War in Afghanistan over-all opponents to be pardoned: Taliban spokesman

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KABUL/PESHAWAR: The Taliban said Tuesday they would soon be establishing a government, but gave little detail of its make-up apart from saying they would “connect with all sides”.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a news conference that the war in Afghanistan was over and that all their opponents would be pardoned.

Talks continued Tuesday between the Taliban and several Afghan government officials, including former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council.

Discussions focused on how a Taliban-dominated government would operate given the changes in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, rather than just dividing up who controlled what ministries, officials with knowledge of the negotiations said.

“War has ended... (the leader) has pardoned everyone,” Zabihullah Mujahid said at the press briefing, adding: “We are committed to letting women work in accordance with the principles of Islam.”

Zabihullah Mujahid said, "All those in the opposite sideare pardoned from A to Z," adding: "We will not seek revenge."

The spokesman said they have enmity with no one, and those who have fled Afghanistan must also return. Asked what the difference between the movement that was ousted 20 years ago and the Taliban of today, he said: "If the question is based on ideology, and beliefs, there is no difference... but if we calculate it based on experience, maturity, and insight, no doubt there are many differences."

"The steps today will be positively different from the past steps," he added. Zabihullah Mujahid promised the Taliban would honour women’s rights, but within the norms of Islamic law, though he gave few details. He said the group wanted private media to “remain independent,” but stressed journalists “should not work against national values.”

And he promised the insurgents would secure Afghanistan — but seek no revenge against those who worked with the former government or with foreign governments or forces. “We assure you that nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped,” he said.

The spokesman said the Taliban have good ties with Pakistan, China and Russia, but not part of any bloc. Zabihullah Mujahid assured the Afghan people, neighbouring countries as well as world powers of their cooperation in maintaining order in the country so it can never be used against any other country in future.

"You have been the witnesses of the fact we are at the venture stage of after 20 years of struggle once again we have emancipated our country and made it independent again and expelled the foreigners. Congratulate the whole nation as this is a proud moment for the whole nation," he said.

“We want to make Afghanistan is not a battle of conflict anymore," he said. "There have been some rioters that wanted to abuse the situation. We realised that was problem was going on but assure the residents of full security," he said.

The spokesman said the plan was to stop at the gates of Kabul, so the transition process is completed smoothly without Taliban entering Kabul to stop damages. “But unfortunately, the previous government was so incompetent and as a result of their actions their forces could not do anything to ensure security and we had to do something," he said.

Zabihullah Mujahid tried to assure the international community, including the United States that the Taliban will not allow their use territory to be used against anybody. "You will not be harmed from our soil," the spokesman said.

Earlier, Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, made similar promises, saying the Taliban would extend an “amnesty” without giving details and encouraging women to join the government.

The capital Kabul remained quiet for another day as the Taliban patrolled its streets and many residents stayed home, fearful after the insurgents’ takeover saw prisons emptied and armoires looted. Many women have expressed dread that the two-decade Western experiment to expand their rights and remake Afghanistan would not survive the resurgent Taliban.

While the Taliban pledged not to go after their enemies, some in Kabul allege the fighters have lists of people who cooperated with the government and are seeking them out. A broadcaster in Afghanistan said she was hiding at a relative’s house, too frightened to return home much less return to work following reports that the insurgents are also looking for journalists. She said she and other women didn’t believe the Taliban had changed their ways. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety.

Samangani addressed the concerns of women, saying Taliban were ready to “provide women with environment to work and study, and the presence of women in different (government) structures according to Islamic law and in accordance with our cultural values.”

That would be a marked departure from the last time the Taliban were in power, when women were largely confined to their homes.

Meanwhile, spokesman for Taliban’s political office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said the burqa is not the only hijab (headscarf) that (can) be observed, as there is different types of hijab not limited to burqa.

He said in an interview to a foreign channel that women can get education from primary to higher education -- that means university. “We have announced this policy at international conferences, the Moscow conference and here at the Doha conference (on Afghanistan)," Suhail Shaheen said.

Thousands of schools in areas captured by the Taliban were still operational, he added. In another sign of the Taliban’s efforts to portray a new image, a female television anchor on the private broadcaster Tolo interviewed a Taliban official on camera Tuesday in a studio — an interaction that once would have been unthinkable. Meanwhile, women in hijabs demonstrated briefly in Kabul, holding signs demanding the Taliban not “eliminate women” from public life.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, noted both the Taliban’s vows and the fears of everyday Afghans. “Such promises will need to be honoured, and for the time being — again understandably, given past history — these declarations have been greeted with some scepticism,” he said in a statement. “There have been many hard-won advances in human rights over the past two decades. The rights of all Afghans must be defended.”

Meanwhile, after their marathon consultations about their future governance and strategies, the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban on Tuesday gathered to install their government in the war-ravaged country.

Taliban supreme leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada and their top military commander Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob were among senior leaders to reach Kandahar, the birth place of Taliban movement, on Tuesday and held important meetings with members of the organisation.

Also, according to Taliban sources, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada had directed his senior leadership to reach Afghanistan so they can install a government and overcome the existing challenges the Afghan nation is facing after the collapse of the previous government.

According to sources, besides other senior leaders, Mullah Baradar Akhund, the head of Taliban political office in Qatar, also arrived in Kandahar in a chartered plane, and called on their supreme leader and other Taliban members.

Mullah Baradar was accompanied by Sheikh Abdul Hakim, Taliban former shadow chief justice, Shahabuddin Dilwar, Mullah Fazil, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Salam Hanafi, etc.

From Kandahar, Taliban said these people would then travel to Kabul where they would meet other senior leaders, most likely today (Wednesday) to announce their future set-up.

Many other top Taliban leaders and commanders as well as religious scholars, Sirajuddin Haqqani aka Khalifa, chief of the dreaded Haqqani Network, and Taliban deputy leader, has also reached Afghanistan and is expected to go to Kabul today. Two maternal uncles of Sirajuddin Haqqani, including Haji Khalil and Haji Ibrahim, along with their dozens of commanders and fighters had already reached the Afghan capital city and joined their fellow leaders.

Taliban said since they didn't expect Kabul will fall to them so quickly, therefore they weren't mentally prepared for its administration and handling issues of the six million population of the city. Besides many other challenges, Taliban said they were not having skilled people at the moment to cope with the emerging situation in the country and come up to expectations of the Afghan people.

Taliban said they have distributed their contact numbers among the residents of Kabul to approach them immediately in case someone is harassing them or collecting donations, arms or vehicles in the name of Taliban. According to Taliban, they had detained a number of people who were collecting donations, arms and vehicles from the residents in Kabul.

Taliban said they had decided to dismantle the previous Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) and other security installations and recruit their own forces.

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