Taliban commander: Al-Qaida a 'plague,' victory not possible
The Taliban accept that they never will defeat the coalition in war, and likely never rule Afghanistan completely, but foresee a prominent role in the country’s political future, according to an interview with a senior Taliban commander to be published Thursday.
Excerpted on the Web site of British political magazine the New Statesman, the unnamed Taliban figure speaks at length about the Taliban’s relations with al-Qaida, President Hamid Karzai and what Afghanistan might look like with the organization back in power.
“Our people consider al-Qaida to be a plague that was sent down to us by the heavens. Some even concluded that al-Qaida are actually the spies of America,” the commander is quoted as saying by author Michael Semple, who conducted the interview. “To tell the truth, I was relieved at the death of Osama (bin Laden). Through his policies, he destroyed Afghanistan. If he really believed in jihad he should have gone to Saudi Arabia and done jihad there, rather than wrecking our country.”
In a full transcript sent to Stars and Stripes by The New Statesman, Semple refers to the man as a “senior surviving commander” and confidant of the Taliban, whose identity he has verified. The commander dismisses Karzai as a stooge of the West: “There is little point in talking to [the Karzai government]. Real authority rests with the Americans,” he says. “The only other serious political force in Afghanistan is that of the Northern Alliance” — which fought Taliban rule and is now a political player in Kabul.
Other highlights from the interview, which is to be published in full Thursday:
On military victory:
“It would take some kind of divine intervention for the Taliban to win this war. The Taliban capturing Kabul is a very distant prospect. Any Taliban leader expecting to be able to capture Kabul is making a grave mistake. Nevertheless, the leadership also knows that it cannot afford to acknowledge this weakness. To do so would undermine the morale of Taliban personnel.”
On continued fighting after a timetable for drawdown as announced:
The Taliban believe that they are obliged to fight for a certain period to gain acceptance as a power that people have to deal with. They also believe that over time they will become stronger than the Karzai regime.
On political settlement:
It is difficult to predict what role the Taliban might accept in a settlement. What is clear is that they will not accept what has been offered many times – surrender and slavish bowing to the authority of their enemies.
On the Taliban’s aims:
“The Taliban are fighting to expel the occupiers and to enforce [Shariah law] ... We also know that there are other political forces in Afghanistan – for example, [the warlords] Dostum and Sayyaf. They all have their own political program. Even when the Taliban were in power there was a difference in the way [Sharia] was practiced. There was [Shariah] in Kandahar and Kabul, but far less in Herat and almost none in the north. If the Taliban were ever to return to power they would face enormous problems.”
On social policy:
The international community has little right to ask the Taliban about their social policy when the internationals have failed so miserably in everything they promised. The international community vowed to render Afghanistan secure, prosperous and free of drugs. Instead, Afghanistan has become the most insecure place in the world, and Afghans must face daily the indignity of house searches where foreign troops separate their women from their men.
On any future governance:
“In their time, the Taliban gained notoriety over three points: their treatment of women, their harsh enforcement of petty rules on things like beards and prayers, and their international relations. The priority now should be restoration of security. But on the other issues I anticipate that they would soften their tough policies.”
Semple is a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Kennedy School at Harvard and one of the leading authorities on Pashtun politics, the Taliban and reconciliation, The New York Times noted in a blog about the interview, adding that Semple was asked to leave Afghanistan by the Afghan government in 2007 while serving as a diplomat there for the European Union after he and another diplomat met with some Taliban leaders to explore peace talks.
The full interview is to be published Thursday in the New Statesman.