The Taliban head in Afghanistan has issued a statement demanding US and NATO troops get out of the country. But he also indicated that constructive diplomatic relations could be possible if his demands were met.
Marking the Eid al-Fitr festival at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada issued a statement on Friday calling on US and NATO troops to leave Afghanistan.
"The occupation is the main obstacle in the way of peace," he said, reiterating previous similar Taliban messages. "The more they insist on maintaining the presence of their forces here or want a surge of their forces, the more regional sensitivity against them will intensify."
Response to Washington
With the security situation in the country spiraling out of control, the message seemed to be aimed at recent debate in Washington on US policy in Afghanistan, specifically warning against potential plans to increase the number of US troops from 3,000 to 5,000.
"If you think that you may break our determination with your military presence and surge of troops, you are making a mistake," Akhundzada's message read in English. "Americans should understand that continuation of war in Afghanistan, upsurge of bombardment ... will never usher in success for them. The Afghans are not a people to kowtow to someone."
He also rejected concerns that Afghanistan could again harbor foreign militants wishing to attack the US and its allies, as was the case with al-Qaida's attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, saying, "We don't permit others to use the soil of Afghanistan against anyone."
Peace and freedom?
Blaming the US and its allies for "destabilizing the whole region" with their presence, Akhundzada urged the US to accept the "legitimate demands of the Afghan people" and seek peace through diplomatic means.
"The solution of the Afghan issue through peaceful means is part and parcel of the policy of the Islamic Emirate, should the occupation come to an end," he said.
However, he did not appear to offer any concession on the Taliban's main demand, which is that foreign forces must leave the country before peace talks can begin. His promise to the US was "constructive and good relations with you and the world" once "your illegitimate occupation of Afghanistan comes to an end."
He was condemnatory of President Ashraf Ghani's government, describing him as a "stooge" of America and blaming him for the rise in ethnic and factional tensions across the country.
He concluded the message with an appeal to Taliban fighters to try to avoid civilian casualties. Most recently, 36 people were killed and around 60 injured on Thursday when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted a bank branch in southern Helmand province.
cl/tj (Reuters, dpa)