We are ‘legal’ rulers of Afghanistan, say Taliban

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The Taliban say its peace pact with the United States does not alter the status of their supreme leader as the “lawful rulers” of Afghanistan, saying he is duty-bound by religion to establish an “Islamic government” after foreign “occupation” troops exit the country.

The latest Taliban pronouncement fuels the uncertainty plaguing the US-Taliban deal signed a week ago in Qatar. It also comes a day after an American media outlet reported the US government had intelligence that the Taliban did not intend to abide by promises they made in the Feb. 29 peace agreement, reported foreign media.

A Taliban statement on Saturday insisted, while referring to its reclusive chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, that in the presence of a “legal Emir” there cannot be another ruler of Afghanistan. “As this 19-year jihad (holy war) against the (foreign) occupation was waged under the command of a legal Emir, the termination of occupation agreement does not mean that his rule is absolved,” it said, referring to the deal with Washington.

The Taliban explained in its Saturday statement that the departure of international troops alone would not serve the purpose of the insurgency, saying it is also seeking to keep “corrupt (Afghan) elements that supported the (foreign) invaders” from becoming a part of the future government. “Until the occupation is completely severed from its roots and an Islamic government formed, the mujahidin (insurgents) shall continue waging armed jihad and exerting efforts for the implementation of Islamic rule,” said the insurgent statement.

The Taliban reject as American puppets the current and previous Afghan governments since thy were ousted from power by the US-led invasion.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen announced Friday their negotiating team is ready with an agenda to engage with Afghan stakeholders, provided insurgent prisoners are released by Tuesday. Otherwise, he said, the responsibility for any delay in the proposed negotiations would rest with the other side.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that the proposed release of 5,000 jailed Taliban fighters, required under their peace deal with the US, can happen only if the Afghan government gets a guarantee that they will not ‘return to violence’.

“The people’s request is that there should be an executive guarantee so that these people will not return to violence once they are released,” the Afghan leader told parliament on Saturday, adding that a “transparent mechanism” has to be established to enact that part of the Taliban-US deal.

Under the agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Qatar last Saturday, as many as 5,000 members of the militant movement currently held in Afghan prisons would be released by March 10. This would pave the way to intra-Afghan talks on the future of the country.

During his parliament speech Ghani asked MPs to provide seven lawmakers to participate in the reconciliation council, a body that would handle the talks with the Taliban on the government side. He wouldn’t promise that any of them would be included in the negotiating team, however.