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In a written message, the reclusive head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar has signaled approval for peace talks with the Afghan government. The message comes a week after talks in Pakistan.
In his annual message to celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan next Sunday, Mullah Omar appeared to give his approval for peace talks, for the first time in 13 years.
Afghan government officials met Taliban representatives in talks hosted by Pakistan last week in Murree, a tourist town in the hills north of Islamabad. Afghanistan and Pakistan said the talks were the first official meeting between representatives and that all parties had agreed to start a process.
Mullah Omar is the commander and the spiritual leader of the Taliban. He was Afghanistan's 11th head of state from 1996 to late 2001 under the official title "Head of the Supreme Council."
While Omar's Eid al-Fitr message did not directly refer to the talks, he wrote "peaceful interactions with the enemies is not prohibited" under Islamic tradition. "The objective behind our political endeavours ... is to bring an end to the occupation."
The text was published on a Taliban website. Omar has not been seen in public since the US-led intervention in 2001.
Most foreign troops have left Afghanistan, but 13,000 remain, most of them in training roles for the Afghan army.
In an apparent reference to the group calling itself "Islamic State" or IS, Omar wrote "We have directed all our mujahideen to preserve their unity and forcefully prevent all those elements that attempt to create differences."
IS has attacked Taliban forces and sought to enlist some of its supporters.
Talks and attacks
The Taliban leadership is known to be divided on the issue of talks with the Afghan government. While the political leader, and a frequent spokesman for Omar, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was said to be in favor, battle commander Abdul Qayum Zakir was against talks.
After last week's talks, there has been no information on when and where a next round might be held. Several informal meetings had been held over recent months between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives in Qatar, China and Norway.
Despite the discussions, attacks have continued. Last Sunday 33 people were killed in a suicide attack at a checkpoint on a main road near a US military base in the eastern province of Khost. On Monday, 25 civilians were wounded in a bombing inside a mosque in northern Baghlan province.
US drone strikes have killed dozens of suspected IS-linked militants in Afghanistan over the last week.
jm/jil (Reuters, dpa,)