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Interview: Taliban Spokesman Says Qatar Office Marks Beginning Of Political Track

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem
Taliban officials in the newly opened Taliban office in Qatar say the opening of their office is a response to calls by their opponents for the launch of a political process to end three decades of fighting in Afghanistan.

In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem explained the hard-line movement's motives and aspirations behind the opening of their contact office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

RFE/RL: How were you able to open this office in Qatar, given that you've had a deadlock with Washington since accusing them of reneging on their promises 18 months ago?

Mohammad Naeem: The opening of this office is based on an understanding between the Islamic Emirate [editor's note: the formal name of the Afghan Taliban] and Qatar. In 2011, we requested that the government of Qatar help open a political office for the Islamic Emirate in their country. Qatar has now in 2013 shown its willingness to act on our request.

RFE/RL: You recently said that you will begin talking to Washington soon. What will the agenda be for these talks?

Naeem: This will be the first formal round of talks between the Islamic Emirate and the United States of America. So we will not talk about any specific issues; it will be an opportunity to exchange views. It is possible that we will have a specific agenda for the second and third rounds of talks.

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RFE/RL: In the past, you insisted that no talks could begin until Taliban leaders detained at Guantanamo Bay were released. Are they being freed now?

Naeem: We will talk about that issue. In the past, we had no address or contact office where we could sit down with people and talk about such issues.

RFE/RL: You have always described the "foreign occupation" as the primary motive behind your insurgency. Has that problem been resolved since foreign forces began the last phase of transitioning security responsibilities to Afghan government troops?

Naeem: The whole world and our people are witness to the fact that foreign forces still operate in Afghanistan. Despite calling it a transition to Afghan security forces, the foreign forces conduct military operations on their own. As long as foreign forces are there we cannot call it the end of occupation.

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RFE/RL: Will you talk to the representatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in you Qatar office?

Naeem: Yes, one of the main objectives of opening this office is to meet Afghans. All Afghans can consult us in that office.

RFE/RL: Previously, you described President Karzai's administration as a "puppet regime." Are you ready to talk to Karzai officials now?

Naeem: Our policy is clear. We have said that the problem in Afghanistan has two important aspects. One aspect is related to the occupation of Afghanistan by foreign forces; this is the important part. Until that issue is resolved we see no benefit in talking about solving the internal aspect. We will think about addressing the internal aspect after sorting out our problems with the foreigners.

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RFE/RL: Many Afghans say it is impossible for any peace talks to bear fruit so long as violence continues. How do you respond?

Naeem: As Afghans, their suffering worries us. We have opened this office because our opponents said they wanted to solve this problem through a political process. Now this is our response to that.

RFE/RL: But in your recent statements, you have made it clear that you will continue fighting, even as talks commence. Why won't you declare a cease-fire?

Naeem: We all know that once two sides sit across the table from each other, then we can talk about these issues. It is not so simple and won't be normal or rational to expect to achieve [a cease-fire] in a couple days. We will look into this after listening to what they have to say.

RFE/RL: Your movement has always declared the implementation of Islamic law as one of its paramount objectives. But Afghanistan's current constitution already gives Islam primacy in all laws. What specific changes do you seek to implement?

Naeem: The most important issue here is the issue of sovereignty. The current administration in Kabul is not sovereign. How can it then implement [Islamic] laws or harmonize them with the demands of the present times. In the past 12 years, we have seen that despite all their resources and the international political backing and military aid, they have failed to serve our people in a significant manner.

RFE/RL: What kind of political system do you want to put in place for the future? Do you want to restore the political system the Taliban created in the 1990s, or are you willing to negotiate an accommodation with other Afghans?

Naeem: In his speeches and statements, our leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has repeatedly said that we want a government that includes all Afghans. It should be a government in which all our people and their representatives can participate and be a part. It should give Afghans hope that it is a government for all of them and this country belongs to all of them.