The Taliban leader reaches out to the West and promises rights to Afghan women

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban’s political leader has outlined his vision for Afghanistan, a vision in which women and religious minorities will be given rights in line with the movement’s interpretation of Islamic law, and in which terrorist groups will not be given a refuge to carry out. attacks abroad.

In a rare interview on Wednesday, Abdul Ghani Baradar described the withdrawal of the United States and its allies as being “in the best interests of the American people.”

Washington’s “longest and most useless war will end, US troops will return home after 20 years, and Afghanistan will get rid of the presence of foreign forces,” he said in response to written questions.

Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar speaks at a signing ceremony of the US-Taliban agreement in Qatar’s capital Doha on February 29, 2020.Karim Jaafar / AFP – Getty Images file

The comments come amid the withdrawal of US and allied troops and fear that the reinstated Taliban will continue the oppressive, theocratic regime that ended 20 years ago.

Baradar’s insistence that Afghanistan will not become a springboard for terrorist attacks was tested on Thursday when two explosions shook Kabul airport following warnings from the United States and others about an impending attack.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Twitter that an unspecified number of U.S. service members, as well as a number of Afghans, were killed in what he described as a “complex attack.”

Two U.S. intelligence officials said the assumption was that an IED attack was carried out by the Islamic State group’s Afghan subsidiary, ISIS-K. The Taliban is an enemy of ISIS.

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The Taliban’s attempts to present a less extreme picture to the world have been met with skepticism from Kabul to Washington. And early reports of repression – as well as violence and chaos at Kabul airport – have further undermined its PR offensive.

“Religious minorities, like other Afghans, will have rights, their religious ceremonies will be free and supported,” Baradar said. “Women will be given rights in accordance with sharia,” he added, referring to Islamic law, but did not elaborate on exactly what that would entail.

When the group last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, it imposed a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam on the population and prevented women from going to school, having jobs, and leaving home without male chaperones. Women also had to wear burqas that covered the face.

Its government was overthrown by a US-led invasion in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, which were orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader who was housed by the Taliban.

Although the Taliban deny that bin Laden was behind the attacks, claiming that they have never been presented with evidence, they are now seeking to reassure the United States and others that they will not allow militant groups to use Afghanistan as a base from which to launch attacks. in the West. .

“No one is allowed to use our territory to pose a threat to other countries,” Baradar said. “No one should feel threatened by Afghanistan.”

The blast outside Kabul airport on Thursday came after warnings from US officials about possible attempts by ISIS-K to attack people trying to board planes and flee the country.

Baradar said the Taliban had “very good reason for domestic security, stability and unity” and that its domestic policy was that Afghans should have a “comfortable and prosperous life”.

Earlier Thursday, NBC News interviewed another of the Taliban’s senior figures, Zabihullah Mujahid, who has served as its leading spokesman and is likely to line up for a top role in its new government.

He also said women would be allowed education and careers – but only within the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law. A day earlier, he had warned at a news conference that working women should stay home until Taliban fighters had been “trained” how to approach and talk to them.

He told NBC News that reports that its militants have already taken women as forced brides were “propaganda from the old regime.”

If Afghans want to take off with planes currently flying out of Kabul airport, he said, “it’s their choice.” But he said that “we do not want our countrymen to go to America. Whatever they have done in the past, we have given them amnesty. They should stay. We need young, educated professionals for our nation.”

While President Joe Biden says he is retiring to “end the United States’ longest war,” Mujahid said that “without a doubt, the Taliban are victors” of the conflict for two decades.

“There was no justification for this war. It was an excuse for war,” he said.

Richard Engel, Gabe Joselow and Ahmed Mengli reported from Kabul, and Alexander Smith from London.

Ahmed Mengli | and Gabe Joselow the contribution.

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