Mullah Omar backs Afghan peace talks alongside armed jihad

  • Says negotiations ‘legitimate’ way of achieving objective of ending occupation by foreign forces and establishment of Islamic system

In a statement released to the media on Wednesday, the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar marked Eidul Fitr by apparently backing peace talks with the Afghan government, saying that Islam did not bar “peaceful interaction with enemies”.

Contrary to Mullah Omar’s statement and Pakistan-brokered negotiations held last week between the Taliban and Afghan government officials, the Taliban have stepped up attacks on Afghan security forces.

However, Mullah Omar’s statement ends speculation that the reclusive Taliban leader had not authorised the latest talks.

The text, published on a Taliban website, suggested that negotiations were a “legitimate” way of achieving the objective of ending occupation by foreign forces.

The statement said political means to achieve “sacred goals” could be pursued “concurrently with armed jihad”, under Islamic principles.

The statement also made an apparent reference to the Islamic State (IS) militant group, whose Afghan affiliate has gained ground in Afghanistan, clashing with the Taliban and drawing away some of its supporters.

“We have directed all our mujahideen (soldiers) to preserve their unity and forcefully prevent all those elements who attempt to create differences,” the statement said.

The explicit endorsement of peace talks in this year’s message is unprecedented. In the past, the Taliban insisted on talking only to the US, who they consider the main party to the conflict.

Though he does not refer specifically to last week’s meeting in Islamabad between Afghan officials and the Taliban representatives, he has openly backed negotiations with his fellow Afghans too.

Meanwhile, he said that fighting would continue until the end of “occupation and the establishment of the Islamic system”.

The defection of some Taliban fighters to Islamic State has led to clashes between the two groups in several parts of the country.

Without naming IS, Mullah Omar warns against the opening of new jihadi fronts and asks fighters to forcefully prevent all those “who create differences, damage this jihadi front and create disunity”.

Although the Taliban are blamed for most civilian casualties, he reminds his followers to take care in their operations and not harm civilians. His tone is full of confidence, spurred on by recent advances in the battlefield.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) concluded its combat mission in Afghanistan last December, replacing it with a smaller deployment intended to train Afghan security forces until 2016.