The Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s propaganda website, today published a Question and Answer session with CNN. Several items are noteworthy. First, the Taliban’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, refuses to denounce “international terrorism,” much less acknowledge any willingness to sever links with al Qaeda. Second, he insists that the US adhere to the “confidence building measures” of both releasing “Guantanamo prisoners,” ostensibly to include al Qaeda-linked Taliban detainees, and also removing any or all such leaders from the UN sanctions list and the US bounty list. And third, both the interviewer and the interviewee appear to have avoided the issue of al Qaeda altogether.
Regarding international terrorism
Q. Is it possible for the Taliban to renounce international terrorism in one of its written statements as per the American demand?
A. All praise is due to Allah and may his peace and blessings be upon his chosen servant.
To proceed, I must first and foremost say that we do not work according to the guidelines of America or any other country but all of our decisions are based on Islamic principles while giving consideration to our national interests however based on mutual respect, we do believe in reaching an understanding with all the countries of the world.
Now, regarding the issue of terrorism:
If America and its allies consider the current Jihad and struggle in Afghanistan against the eradication of the occupation and its continuation until all foreign troops leave and an Islamic government is established as terrorism, then we cannot shun this as it would be an un-Islamic act because we consider this Jihad and struggle as our Islamic obligation, the shunning of which is not possible in any circumstance. However, as we continue with this obligation (Jihad and struggle) we are religiously held responsible in preventing civilian casualties.
Note how Mujahid dodges this issue. According to the Taliban’s version of the interview, CNN did not ask him to specifically denounce al Qaeda, but an undefined “international terrorism.” Mujhahid couldn’t even bring himself to denounce that.
Releasing Guantanamo detainees and removing leaders from sanctions and bounty lists
Q. If those Taliban that are being held in Guantanamo are not released, will your negotiations with the Americans still continue?
A. Negotiations have not yet began with the Americans so talking about it continuing does not mean much. Now the question is, when will negotiations begin? I must say that before any negotiations can take place, confidence building measures must first succeed so an atmosphere can be created for negotiations and this confidence building measure rests entirely with the Americans and they must take steps for it which are; exchange of Guantanamo prisoners, the opening of a political office and the termination of the black list of the United Nations as well as the bounty lists of America and her allies.
Mujahid is saying that while the Taliban will not make any concessions, such as renouncing the ill-defined “international terrorism,” it still demands the US free some of the most dangerous Taliban leaders from custody. Keep in mind that these Taliban leaders are the ones who are responsible for forging close ties to al Qaeda, as Thomas Joscelyn pointed out long ago and again more recently.
The US will likely release these Guantanamo detainees while the UN may remove some Taliban leaders from its sanctions list of global terrorists. It is unclear what response the US might be to the additional request for the removal of Taliban leaders from sanctions and bounty lists, but conceivably further concessions could be granted in those areas as well. The office in Qatar has already been established.
Even if you believe that the Taliban are negotiating in good faith and will eventually renounce al Qaeda (and we don’t), the US is sabotaging its negotiating position by conceding the Taliban’s major points at the outset while getting nothing in return.