
“They can go through commercial flights, there will be no hurdles in their way.”
To put it in simpler terms, is the Taliban going to attack?
“If they violate the 31 August [deadline] then it is up to our leadership, they will take [a] decision. What kind of decision? That’s up to them.
What is the Taliban’s vision for Afghanistan?
“Our vision for Afghanistan is a peaceful Afghanistan, a prosperous Afghanistan, Afghanistan with national unity and an Afghanistan [where] everyone of [the] people [of] Afghanistan see themselves in the government and also have opportunities in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
“Our country has been destroyed during the past 20 years. So there’s a lot of work for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country.”
Is there a place for members of the former Afghan government?
“Right now our leaders have consultations among themselves to consider everyone to be included in the future government. As you know, we have taken over all of Afghanistan through military means, but still, we want for future Afghanistan, for [the] future government, that all Afghan politicians and personalities have their participation. And all Afghans take part of the government departments on the bases of their talents.”
The Taliban are now the new power of the country, is there any place left for peace negotiations in Doha?
“I think the negotiations are already underway in Kabul, because our seniors and some members of the political office negotiation team headed by his excellency Mullah Baradar, are in Kabul and they are having talks with different Afghan politicians who are working in the former Kabul administration. So they are having these talks and consultations with them for the last week or ten days.”
So are there going to be no more negotiations in Doha?
“We have just shifted, because Mullah Baradar is there, we have shifted to Kabul right now. But at the same time there are the remaining members of the negotiations team here and we are having meetings with different countries here [Qatar].
“You can see Doha is kind of the centre right now, but for future, when the government is formed, then many of our members will go and they will take post in the new government. But still, it depends on the decision of our leadership about our office here, maybe we will need a centre, a link in place, to be here.”
You’ve made several promises and guarantees over women’s rights and other various aspects. It seems like a new Taliban, what has changed?
“It is our policy, for example that women can have access to education and to work, but with hijab, because as an Islamic society Muslim women they observe the hijab. Otherwise they can have access to education, they can receive education from primary to higher education, they can go to university and also can do their jobs.
“So, as a spokesman of the political office, I have repeated this sentence time and again. Also, it came up in discussions [among] negotiations teams many times. So it is a policy. We are committed [to] what he [Mujahid] said, it is also my statement, his statement, and any other statement because it [is] a policy. And we hope the situation of women and men of Afghanistan will improve with the passing of time.”
Among those statements were guarantees of amnesty for government officials and journalists. What guarantees that these people are going to be protected?
“Our leader has granted general amnesty. So, it is there. But now is the implementation. We are implementing the instructions in the policy.
“Sometimes we receive that door-to-door searches [are conducted on] those being targeted, but it is only claims. We have not found after investigations that it has happened. Though if such thing happens by anyone, even maybe by the spoilers, our opponents in order to malign us, to give us a bad name maybe, but our security forces are strictly instructed to investigate such incidents and bring the culprits to courts to be punished.”
So you’re saying the documents released regarding the door-to-door searches were untrue?
“Yes. Yes, if you see my Twitter yesterday I have already rejected that and if you see Mr. Mujahid’s press conference yesterday, he also rejected that.”
Shortly after the Taliban entered Kabul, former President Ashraf Ghani fled to the UAE. Why do you think he chose the UAE?
“I think they had very close relations with them in the past. Ashraf Ghani had close relations with them, maybe because of that.”
So what does this mean in terms of the Taliban’s relations with the UAE?
“We have relations of course, with Qatar, our office is here and also had relations with them, the UAE. We had at the beginning some of the NGO’s meeting there in the UAE. So it’s based on their policy. This reflects their policy that they [brought Ghani] there. It doesn’t mean that they had no relations with us, but it’s more because of their policy.”
After he fled Afghanistan, there were reports that said he left with “tonnes of cash”. Is the Taliban planning on ensuring that this money returns to Afghans?
“Sure, if he has taken the money of the people of Afghanistan, it doesn’t belong to him. The money should be returned, because the money of the people of Afghanistan should be returned, it’s the people’s rights.
“Why should he take the money of the people of Afghanistan for himself at the last moment? He made a mistake by abandoning the government all of a sudden while we were waiting [for a] peaceful transfer of power and our [fighters] were waiting at the gates of Kabul city. But he suddenly fled and abandoned everything and that created a vacuum of insecurity, laundering and shooting in the city, and despite that he took money which was the property and the assets of the people of Afghanistan with him. So I think he should return it.”
Is the Taliban in talks right now to get that money back?
“Right now it is an emergency situation. We are focusing on maintaining security and stabilising the country, to bring about stability and to form a new Afghan-inclusive Islamic government. These are our priorities, then we will go to our second priority, third priority—it is a long list. But we’ll go about all our priorities.
There are reports that countries like Germany have halted aid to Afghanistan. What is the Taliban’s response to that?
“Look, aids are not for us. Those aids are for the people of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan are in dire need of that aid. So, I don’t know why they have halted while the people of Afghanistan need that, while there is a humanitarian situation, a crisis in Afghanistan and a great percentage of the people in Afghanistan are living under the poverty line.
“So, I don’t know why they themselves are advocating [for] human rights, human values while they’re contradicting the same principles which they are advocating.”
Yesterday the executive director of the World Food Programme said that they’ve been in talks with the Taliban in order to provide humanitarian assistance. Can you tell me more about those talks?
“We have [had] contacts with the UN, the UNAMA for the last many years. We are talking with them from time-to-time. I don’t have the details, but we have called international NGO’s, the UN, that [can] come forward with urgent assistance for the people of Afghanistan. There is an urgent need.”
Right now, one thing the Taliban is missing is international legitimacy. What is the Taliban doing in order to navigate through this? Or is this even on the Taliban’s agenda in any way?
“See, we fought for our liberation for the last 20 years. It was the strength of our people that we were able to sustain this fight for 20 years and to finance and to have recruitment from among the people. So this government is the government of the people of Afghanistan. It is not a government imposed on our people as a result of occupation or an invasion.
“So I think…all countries to respect the aspirations and demands of the people of Afghanistan.. their aspirations. And recognise this government, because it is the government of all ethnicities of Afghanistan, they had participation in this great jihad. So, if they believe in democracy and the mandate of the people, they should respect the mandate of the people of Afghanistan.”
Now that the Taliban is in power in Afghanistan, what is the future going to be like in terms of its foreign affairs with other countries?
“We want to have good relations with all countries. To have cooperation with our neighbours, our regional countries, and other world countries on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest. This is our policy.”
Is the United States among those countries?
And would you have talks with the Joe Biden administration then?
“Yes. If they want to have relations with us on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest, yes. We are ready to have talks with them.”
Do you have any final thoughts
“We are grateful to Qatar. We were here for 10 years, my family was here for 10 years and my children grew up here, some of them, and received education in all the facilities they provided us. And they helped to resolve the issue through peaceful means, through many talks, so I think they had a very great role in resolving the Afghan issue through many ways.
“For example, through [welcoming] delegations of other countries here, talking to us, conveying our policies to them, through contacts with the Kabul administration delegation coming here and their negotiation team here, and Qatar’s positive mediation role.”
What do you have to say to the thousands of Afghans trying to flee Afghanistan?
“I’m telling them Afghanistan is your country…you should focus on rebuilding your country and a peaceful Afghanistan…don’t be scared. Don’t, for the purpose of economic migration, don’t go there.
“Build your country [so] that other people come to your country as an economic migrant rather than going to other countries. And your properties are secure, your life is secure. We are brothers, we are Afghans. We should come together to build our life, to build a country and have a peaceful coexistence here in our land.”