Taliban meet Karzai, Abdullah amid efforts to form govt

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Haibatullah likely to remain overall incharge; Three killed as Taliban violently disperse rare protest in Jalalabad

Kabul/Jalalabad

A Taliban delegation led by a senior leader of the Haqqani Network group, Anas Haqqani, has met former Afghan president Hamid Karzai for talks, a Taliban official said on Wednesday, amid efforts by the group to set up a government.

Karzai was accompanied by the ousted government’s main peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah and leader of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the meeting, said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified. He gave no more details.

The Haqqani Network is an important faction of the Taliban, who captured the capital, Kabul on Sunday.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the former Afghan senate chairman Fazal Hadi and other officials also attended the meeting, where the political leaders were provided with “foolproof security protocol”. Separately, Haqqani also met Hizb-e-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The US has classified the Haqqani Network of the Taliban as a terrorist network, holding it responsible for some of the most deadly militant attacks in Afghanistan in recent years.

According to the British publication, a spokesperson for Karzai said that the aim of the meeting was to get the ball rolling on negotiations with deputy Taliban chief and head of the political office of the group in Doha, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Negotiations between the Taliban and the High Council for National Reconciliation over the transfer of power are expected upon Baradar’s arrival.

Though the Taliban have not indicated on what sort of power structure will take shape in the country, they have announced general amnesty for all and conveyed that they want to co-exist with the international community.

Meanwhile, at least three people were killed and more than a dozen injured after Taliban militants opened fire during protests against the group in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, two witnesses told Reuters.

The witnesses said the deaths followed an attempt by local residents to install Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in the city, some 150 km to the east of Kabul.

A former police official told Reuters separately that four people had been killed and 13 injured in the protests, without elaborating further.

“There were some troublemakers who wanted to create issues for us,” a Taliban militant present in Jalalabad at the time of the incident told Reuters.

“These people are exploiting our relaxed policies.” Dozens of people gathered in the city of Jalalabad to raise the national flag a day before Afghanistan’s Independence Day, which commemorates the end of British rule in 1919.

They lowered the Taliban flag, a white banner with an Islamic inscription, — that the group has raised in the areas it has captured.

Mohammad Yusof Saha, a spokesman for Karzai, said preliminary meetings with Taliban officials would facilitate eventual negotiations with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the top Taliban political leader, who returned to the country this week.

Hundreds of people were outside the airport early on Wednesday. The Taliban demanded to see documents before allowing the rare passenger inside.

Many of the people outside did not appear to have passports, and each time the gate opened even an inch, dozens tried to push through. The Taliban fired occasional warning shots to disperse them.

Afghanistan may be governed by a ruling council now that the Taliban has taken over, while the movement’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, would likely remain in overall charge, a senior member of the group told Reuters.

The Taliban would also reach out to former pilots and soldiers from the Afghan armed forces to join its ranks, Waheedullah Hashimi, who has access to the group’s decision-making, added in an interview. — AP/Reuters

The power structure that Hashimi outlined would bear similarities to how Afghanistan was run the last time the Taliban were in power from 1996 to 2001.

Then, supreme leader Mullah Omar remained in the shadows and left the day-to-day running of the country to a council.

Akhundzada would likely play a role above the head of the council, who would be akin to the country’s president, Hashimi added.

“Maybe his (Akhundzada’s) deputy will play the role of ‘president’,” Hashimi said, speaking in English.

The Taliban’s supreme leader has three deputies: Mawlavi Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful militant Haqqani network, and Abdul Ghani Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office in Doha and is one of the founding members of the group.

Many issues regarding how the Taliban would run Afghanistan have yet to be finalised, Hashimi explained, but Afghanistan would not be a democracy.

“There will be no democratic system at all because it does not have any base in our country,” he said. “We will not discuss what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is Sharia law and that is it.”

Hashimi said he would be joining a meeting of the Taliban leadership that would discuss issues of governance later this week.

On recruiting soldiers and pilots who fought for the ousted Afghan government, Hashimi said the Taliban planned to set up a new national force that would include its own members as well as government soldiers willing to join.

“Most of them have got training in Turkey and Germany and England. So we will talk to them to get back to their positions,” he said.

“Of course we will have some changes, to have some reforms in the army, but still we need them and will call them to join us.”

Hashimi said the Taliban especially needed pilots because they had seized helicopters and other aircraft in various Afghan airfields during their lightning conquest of the country after foreign troops withdrew.

“We have contact with many pilots,” he said. “And we have asked them to come and join, join their brothers, their government.

We called many of them and are in search of (others’) numbers to call them and invite them to their jobs.”

He said the Taliban expected neighbouring countries to return aircraft that had landed in their territory – an apparent reference to the 22 military planes, 24 helicopters and hundreds of Afghan soldiers who fled to Uzbekistan over the weekend.– AP/Reuters

 

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