The Afghan peace talks have been faced with a deadlock over the last few months. Violence has remained high in the country in the last two months following the start of the withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan. In this interview, TOLOnews' Yaser Abrar speaks to Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, about a wide range of issues from ongoing conflicts, to the peace process and other current topics.
TOLOnews: At least 129 districts have fallen to the Taliban in the last two months and of these 15 have been retaken by the government in recent days. The Taliban call it a victory, but the US said it calls into question the Taliban’s sincerity about wanting peace.
What does the Taliban want? Do they want a political agreement, a surrender, or power through force? What is the ongoing war for and what justification does it have? Is there any hope for peace?
All will be discussed in this interview with Mr. Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban.
Mr. Mujahid, hello and welcome to the program.
Mujahid: Hello to you and to your listeners and readers and watchers. Thank you for the opportunity.
TOLOnews: You captured the centers of 114 districts in two months. The Pentagon says that it questions your sincerity in the peace process. What is your response?
Mujahid: In the name of Allah… I should say that 125 districts have been captured in two months and are under our control. This progress has not been by force or through war. You are aware that most of them were through the leaving of Kabul administration soldiers’ who moved to quit fighting and join us and we came closer to each other. We can say that in one or one-and-a-half months we had the least casualties, same was for the Kabul administration soldiers because there wasn’t a need for war and all areas were captured automatically and they joined us. This does not mean that it will call into question our will because you are aware that it is 16 months that we had reduced our operations for political matters and we had reduced our operations to 25%, which means that they were reduced by 75%. But despite that, the peace and negotiations process was moving forward slowly and it is slow right now, too; therefore, we could not sit with the other side.
TOLOnews: But the people know that what you have said does not include all. There are many districts that have been captured through fighting. The centers of some cities were besieged by you for many days. The city of Pul-e-Khumri is an example. Ghazni is another instance. This act by your side has raised questions. You called it a victory in your statement seven days ago. The people ask: how can we understand this? Are you seeking a military takeover? Do you want surrender? What do you want?
Mujahid: I want to explain this point briefly so that we can judge it better. The ceasefire ended on the 4th day of Eid al Fitr, June 11, 2021. The three days of Eid ended. It was the 4th day of Eid. Two army corps from the Kabul administration released statements that they would launch large-scale operations in areas under their command. They were the 215 Maiwand Corps in Helmand and 103 Thunder Corps of Paktia. Both released statements and all the media in the country made headlines from the statements. You can search them by entering “large-scale operation started against the Taliban.” It means it happened on the 4th day of Eid. When there is fight against us, when there is bullying against us, we have no option but to defend ourselves and our areas. Second, you have witnessed that two officials from security administrations, the Ministry of Interior and the National Directorate of Security, with the agreement of the Kabul administration reported to the Meshrano Jirga about their activities in the last year. Their report said that, as a big part of their report, they had a 50% increase in their operations against us where there was a 7% increase from our side in our operations. Now you compare 50% and 7%. Second, the Kabul administration, its leader Ashraf Ghani, at an event with commando forces, said that you conduct 50 attacks in a day in the country. This is on the record and you can search it. 50 attacks in a day against the enemy, against us. When 50 attacks are conducted in a day against us, and their attacks increase by 50%, and on the 4th day of a ceasefire, instead of calling for a ceasefire or progress in the political process, the extension of attacks is announced, then why should we stay calm and wait? This is our right.
TOLOnews: Mr. Mujahid, don’t you think that the areas that you have retaken recently were under the government’s control not under yours. It means that the government says it has not attacked you to take over your areas, but you have come and done so.
Mujahid: This has been due to the government’s weakness. This has not been because they are good and will not do this. If they want and if they can, they will eliminate us. They are seeking our killing 24/7. The fact that they cannot do it, that they don’t have the ability, is a separate thing. They say it but they cannot practice it but we should defend ourselves against the operations by the enemy. We started our movement, and we defended against the enemy. In this situation, the enemy’s forces are losing their morale. Everywhere we are informed about surrendering, until today. Even today as I am speaking to you, I got calls from four provinces, key bases contacted and told us they want to surrender and how should they do it. We cannot ignore these because they quit their fight. They ended their excuse for war. They put an end to insecurity. It would be better to clear these areas. Second, if you calculate, we had the least civilian casualties in the last month. It means that the enemy left vast areas and the common people are feeling calm. In this case, why shouldn’t we move forward?
TOLOnews: The world has pointed a finger at you. The US charge de affaires asked you in a tweet to stop violence and return to the negotiations. Mr. Wison said that the world will not accept a government that is established through force in Afghanistan. A key question again: are you seeking a militarily takeover or through political settlement and peace?
Mujahid. America itself came in by force. The current regime has been imposed through force. You remember that they came in by the use of B-52s and other types of aircraft 20 years ago. And some of them still have a presence here. They came by force and imposed the current situation on the people of Afghanistan by force. If they can use force, why not us? This is one. Two, we and America had an agreement 16 months ago and it has been released. You are aware. It mentioned that, first, the US forces and their allies, all, including NATO, will withdraw their troops from Afghanistan by May 1. Second, It (the agreement) says that no threat will be posed to the US and its allies from Afghan soil. Third, the intra-Afghan negotiations are started. Fourth, a ceasefire will be one of the issues under discussion in intra-Afghan negotiations. We signed this agreement with Americans. You tell me, now that May has passed, why the US forces have not left? … They did not leave by May. One violation. Second, no attack has been conducted on the US and its allies from Afghanistan. This shows our commitment to the agreement. Third, the intra-Afghan negotiations started. It was mentioned that the UN blacklist is to be removed three months after the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations and all prisoners released. Both were not done. Now, while the US is not implementing its commitments or the commitments cannot be implemented by the US--or it does not want to do it--why should we remain committed to what was agreed?
TOLOnews: But you know, Mr. Mujahid, that a big part of the foreign forces have left Afghanistan. A CENTCOM commander a few days ago said that the retrograde has been over 50% completed and that the number will be zero by Sept. 11. You agreed in the Doha agreement to some issues. Cutting your ties with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups is one of those key issues. Were you committed to it?
Mujahid: No doubt, we were committed. First, why was it (the withdrawal) delayed until September? We agreed after 18 months of negotiations. Now why it is 5%, why is there even one US soldier in Afghanistan?
TOLOnews: But you know that this presence will be zero.
Mujahid: We witnessed the other day that Americans conducted airstrikes on our forces, on civilians, and admitted that they did airstrikes. This is against the agreement.
TOLOnews: Mr. Mujahid, now allow me to mention some key issues. On October 20, 2020, Abdul Mohsin al Mesri, the number 2 of al Qaeda, was killed in Andar district in Ghazni, an area under your control. The United Nations said on Oct. 31, 2020, that al Qaeda fighters are among Taliban ranks and that it is a violation of the Doha agreement. On Nov. 10, 2020, Mohammad Haneef known as Abdullah, the deputy leader of al Qaeda for the Indian subcontinent, was killed during bomb-making training being given to your members in Bakwa district in Farah. You demanded the release of Asim Omar’s spouse as part of the release of 5,000 prisoners – by the Afghan government. If you look at the 1267 Committee of the UN’s report on Feb. 7, 2021, and a report by the US Treasury Department on Jan. 26, 2021, all say that the Taliban still maintains ties with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Mujahid: You should also listen. First, I hope that you read the agreement as it has been released and no part of it has been kept hidden.
TOLOnews: Absolutely. I have read it carefully.
Mujahid: Nowhere in the agreement has it been mentioned that we have or don’t have ties with anyone. In fact, the issue of relations is not considered. What has been agreed upon is that no threat should be posed from Afghan soil to the US and its allies.
TOLOnews: From al Qaeda and other terrorist groups?
Mujahid: Yes, yes, from all. In a situation as in war--and we are involved in a big war--we cannot clear our soil or our areas, or have surveillance, or in a situation where there are contested areas, non-contested areas and areas where neither we nor the enemy has a presence – non-governed areas, in such a situation, it is not possible that there aren’t some violations or that they don’t happen at all. In any case, we are not involved in it. The reports that have been published are either from the Kabul administration or from America. This is the enmity of our enemy.
TOLOnews: They are from the United Nations.
Mujahid: The United Nations itself relies on US reports or it gets information from the National (Directorate of) Security of the Kabul administration.
TOLOnews: Your remarks can indicate that you have not promised in the Doha agreement to cut your ties with al Qaeda and your relations are maintained so far.
Mujahid: First, it has not mentioned anything about relations. The relation between Muslims in the world is in faith. This is not logical at all. The issue was also mentioned in our negotiations. We explained this to the Americans--what this relation means. In fact, we don’t have any relations with anyone after 20 years to cut now. As Muslims, we share faith and belief in God. Under these circumstances, we have relations with all the Muslim world. What do relations mean? (We were asked) to make sure that the US will not face any threats from Afghan soil. This is what has been mentioned in the agreement. We are committed to the contents of the agreement, not to what is said by the media or other individuals.
TOLOnews: You’re saying that relations are maintained?
Mujahid: No, the relations our – It does not mean the relations that you say. We didn’t have relations over the last 20 years.
TOLOnews: If you don’t have relations, Mr. Mujahid, how come Abul Muslim al Misri was killed in Andar district in Ghazni?
Mujahid: I told you, no evidence has been shown to us regarding this. We asked for the evidence. Where is his body? And … So far, no one has provided this to us. These are allegations on the TV and radio.
TOLOnews: Where is Abu Muslim al Misri? Do you know, Mr. Mujahid?
Mujahid: We don’t know his whereabouts. We don’t know actually where he is. Again, the country is at war, half of the country is not in our control, we have open borders, we are at war, we don’t have the Interior Ministry and the intelligence under our control to monitor all citizens, to know who is there and who is not, who makes a movement and who does not. Anything is important under such a situation, but they should provide evidence about whether any threat has been posed to the US from Afghanistan’s soil or whether there is any intention for this.
TOLOnews: You had agreed that your released prisoners will stay committed to the Doha agreement. It means that they will not return to the battlefield. If we summarize the question: Where is Mali Khan who was released along with Anas Haqqani and Hafiz Rasheed? Former NDS chief – Rahmatullah Nabil – says he is leading the fighting in Paktia province.
Mujahid: I am once again asking you to read the agreement carefully. Nowhere in the agreement has mentioned that our prisoners should not return to the battlefield once they are released.
TOLOnews: But you have committed that they will remain firm to the contents of the Doha agreement.
Mujahid: Yes, we are committed. Those who are fighting now, they too are committed. It means that no threat will be posed to the US from Afghanistan’s soil. It means that if the US forces leave the country, we are committed – it means that if the intra-Afghan negotiations are held, all of us, including the prisoners, are committed and if they are discussing ceasefire, we all are committed. Where is the question in it? We are committed to every content of the agreement.
TOLOnews: Then many of your prisoners have returned to the battlefields and Mali Khan is leading the fighting in Paktia?
Mujahid: No. I am repeating this matter. No, no one of our prisoners has returned to the battlefield. They (released prisoners) are suffering from physical and spiritual problems and some of them had family problems. All are busy. I am telling you an example. A short example as it has not been discussed by anyone so far. The Islamic emirate of Afghanistan was reviewing its structure. Some governors and officials were shifted. In three or four instances, some individuals who were recommended for district governors and lower positions were those who were released among the 5,000 (prisoners). Hence, the recommendation went for approval to the emir-ul-muminin and our leader so that the changes are applied. When he saw their past that they were in prison (and have been released), he rejected it (and ordered) that all those who have been released should stay at home and have no right (to violate) the agreement.
TOLOnews: Mr. Mujahid!
Mujahid: One is rumors and another are realities –
TOLOnews: Do you confirm that Mali Khan leads the fighting in Paktia?
Mujahid: No, no. It is not led by Mali Khan. The fighting in Paktia is led by the Paktia governor.
TOLOnews: Where is he (Mali Khan)? In Doha?
Mujahid: No, he is at his home. Haji Sahib Mali Khan is now under treatment and is at his home. Of course, I don’t know where is he but he is not on the battlefield.
TOLOnews: Mr. Mujahid. What is the name of the current war in Afghanistan? A jihad? Killing of Muslims? Killing of brothers? What is it?
Mujahid: It is jihad, a sacred jihad against occupation, against (the supporters) of occupation, against sedition.
TOLOnews: But you know that in 1397 (2018), 100 religious scholars from 37 countries gathered in Saudi Arabia, where the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also attended. They said that shedding people’s blood in a Muslim country is haram (forbidden). In Mizan of 1399 (Sept. 2020), the International Union of Muslim Scholars announced that the ongoing war in Afghanistan is absolutely forbidden and is the killing of Muslims. In Aqran 1399 (Oct. 2020), 2,000 religious scholars gathered in Kabul and called the ongoing war in Afghanistan "forbidden." On May 29, 2021, Egypt’s grand mufti Dr. Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam called the war forbidden and illegitimate and said that the killing of one Muslim is equal to the killing of all humanity and is worse than desecration to the Kaaba. On December 8, 2020, religious scholars from Muslim countries gathered in Nigeria and said that this war should immediately end. We can mention Dr. Sheikh Ekrima Sabri as among them; Ekrima Sabri, the imam of al Aqsa Mosque, said the war in Afghanistan is illegitimate based on Verse 94 of Surah An-Nisa. Three weeks ago a conference was held in Mecca with the participation of religious scholars from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The OIC three weeks ago said that with the start of the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the continuation of the war in Afghanistan is the killing of Muslims. Don’t you accept all these?
Mujahid: I hope you also listen as well. First, when our jihad started against America, none of the figures that you mentioned issued a fatwa to do jihad and it is a need, your country is under occupation, so should we have to listen to them about ending the war now? Second, those whom you mentioned, an absolute majority of them are the government officials in their countries and are under US pressure. When (John) Nicholson was NATO’s commander in Kabul, he said that they will increase religious and military pressure on the Taliban so that they are pushed for the negotiations. He explained religious pressures, that they will ask world scholars to talk against the Taliban. Under current circumstances, no religious scholar who is independent, credible and trustworthy has said a word except those who have jobs in governments or are talking by the dictation of their governments against the war. Their discussion was one thing and their words were misinterpreted. For instance, we talked to al Aqsa mosque’s imam and asked him whether he has said such a thing and he said that he hasn’t made such a remark at all. The al-Aqsa imam told (us) that jihad against the US is jihad and no one can deny it.
TOLOnews: But there are reports that the meetings of religious scholars from Muslim countries –
Mujahid: I will come to that. First, all these gentlemen were dictated to say such words. Second, our jihad was not started with their fatwa to be ended with their fatwa. Third, there is a principle in Islamic jurisprudence. It is a scientific topic. A principle that when you are issuing a fatwa on an issue you need to investigate the issue from both sides. If the two sides are not present, it is not allowed to issue a fatwa against it. All the muftis that you mentioned, even one of them has not sit with us to ask us why are you fighting and what is the issue? So that we explain and then they would issue a fatwa. They are asked about whether the killing of Muslims is legitimate, they say no. If you mention in a fatwa that the killing of the puppets of America, who have killed their nation by standing with the US over the last 20 years, are standing against their religion, have enmity with it, are protecting the US system and interests, protecting New York and Washington, is their killing legitimate nor not? Then the mufti – I contend that in this case if the mufti said it is illegitimate, I will pay the compensation. This can happen when muftis come and sit with both sides, including us and the other side, and then they decide for us. Issuing a fatwa unilaterally is not credible, it is a political matter, it is not a religious matter, we are not respecting it, we have our own scholars, our own muftis. Most of us are scholars, we know the religion. They did not consider jihad against the US legitimate. They denied jihad at the beginning and they are denying it now.
TOLOnews: Who should issue a fatwa? I mentioned OIC, the International Union of Muslim Scholars, the grand mufti of Egypt, the imam of al Aqsa mosque, all of them. Who should issue a fatwa so that the war ends and you accept?
Mujahid: These people, but under the conditions for a fatwa, in which we are also there, as well as the other side.
TOLOnews: Are you ready for such a session?
Mujahid: The rules for fatwa should be applied. It means that the issue on which a fatwa is issued should be explained in detail. In that case, it will be credible.
TOLOnews: Are you ready?
Mujahid: We have scholars. Why should we challenge the world? The world has its own scholars, has their own issues. Afghanistan has its own scholars. We don’t do the Salah (prayers) by the saying of the muftis of Egypt or Aqsa, we pray by the saying of our own scholars.
TOLOnews: Then you don’t accept it?
Mujahid: No, they are all political fatwas. They are issued under Nicholson’s pressure, under the dictation of the US. They are unilateral. They have no legitimate basis.
TOLOnews: But the people would ask which of these fatwas they would consider political? Anyhow. When you take over Anar Dara district in Farah, some other parts too, you said that they were taken over without fighting. But you detonated the district governor’s compound and the NDS building by chanting Allah o Akbar. People are asking: what type of jihad is this? What was the sin of the building? Was it infidel?
Mujahid: Yes, it’s a good question. I should say that as I and you are talking today, 125 districts have been taken and captured. One case has happened. Another in another place.
TOLOnews: In Andkhoi district in Faryab?
TOLOnews: Of course, we know your reaction about Andkhoi, but about Anar Dara?
Mujahid: No, not in Andkhoi; it was in another place. I will tell you about it. In Ana Dara, the building that is demolished is not only for the district. It was the police headquarters and the NDS facility and there was a big plain area in front of it. When the mujahedeen were there, they reported that the enemy had taken out a large number of forces and is planning to retake the district and will attack the district. It is a military place and it is a place that has no place for resistance. There is a wide plain area. If the enemy had come and had taken over the stronghold, the mujahedeen would not have been able to resist behind it, and if we had fought from behind it, they would have used it as a stronghold, and then we could not –
TOLOnews: But what people know is –
Mujahid: It was a military decision. A military decision was made that this stronghold of the enemy should be demolished as a stronghold. This is a necessity of fighting-- in some areas, if we demolish them it does not mean that we are against the enemy’s interests or we need to do it, or we need to ruin the country. We should destroy the enemy’s stronghold. The enemy would kill people if they get to the stronghold.
TOLOnews: But if your goal was to govern, you could have used (the buildings) as your own, Mr. Mjuahid.
Mujahid: It is war. Later we can use it. If the country is built, we can rebuild it at a low cost. During fighting, someone sits and makes a stronghold to kill me, then I have the right to demolish the enemy’s stronghold. You cannot make a stronghold in people’s houses that have been built in the last 20 years.
TOLOnews: But the understanding the people get from this, what the people see is destruction, and people don’t want their homeland to be ruined.
Mr. Mujahid, where is your leader Mullah Hibatullah?
Mujahid: He is in the country. I cannot say specifically about his whereabouts due to security reasons as you know. But he is in the country and is leading a vast and extended jihad.
TOLOnews: Then why does your delegation in Doha travel to Pakistan for a consultation?
Mujahid: This is not true. They have never gotten advice.
TOLOnews: You know that Mr. Mullah Baradar went to Pakistan at the end of the first round of negotiations. A video was shared online that showed him at a hospital in Karachi, visiting your wounded (fighters). Then he appeared at a gathering of your members where he told them that all our leaders are here and that the treatment of our wounded is not possible in the country, in our own country, and we have no option but to tolerate this situation. This video exists.
Mujahid: I am making clear one thing for you. The visit by Mullah Baradar Akhund to Pakistan was an official visit for a meeting with the leaders of the Pakistani government. There, in Pakistan, we have 3.5 million refugees. Among them, there are individuals, or people, who come to Afghanistan for jihad, are wounded, get sick, die, get martyred, and are returned to their families along the Durand Line or in the Waziristans or Baluchistan or in some contested areas. We have refugees in these areas. 3.5 million people. In other words, we have 35 lakhs people there. Among them, thousands might be our people, their families across the Durand Line. They come, they are wounded, they get sick and while going across the line, of course, they go to hospitals and doctors in that country. They have been there for 20 years, 30 years, have used hospitals and medicine there. 40 years. Now that Mullah Baradar Akhund goes there and visits some patients there and would tell them that he is here. This has no harm. It was an official visit. It was not a consultation with anyone. When you go to Pakistan, you have helped national issues.
TOLOnews: But Mr. Mujahid, this video is there. It is on social media. He says among your members in Pakistan that all our leaders are here. You know that Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rasheed Ahmad in his recent interview with Geo News said that the families of many Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. He provided the address. In Loi Ber, in Bara Kuhah.
Mujahid: Again, I would say that our members might be there in Pakistan because we have refugees there. Our members might be among the refugees, their families might be there, and they do jihad here, and then they go to visit their families there. Their families have been there for 40 years. They migrated there in the previous jihad. We don’t deny this. But let’s say it this way. Let’s look at whether Pakistan has influence on these people. Our leaders were martyred in Pakistan. Mr. Mansoor was traveling in a border area from one place toward Khakris in Kandahar. He was martyred on the way. Mullah Baradar Akhund was imprisoned in Pakistan for eight years. Our governors, our authorities.
TOLOnews: Mr. Mullah Omar passed away in Pakistan.
Mujahid: No, no. This is wrong. He passed away in Shinkai (district) in Zabul.
TOLOnews: But the report –
Mujahid: Mullah Obaidullah was martyred in a Pakistan prison. There is no report about him. He was arrested by Pakistan. When our leaders are faced with such a fate there, how can it be a safe home for us, or a place for consultation?
TOLOnews: Right, but as I mentioned, Pakistan’s interior minister said that the families of many Taliban officials are in Pakistan. And meanwhile, he asks you not to allow TTP (Tehreek Taliban Pakistan) to operate in Pakistan. What is your answer to the Pakistani interior minister? How does he give himself the right to say this?
Mujahid: We have rejected these remarks. You might have heard the recent remarks by Pakistan’s foreign minister in the interview with Mr. Najafizada. He did not make such remarks. But he rejected it. Now Pakistan should make its interior and foreign ministers coordinated and then it should come and criticize. We rejected that there is no family of our leaders there, and our leaders are also not there. Of course, we have refugees. Three million Afghans are there (in Pakistan) and they are maybe in Iran too. Our refugees are also in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and other countries like Qatar where we have families of our members. No doubt, they went there during the fighting and they migrated. They had to leave their homes and leave, but it does not mean that all became puppets of countries or all were sold.
TOLOnews: Mr. Mujahid, why are Pakistanis fighting in your ranks?
Mujahid: This is a good question. It has not been approved anywhere. It is just words on Facebook as a photo from Paktia was posted a few days ago. They were the individuals who are alive and have not been killed. They are in Kashmir. They are Kashmir’s mujahedeen.
TOLOnews: Mr. Mujahid, one of the individuals who was arrested on –
Mujahid: They are among the posts on Facebook.
TOLOnews: They have Pakistani ID cards?
Mujahid: No! Let me tell you. We followed that person. He is living in Saudi Arabia. He was traveling to Saudi Arabia through Afghanistan because the flights to Saudi Arabia (from Pakistan) were stopped due to the COVID-19 spread. He was going to Saudi Arabia. He had his visa and passport with him. He was arrested in Paktia and they claim he was a Pakistani soldier. If he is from the Pakistani army, if this country has a leader, if someone attempts a military interference, or if a military person is arrested in a country, the ambassador is summoned, the foreign minister makes criticism, the issue is made international and it is criticized. How has it happened that no one on the diplomatic front took any steps? This is propaganda on Facebook and Twitter. You make accurate research. That person is a Saudi-bound traveler. He has neither seen the army nor war and he didn’t come here for that. He was going to Saudi Arabia because flights are banned to Saudi Arabia from Islamabad.
TOLOnews: But that person says in his remarks that he was trained in Pakistan for one and a half years and he says he was asked by Pakistanis to go to the Taliban ranks and fight along with other Pakistani military people.
Mujahid: Such things are expressed under torture. They would say such things under torture to do propaganda against the Taliban.
TOLOnews: Mr. Mujahid, many things are said about a peace plan for Afghanistan. Where is the Taliban’s plan? For instance, on political structure, your conditions, your perspective?
Mujahid: Our peace plan is in our pocket. When we sit for talks and when negotiations are started, we will present the plan and discuss it. That is not for the media.
TOLOnews: Are the people important? Should they know the details of the plan or not? Some say that it is questionable when we don’t read a plan. You have resources for presenting this. You have a website. People say that we should know your mandate, your programs.
Mujahid: No, it is one of the matters that would be discussed in negotiations. When it comes to people’s access, when we discuss something and when we agree on it, then we will share it with the people.
TOLOnews: Apart from negotiations, Mr. Mujahid. What you have in your mind and say that is in your pocket, why do you not share it with the people? People should know what is actually in your mind?
Mujahid: You know that topics that are discussed in negotiations by two sides are not final. In other words, they are not decided upon.
TOLOnews: We are not talking about negotiations.
Mujahid: No, no. The challenges we see and the things that are out on the media. It is true that our friends will listen and will realize, but those who are waiting to hurt peace, are not letting peace be established and they are not allowing progress in negotiations. They are challenging it and are creating hurdles in its way. Then discussions will get controversial. You witnessed how long discussions took on rules of the talks and how our people were affected by the reactions, even the issue of Shia and Sunni was raised. It has these issues in its background.
TOLOnews: We have limited time – for the interview. For instance, you often say Islamic system and it is challenged at a higher level here in the Afghan government. Should the people know or not what is the Islamic system that you are talking about? Should this be explained or not?
Mujahid: No, it has an explanation. The Islamic system is not a secret thing. Islam talks about system. The Islamic jurisprudence is full of it. All Muslim scholars and our scholars who study Islam know the issue of what an Islamic system means. It means that all Islamic laws are implemented. It means building a system based on the principles of jurisprudence. It means that good people are part of a system, decision makers are experts, advice is given by experts, the leader is Muslim and honest, just, educated and should be the one who is committed to the religious principles, who should have virtue, should not be an embezzler, a robber, should not have been dictated to from abroad, should have deep knowledge of Islam because he leads a Muslim country. These are its conditions.
TOLOnews: Let me ask you two specific questions. The Islamic system that you say. Shouldn’t it be Republic? Two, should election be part of it?
Mujahid: These are issues under discussion by all Afghans –
TOLOnews: What do you want?
Mujahid: The system we want should be based on the Shora-e- Ahl al-hall wal-aqd (the people of losing and binding, a term used in political aspects of Islam that referring to those qualified to appoint or depose a caliph or another ruler on behalf of the Ummah) or the religious scholars’ council or scholars, those who have understanding and knowledge. They should make the system.
TOLOnews: Then, elections are rejected?
Mujahid: According to our view, elections have not been effective. We saw the consequences of elections over the last 20 years in the country.
TOLOnews: But from 57 Muslim countries in the world, an absolute majority of them are either republic or like a republic, and some of them have experienced elections and have been successful.
Mujahid: No, they are not. No country has been successful. Muslim countries that have experienced elections are faced with problems and challenges. Pakistan is the most indebted country in the world. It has elections. In some other countries, too, there are issues. In Iran, too, they have elections, but their people are not happy. You witness Mehdi Karroubi and protests there. Also, in other countries, Turkey now has been left with no option but to change the conditions and it amended the law many times. In Egypt, elections led to failure. Even Mr. Mursi was imprisoned and was martyred. Algeria failed. Other countries too.
TOLOnews: You have a problem with the republic system, and an emirate is your red line?
Mujahid: We don’t have a problem. It is not our recommendation. Republic is not our recommendation. It might be discussed, but the system that we want is an Islamic system.
TOLOnews: Is Islamic emirate your red line, or not, Mr. Mujahid?
Mujahid: No, we cannot call it a red line because it is under discussion. We cannot impose a unilateral decision on the people. We should have negotiations and their consequence will be a redline.
TOLOnews: Right, then an Islamic emirate is not your red line. I have some short questions.
Mujahid: No, no, it is our demand. It is not a red line for us because before saying anything, we should discuss it. We don’t call a redline anything that maybe we might fail in (achieving) later.
TOLOnews: Right. Some short questions. What is your view on the freedom of speech, Mr. Mujahid? For instance, in your government or any government in which you are part of, can a reporter criticize your leader or cabinet minister?
Mujahid: No doubt, he can. During Islam’s height, Hazrat Omar was Muslim’s caliphate. He was criticized. Criticism is a need. Criticism itself means reform. Or reforming something. It means that someone tries to reform our minister or gives him advice.
TOLOnews: Like today or less than that, Mr. Mujahid? You see that here at TOLOnews we criticize the president with the strongest words, we challenge him, we invite him. Like today or less than that?
Mujahid: No, no. There is one thing. One is insult, character assassination, and one is criticism. It if is healthy, it will be very good.
TOLOnews: What is what we do today?
Mujahid: We cannot approve today’s media because it is 20 years that these media outlets are financed from one side for personal goals. Sometimes they fuel ethnic issues, sometimes discrimination and sometimes create fights among the people.
TOLOnews: These should be proved. What you say is in the realm of claims.
Mujahid: No, it is not a claim; it is proved.
TOLOnews: The freedom of speech that you say is more limited or less than today?
Mujahid: No, it will be more reformed than today.
TOLOnews: Okay. What does this reform mean?
Mujahid: It means that insulting individuals is not allowed.
TOLOnews: For instance, what we do is an insult?
Mujahid: Yes, we were insulted, many times, in your media outlets.
TOLOnews: Okay, can a woman present news in a government that for instance you are part of?
Mujahid: Let’s leave this to that government and laws – that will decide whether they can or not. (And to decide that) if they can, what will be the conditions.
TOLOnews: What is your view: Can women work as reporters?
Mujahid: Now we cannot decide. It is an issue of laws and details. When a government is built, it needs details and laws. I don’t want to talk as a spokesman of one side, and discover a law for all of Afghanistan and ask its full implementation. There are principles in Islamic logic.
TOLOnews: You are an authorized representative and you can pass on the Taliban’s view. For example, which areas can women work in? Can she become president? Can she sing? Can she be a journalist, or not?
Mujahid: No, no, she cannot become president. Islamic jurisprudence does not allow it. But she can work in her own area. It means that in an area where women’s dignity, her family’s dignity is safe and is protected. In this case, she can work, she can do education, can do social activities, but she should follow Islamic principles.
TOLOnews: Can she sing?
Mujahid: You tell me. Can she (sing) under Sharia?
TOLOnews: I am not supposed to answer. I asked you about it.
Mujahid: No, no. You are born in a Muslim family. After all, you are a Muslim, al Hamdulellah. Can she (sing)?
TOLOnews: As a reporter, my responsibility is to ask, Mr. Mujahid, not to respond.
Mujahid: Anyone can respond to this. A Muslim is a Muslim.
TOLOnews: I want to know the Taliban’s view because everyone has a different view.
Mujahid: No, she cannot (sing). In Islam, she cannot. This is not our view; this is Islam’s view. If you don’t know it, you should know it… You should ask a scholar.
TOLOnews: Right. What I ask does not mean that I don’t know. I ask it as a reporter and want to know your view.
Mujahid: The thing that is evident should not be asked.
TOLOnews: For instance, you said in Aqcha (district in Jawzjan) that women cannot go out of the home without a Mahram (a companion). People might ask that –
Mujahid: This is a rumor. Aqcha also witnessed such rumors. In Takhar, too, it was said in many instances that rules and regulations have been imposed, and it is time for laws. This is possible when a system is built. People come under law, and have an early mindset preparation for it. Then laws are formed, and are approved with the approval of council, and then the law of a country is made public, and then it is implemented. It has a specific procedure for itself. Anyone does not opt to implement laws. We investigated what was said in Aqcha and Takhar and some areas that we heard of. Nothing was done there. This is propaganda to disrupt (people’s) minds.
TOLOnews: Two last questions… Many said-- including Americans and those who met with your delegation in Moscow and other places--that the Taliban has changed and the Taliban are not those who were in the 1990s. Do you agree with this sentence? Haven’t they changed?
Mujahid: I should interpret it in another way. It is in interpretation. We have gained more experience. We have gotten more information. Or, when people get older, of course, they show more flexibility, their experience is increased. It means that we might have changed. We might have gained more experience. We were young and had feelings. When people get older, a movement also gets older. It will have its own flexibility. It means that it is completed, becomes more knowledgeable, gets more experience. In this interpretation, yes, there might be changes.
TOLOnews: For instance, if you take over a province or you take part in a government or if a government is under your control, will women be lashed on their feet or will they be lashed or not? Can they go out without a companion or not?
Mujahid: One is an issue pertaining to Sharia. About this I must say that we cannot change the principle of Sharia. The fact that whether we have changed, like some mujahedeen leaders who shaved their beards to show they have changed and wore suit and tie, this type of change is banned and is bad. Actually, it means that when there are Islamic rules, I will accept, you are a Muslim and will accept, all the people of Afghanistan are Muslims and they will accept. We cannot say that we obey laws or not. We do. This has been mentioned in Islamic jurisprudence. The companion that you are mentioning is a Sharia (legal) term. A woman cannot travel without a companion. Of course, the conditions for travel have been explained. If in a place where the environment is fair, women are protected and safe, then there isn’t a need for a companion. If not, if there is danger, a companion is a need. These are Sharia principles. We cannot change them. You cannot change them. The Islamic system is implementing them.
TOLOnews: As the last question. What is your choice, Mr. Mujahid? War or peace? Will you continue war or return to the negotiations table?
Mujahid: We have two ways (options). Negotiation is our priority. Negotiations and understanding. It is a priority and it is what we prefer. And, if needed, if we faced challenges once again, if we face hurdles, if we face a time of killing like we faced during the 16 months, then we will be obliged to select the second option, which is war.
TOLOnews: Mr. Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman, thank you.
Mujahid: Thank you for the opportunity and for your patience.