In his annual Eid message, Taliban leader Mullah Omar has called on his fighters to spare civilians and promised that his group will not monopolize power after foreign troops leave Afghanistan next year. In a lengthy statement published on the group’s website today, he said:
I assure all, no personal revenge will be taken on any one following the end of occupation because our struggle is neither for achievement of personal gains nor personal power… I reiterate once again that we do not think of monopolizing power… Rather we believe in reaching understanding with the Afghans regarding an Afghan-inclusive government based on Islamic principles.
While Omar’s conciliatory tone may raise hopes in Washington and Kabul over the prospect of a political settlement with the group to end the Afghan war, any notion that the Taliban will honor its pledges in the future is pure folly.
As Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid documented in his book “Taliban: The Power of Militant Islam in Afghanistan and Beyond,” Taliban leaders preached inclusivity and peace when it first emerged in southern Afghanistan in 1994. Indeed, the group conquered much of southern and western parts of the country not by military offensives but by co-opting and negotiating with regional power holders of different ethnicities. But once it captured Kabul in 1996, the Taliban eschewed slogans of inclusivity and embraced despotism. It killed or marginalized moderate Pashtun leaders and excluded all non-Pashtun ethnic minorities that make about 60% of the country’s population.
Omar’s show of concern for civilian casualties should also be taken with a grain of salt. Omar made a similar remark in last year’s Eid message, but a recent UN report showed a 23% rise in civilian killings this year – nearly three quarters of them by the Taliban.
Omar also made clear that the Taliban would not accept the Afghan constitution and denounced Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential elections:
As to the deceiving drama under the name of elections 2014, our pious people will not tire themselves out, nor will they participate in it. Our pious and Mujahid people know that selection, de facto, takes place in Washington… Participation in such elections is only a waste of time, nothing more.
The Taliban reject democracy and elections because of both religious beliefs and pragmatism. The group’s members believe legitimacy comes from God – not elections. In 1996, Omar assumed the title of Amir al-Mu’minin – Commander of the Faithful who should rule the Islamic community in the world – not through an election but an oath of allegiance by his supporters, including Osama bin Laden. Moreover, the group lacks popular support in Afghanistan and realizes that its only chance of returning to power is through violence.
Although Omar reiterated in today’s statement that his group would continue fighting against the “infidel invaders and their allies,” he maintained that his group was open to talks with Washington through the Qatar office. But it is clear from his words that he pursues talks not to reach a settlement to end the conflict, but to encourage Washington to speed up troop withdrawal and not to leave behind a residual force that could help the Afghan government after 2014.