On May 9, the Taliban released a statement attributed to its “Emir of the Faithful,” Hibatullah (Haibatullah) Akhunzada, who has been the overall leader of the group since 2016.
Akhunzada claims victory is on the horizon, saying “our country is on the verge of attaining complete freedom and independence, and with the Divine Help of Allah (SwT), the hopes and aspirations of the martyrs, orphans, widows, displaced and suffering compatriots of the past twenty-year Jihad are near realization.”
Akhunzada claims that “following the end of occupation,” meaning the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, there will be “an Afghan-inclusive Islamic system in which all people shall feel a sense of representation based on their abilities and skills, and none shall have their rights violated, Allah willing.”
While this may sound benign, it’s clear that the Taliban’s “Emir of the Faithful” is talking about the group’s own authoritarian “Islamic Emirate.” He mentions the “Islamic Emirate” – that is, the Taliban’s regime – at least 15 times throughout his statement.
Akhunzada emphasizes that the United Nations should refrain from trying to interfere in the affairs of Afghans. He calls on the “United Nations and other involved countries to maintain their complete neutrality in the issue of Afghanistan, and not exert efforts against the lives, beliefs, customs and ideals of the people of Afghanistan that could face a backlash from our people.”
Throughout the past forty-three years of war, Akhundzada says, Afghans have “demonstrated that our nation will not tolerate imposed ideals and beliefs by anyone.” The Taliban ideologue emphasizes: “This nation has the right to live in accordance with its religious, doctrinal, moral and cultural norms, thus the world including the United Nations must acknowledge and respect this right.”
It is likely that the Taliban had democracy, as well as other Western political and cultural norms, in mind when these words were composed. The Taliban has consistently rejected democracy, saying it is un-Islamic.
Akhunzada makes it clear that his Islamic Emirate is its own political entity. The Taliban’s emir reiterates his previous pledge to provide “amnesty” to any of the Taliban’s enemies who lay down their arms and join the Islamic Emirate. “The arms of the Islamic Emirate are wide open for all Afghans that [sic] have previously stood in opposition to us,” Akhunzada says.
Akhundzada also boasts that the “[t]erritory under the control of the Islamic Emirate has exceptional security.” He says the Taliban is committed to safeguarding Afghanistan’s infrastructure, which his Islamic Emirate undoubtedly intends to use for its own purposes.
As for the Feb. 29, 2020, withdrawal deal with the U.S., Akhundzada says the “withdrawal of forces by America and other foreign countries” is “a good step” and he “strongly” urges “that all parts of the Doha agreement be implemented.”
He goes on to claim that the “American side has so far violated the signed agreement repeatedly and caused enormous human and material loss to civilians.” Akhundzada mentions that the timeline for the complete withdrawal of American forces has been extended from May to September.
Akhundzada then argues that the Taliban has fulfilled its end of the Feb. 2020 accord. “All this in spite of the fact that the Islamic Emirate has fulfilled all its commitments and kept its promises per Shariah law,” Akhunzada says.
While the Taliban hasn’t killed any American soldiers since the Doha deal was signed, and the jihadists have mostly refrained from attacking the U.S. as it retreats, there are many indications that the Taliban has not “fulfilled its commitments.” For example, there is no evidence indicating that the Taliban has prevented al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups from fighting alongside its men. U.S. and Afghan forces have repeatedly hunted down al-Qaeda figures operating in Taliban country since the deal was signed. The Taliban has not even been willing to concede that al-Qaeda operates in the country, let alone break with the organization.
Separately, Akhunzada has never publicly addressed Ayman al-Zawahiri’s bayat (oath of allegiance) to him. The Taliban emir does not mention it in his latest message, nor has he addressed it any previous statement. It would be easy for Akhunzada to publicly disavow Zawahiri’s bayat if he chose to do so. He has not done so.
Akhunzada also continues to agitate for the release of the Taliban’s “remaining prisoners” in Afghan jails and says “the names of officials of the Islamic Emirate [are] yet to be removed from sanctions and rewards lists.” The latter is a reference to the Taliban leaders on the U.S. and United Nations sanctions list and rewards for justice list. Those leaders include members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani Network, which is an integral part of the Taliban. Akhunzada claims the U.S. has failed to live up to its commitments under the Doha deal to free all of the Taliban’s prisoners and delist its leaders.
As part of its lopsided deal, which favored the Taliban, the State Department committed to “completing” the “goal of releasing all the remaining prisoners over the course of the subsequent three months” from when the agreement was signed in Feb. 2020. The State Department also committed to an administrative review of the sanctions, “with the goal of removing these sanctions” by mid-2020.
All of this was to be done in return for the Taliban’s supposed counterterrorism assurances and for the mere initiation of “intra-Afghan” talks.
“The Islamic Emirate assures all that none shall be harmed from the soil of Afghanistan, and likewise asks others to not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan,” Akhundzada says in his statement. The Taliban has said the same for years, including well before the withdrawal agreement with the State Department. Operatives from various regional and international terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, and the Pakistani Taliban, continue to work, train and fight alongside the Afghan Taliban to this day.
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