‘We rid our country of foreign occupation’, says Taliban leader

Kabul, Afghanistan – Taliban took control of Afghanistan last August, promising to bring peace to the country racked by decades of conflict and US occupation.

As the group is set to mark its first anniversary in power, concerns have been raised about the security situation in the country, with ISIL (ISIS) managing to carry out several deadly attacks. Last week, an ISIL affiliate killed a senior Taliban scholar.

Just days before the killing, a US drone strike eliminated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, raising Western concerns about armed groups finding a safe haven in Afghanistan.

The US-led foreign forces pulled out of the country after the Taliban agreed not to allow Afghan soil to be used by armed groups to target Western interests.

In an exclusive interview, senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani tells Al Jazeera how he sees the group’s achievements and failures since seizing power on August 15, 2021.

Al Jazeera: Your government has been in charge for a year, what have you achieved and where have you failed?

Anas Haqqani: Over the past one year, we have brought huge and numerous … developments, chiefly among them is the freedom and independence as we rid our country of foreign occupation, injustice and oppression. This is what any people or country under occupation aspires to. It is a source of pride for us, it is also a blessing.

You have been out and about and you can see for yourselves the huge transformations our country is living, mostly in terms of security. It is the first time in 40 years to have a central government taking control of the whole country, corner to corner; inch to inch. There are many more to list, but it is important to mention that obligatory levies … that used to be imposed on people are no longer in place. No more special militant groups, (or those named Islands of Power) operate in the country. The central government, without any levies or foreign aid, is capable of paying government employees’ salaries across all the state institutions. These are just a few examples.

Al Jazeera: Let’s talk about last year. Why did you take over Kabul by force rather than negotiating with the then-West-backed government? Some say it was a violation of the Doha Agreement signed in 2020.

Haqqani: From the outset, we have respected and honoured the Doha Agreement. Throughout the 14 months since the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces, there has been not a single case of violation of such agreement. A living proof of such fact is the host and sponsor, the State of Qatar.

In contrast, numerous violations, exceeding 1,000 in number, were committed by the US forces and the former Kabul government [led by President Ashraf Ghani]. For example, when [US President Joe] Biden came to power, where he extended the [withdrawal] term agreed upon [in the Doha Agreement] by additional four months, without negotiating with us. The US has also delayed in removing names from the [terror] blacklist till this day and [the] release of Afghan prisoners [was] also delayed. The list of violations is long. Despite our frustration, we preferred not to resort to violence.

However, the sudden vacuum in Kabul was the reason for us to step in, let alone the request made by [former President Hamid] Karzai and [former Chief Executive Abdullah] Abdullah for us to come and take control of the affairs.

Al Jazeera: You promised a lot of things. You promised peace, you promised rights for Afghans, you promised an inclusive government, you promised women’s rights. How many of those promises have you kept?

Haqqani: The foreign occupation that has been controlling Afghanistan over the past 20 years, with their advanced technologies, huge capabilities and resources failed over that long period of time. They failed to restore the security and order our people are enjoying now.

It has been only one year since we assumed power, and the world should not expect us to achieve all our goals overnight. It is next to impossible, especially that [the international community] has not fulfilled their promises, including recognition of our rule and foreign aid. Despite the delay on their part, we, by the grace of God, achieved huge progress on many fronts.

Now, you can see girls joining universities and schools up to grade 12 [majority of provinces still not allow education for high school girls]. Needless to say that there are many measures still to be taken in all our ministries and other state institutions. Don’t expect us to achieve what others failed to achieve over the past 20 years amid the challenges we are faced with.

Al Jazeera: Do the leaders of the Taliban who are under international sanctions need to be in the government? Isn’t that an impediment for the government? Why aren’t other Afghans (outside of Taliban) brought into the government?

Haqqani: To this day, the whole world has not come to a uniform definition of ‘terrorism’. It has been the usual habit that those in power would label anyone standing in their way as a ‘terrorist’, ‘enemy’, ‘hostile’, ‘perpetrator’, etc. History has many examples: Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela remained for years on the blacklist. They were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Blacklists and sanctions are nothing but political tools.

Our paramount goal was to free our country of the shackles of occupation, to regain our freedom and independence, and that is what we accomplished. We do not wish to interfere in other countries or peoples’ affairs. We and the whole Afghan people regard our leaders highly. Our leaders are regarded as heroes, as leaders of freedom and independence. We expect those problems will be ironed out with time.

Al Jazeera: More than 2.6 million Afghans are refugees and about 3 million are internally displaced. The country faces the second largest food crisis in the world. Are you satisfied with what you have achieved in one year? And what are you doing to address the humanitarian crisis?

Haqqani: As I stated earlier, Afghanistan today is totally different from [what] it was 20 years ago. For example, the former government failed to do anything to Mazar-i-Sharif; they were reeling under pressure from others [occupation/US]. We started to do something in the right direction. Now you see minerals and natural resources are being extracted using local and foreign companies. By the grace of God, through these projects, we are now able to generate revenues for the functioning of our ministries and other institutions, pay salaries.

Another source of revenue comes through customs duties. All these revenues used to fall in the wrong hands in the past. All the state revenues are now channelled into the central government’s treasury, central bank and Ministry of Finance. These were the most prominent examples of the progress we have made.

Having said that, we aspire to enjoy good and friendly relations with all the countries and the whole international community. It is also our duty to provide a dignified and comfortable way of life for our people. We are here to serve our people. I believe we have managed to achieve a lot for our people. However, we aspire for more, despite the challenges we are facing due to the lack of recognition of our rule by the international community.

Al Jazeera: One of the promises you made to the international community was that the Afghan soil will not be used by outside armed groups and that there will be zero tolerance for any terrorist organisations. In the last few weeks, we have seen a number of assassinations taking place. The leader of the Pakistan Taliban has been killed. The leader of al-Qaeda has been killed in Kabul. What is your government doing and how is it going to keep its promise?

Haqqani: Since the signing of the Doha Agreement, we have been honouring all the obligations. We dare anybody to give a single example or a single occasion where our territories were used to undermine other countries’ security. We are prepared to refute any allegation in this respect. We are true Muslims, in the first place, obligated to honour our word. The statement made by the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban government], explaining their position, was very clear: ‘we are committed to the Doha Agreement’. Meanwhile, the agreement clearly sets out the obligations placed on our shoulders as well as those on the US. If any violation is committed, it was the US who entered our territories without our permission, even without notifying us. This was a clear violation on the part of the US.

These are false claims, malicious propaganda aimed at smearing the image of the Taliban in the eyes of the world public. We reject and refute these false claims and I reiterate, we have not violated any of our obligations under the Doha Agreement. We wish to see the other party honouring theirs and live up to their responsibilities.

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