Ex-Taliban commander: US withdrawal and Islamic system will end war in Afghanistan
Sayid Mohammad Akbar Agha: By the name of Almighty Allah who is the most merciful and beneficent, I am Mawlawi Sayid Akbar Agha from Jelahore village, Arghandab district of Kandahar Province. Of course that is the village of the Sadat tribe. Those who became doctors and elders are from this village. I am a scholar, a religious scholar. I had a big front of Taliban in the time of the jihad against the Russians. Indeed some of the current ministers of the Taliban were in my front as Mujahideen. During the Taliban time, I spent time on the military lines and in other places. And then when the Americans came, we didn’t like their entry. Then I was imprisoned in Pul-e-Charkhi. For some time I was imprisoned in Pakistan. When they brought me from Pakistan to Afghanistan they handed me over to foreigners. And the foreigners handed me over to the intelligence services of the Afghan government. I was with them. I was in Pul-e-Charkhi and spent seven and a half years in prison during Karzai’s time. I have been at home since the time I was released. Of course in the beginning of the Karzai government the demand was that I should not go anywhere and should stay in Kabul. So because of that statement, I have been in Kabul since then.
Why were you put in jail?
I told you that I didn’t like the entry of the Americans into Afghanistan. Because I was against it. Now we are so happy that the Americans are leaving Afghanistan. And our country will become free of Americans. So the war in which we think Americans are the main factor ends. Afghans will live in peace. And this was the reason.
Why has the Taliban refused to talk directly with the Afghan government? Why did it view the September election as illegitimate?
The basic point is that war started from the time the Americans came to Afghanistan. Americans destroyed the military system of the Taliban which was almost sovereignly dominant over all of Afghanistan. So they destroyed that system and fought against the Taliban. They (the Americans) have become the government instead of that system and occupied Afghanistan. Because of this occupation, the Taliban tried hard to talk with the Americans and select a location for talks, the location which finally became Qatar. They have said that the occupation should end so then we can start talks between Afghans. Some talks, negotiations and meetings were related to the American departure. The Taliban started meeting with Americans first. Because the American departure was not under the authority of others. The government of Afghanistan has signed a security connection with the Americans for ten years. So it was required to meet Americans directly. The government could not tell them as they have signed the agreement with them. So the Taliban met the Americans. Now you can see that Americans have agreed to leave Afghanistan. And then meetings among Afghans will begin. We will see that meetings among Afghans will start and on what method and plan. Those things will be discussed that are related to Afghans and solvable in Afghan meetings. A ceasefire will be discussed. Methods of making the government will be discussed in the meeting. And all those problems that were created among Afghans from the past nineteen years will be discussed and solved in the meetings among Afghans. Afghans will meet among themselves then. It was required that first the Americans and the Taliban meet so then it will be possible for the meeting among Afghans. If Afghans were meeting among themselves, Taliban and government, I think the Americans would not leave Afghanistan and would stay. So at first, it was required that the Americans leave Afghanistan and then meeting of Afghans.
The Taliban said in Doha that they do not recognise the Afghan government. They call it an American puppet. But why will the Taliban speak to the Americans and not the government of Afghanistan?
I can say this – I want to point out some things here. It is structured in war and competition to talk against each other. It is habit and propagation of war. It is natural that the government will talk against the Taliban and the Taliban against the government. Second thing is the interference of foreigners in Afghanistan. That is bringing a situation which puts legitimacy at risk. Even if the legitimacy is not destroyed it will become poor and the legitimacy of government will become questionable with the presence of foreigners. And the third thing is war and war itself divides a country. When we are divided so one side cannot claim all of Afghanistan, neither the Taliban nor the government can say that all of Afghanistan is under our control. No one can claim and say that all of Afghanistan is under our control and it is itself hurting legitimacy. Anyway, competition and opposition are the ways that both sides will charge and talk against each other. And these things will definitely happen in competition.
Will the US keep its word and withdraw its troops? Will the Taliban keep its word and refrain from sheltering terrorists?
I can say that in these nine rounds of talks about Afghanistan, it is a way of giving some hope to the people. Today the situation is that the Americans are following the Taliban for meetings. It is not a situation where the Taliban are saying to America we want to talk with you. It is all from the American side to talk with the Taliban. Second thing is that Americans may leave Afghanistan. Second thing is that talking and negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans have somehow reached a success. It is also signifying that they may leave Afghanistan. The third thing is that other countries of Asia like Russia, China and even Pakistan and Iran don’t want the Western people to stay here in occupation. I believe it was the only way and maybe Americans knew this. Because the mujaheddin was doing jihad in the past against the Russians and Westerners supported the mujaheddin at that time. So there is a possibility that the Russians are taking revenge on the Americans. I believe the Russians are not so much interested in the current peace which is to come. They will say that war should go on in Afghanistan and the war should be in a condition that Afghans get killed and no one from Russia will get killed. Russians will spend money and Americans will be defeated in Afghanistan and this may be the Russians’ idea and also China’s and other countries’. These are the reasons why the Americans may also be concerned that Russia is taking revenge on them. So it will be good for them to leave Afghanistan before they take revenge. There is another thing too, I believe, that Americans are not seeing much benefit in Afghanistan compared to the Khaleej countries. So this is also a reason why Americans want to leave Afghanistan.
Has the US been defeated in Afghanistan?
I said that there is no benefit for them in Afghanistan. In war you need to spend a lot of money. Afghanistan has been at war for a long time. It is not self-sustaining and certainly requires their expenses. And it is a country where people demand money and like a lot of money, I believe, and took lots of money from foreigners and foreigners spent lots of money. I think if they figure out those expenses they will know that the war is a failure and not a success. Trump himself says the war in Afghanistan is not profitable for them. If the war is not profitable and is lost, they will leave Afghanistan.
So the Americans have been defeated?
Now Americans themselves... There is an idiom in Pashto. Tongue is mild and turns everywhere. Americans talked the other day about destroying Al-Qaeda and convincing the Taliban to join talks and I think they consider this a success for them. But if we hear from people of the world, the real success and failure is when someone else says to you whether you are successful or failed in this country. I think all other people will say that America has failed.
Why have Taliban attacks continued during the Doha talks?
I can say that operations are severe on both sides. We are in the process that during the night the government attacked a house in Jalalabad and martyred four people of the house who were in support of the government and not the Taliban. You may know about this process. I have heard that because of this Jalalabad issue, Stanikzai (national security chief) resigned and the president accepted his resignation. Likewise, you may know that operations during the night have been going on in Logar and Wardak province for a long time and are ongoing. And as you said, the Taliban also launched their operations. I myself think that the government and the foreigners should have tried more effective paths to peace in Afghanistan if they really want to leave Afghanistan. And likewise, the Taliban should have found more effective paths. More effective paths would have come through soft operations so there wouldn’t have been civilian casualties. People would also be hopeful that there are fewer operations as a result of peace and negotiations. Hope and trust would have come. They should have talked over it with them and should have made a friendship. Unfortunately as you said, government operations have increased and from the foreigners side and also from the Taliban side.
If the Taliban retakes power or shares it with the Afghan government, will it reintroduce sharia law? Restrict media and women’s rights?
There is no doubt… sharia. Islam is our religion. We are Muslims. The Russians were opposed to our religion. We waged jihad and operations against them. We forced them to leave our country. We did all this to bring an Islamic system here for Muslims. Of course Allah has supported us. The Russians had a huge military and power while Afghans had nothing. Someone who achieves victory against this huge power must have Allah’s support. Allah’s support is with those who are sincerity with Allah. This war was started for Allah and an Islamic system for Muslims. That is my belief. Now we say for anyone who comes to Afghanistan and we tell this government to bring an Islamic or Muslim system or the sharia of Mohammad to this country. It is natural that if this government is good and brings the sharia system, these wars will end. There will be no question for Taliban to proceed with war. Because under the sharia system foreigners will leave and those people will come into government who know about sharia. A system will come according to the Muslims. For sure peace will come here and there will be no war. I think the Taliban will call for a sharia system and none other.
What rights would women have under sharia?
I myself think that women have many rights that are not given to them. Their rights should be given to them according to the system of Afghanistan. For example there are a lot of people who do not marry off their daughters because she brings in a salary. She works in government and brings in a salary. They are humans and have the right to get married. But they don’t allow. There are a lot of people who, when their daughter gets married and that daughter is forced to remain in her father’s house, people consider this with disdain. When his daughter or sister asks for her rights they say it is not a good thing. Women will of course have the right to marry under sharia. Of course, women might have given up some rights. For example there may be some women who want more freedom. A freedom which is out of Islam’s structure. So maybe the Taliban or another government which comes from the Islamic tradition, Islamic religion, and Islamic basis, that government will tell them according to Islam that you have invaded on the rights of others. Or for example you had no contentment in your rights and have taken more rights which will be taken back.
Do you think women will still be able to enter parliament and sit beside men under this system?
I don’t think the Taliban will be against those things which are according to the votes of the country and Islamic tradition. If the people and Islam support it then the Taliban or any combined government which may come will accept it.
The Taliban has retaken half the country. Why was it able to make such a comeback?
I think that both the Taliban and maybe the government also know that war is not the way of solving the issue. And it is required to sit down for meetings. Of course if the Taliban takes over provinces and Kabul through war, it is still required to hold a meeting. If opposition groups come and show disagreement, the Taliban are compelled to meet them. This country does not have the capacity for more war. I believe it is required and maybe the Taliban also feels this requirement. This is why the Taliban wants to meet for negotiations with foreigners and secondly meet among Afghans. All those things which are related to Afghans will be solved in meetings with Afghans. And with foreigners in the meetings currently going on, all those things related to foreigners, like the fact they have invaded our country, will be solved.
How is the Taliban supported by outside forces? Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Saudi?
I don’t know about those things so I should not talk definitely on it. I think that with Pakistan and Iran, the language of our Herat people has similarities with Iran. During jihad we had a greater number of refugees in Iran and we still do. Kandahar and Helmand border with Quetta and have a similarity of language. We had more refugees in Quetta and I myself was a refugee in Quetta for a long time until I came to Kabul. Peshawar is near to Jalalabad. So human interrelating arose during the jihad and the refugee time. On the basis of this most of the Taliban are living in Quetta and Peshawar and some may be living in Herat. It is only about living. But their houses may be there and they may be living there. But I really say to you that I don’t have information about assistance and weapons and money support. So I can’t talk about something on which I don’t have information.
Does the Taliban have foreign fighters inside Afghanistan?
During the Taliban time, there were many people who came from different countries here. Because they were tortured there. For example at the time of the Russian defeat, there was war in Chechnya. There was war in Bosnia. There was war in Azerbaijan. Likewise in Tajikistan, Abdullah Noori became the opposition in that country. A lot of people were tormented by their own countries and came to Afghanistan. When the Taliban left, these people were left divided. When the Taliban went to Pakistan, these people went to Waziristan and stayed there. They got separated somehow from the Taliban. They got together with Pakistan’s Taliban. Pakistan’s Taliban raised up people like Hakimullah Masood in Waziristan and these people from different countries got together with them. But then when the war started in Iraq, many of these people went to Iraq. Those people who were capable of paying their expenses of going to Iraq, they went to Iraq. In the current situation, I can say that there are no foreigners with the Taliban. This is the reason why the Taliban are saying with courage to the Americans that we are not using the land of Afghanistan by bringing other people to fight against you or others. So all the foreign Taliban have gone, or, if there are some of them in Waziristan, they will be separated from the Taliban line.
Under what tenants of Islam does the Taliban justify suicide attacks that kill innocent people?
It is a huge issue. Suicide, martyrdom, someone who says I am giving sacrifice is a big issue. I think until now there are many muftis who support that position. I myself have not reached a place where I can say whether it is right or wrong. The Taliban themselves have very good scholars and muftis. They may do it according to their muftis or others, I can’t say anything. It is related to them. But I apologise for not having an answer about this and I don’t know much about this issue, and this is a big issue, so I can’t say anything about this.