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July 16, 2015

Mulla Omar backs talks to bring peace in Afghanistan

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July 16, 2015

KABUL: Taliban leader Mulla Omar on Wednesday hailed as “legitimate” peace talks aimed at ending Afghanistan’s 13-year war, in his first comments on the nascent dialogue, easing concerns that it lacked the leadership’s backing.
Afghan officials sat down with Taliban cadres last week in Murree for their first face-to-face talks aimed at ending the bloody insurgency. They agreed to meet again in the coming weeks, drawing international praise, but many militant commanders openly questioned the legitimacy of the Taliban negotiators, exposing dangerous faultlines within the movement.
But in his annual message before Eidul Fitr, the reclusive leader backed the negotiations — though he did not refer specifically to last week’s meeting. “If we look into our religious regulations, we can find that meetings and even peaceful interactions with the enemies is not prohibited,” he said in a statement on the Taliban’s website. “Concurrently with armed jihad, political endeavours and peaceful pathways for achieving these sacred goals is a legitimate Islamic principle.”
Several informal meetings have been held in recent months between the Taliban representatives and Afghan officials and activists — including in Qatar, China and Norway — but the last week’s meeting is seen as a significant step forward.
Afghan officials have not said when and where the next round of negotiations will take place, but they are widely expected to be conducted after Eid.Wednesday’s statement marks the first clear indication of support for the process from Mulla Omar, about whom rumours of ill-health and even death regularly emerge.
In the absence of a clear lead from the top, some fighters have fallen back on the Taliban’s traditional position, that there can be no meaningful talks until all foreign forces leave the Afghan soil.
But Wednesday’s statement is “different from previous Taliban statements”, said Kabul-based political analyst Ahmad

Saeedi. “In addition to war, the Taliban leader talks about peace and negotiations,” Saeedi said.
The Taliban warned the IS last month against expanding in the region, but this has not stopped some fighters, inspired by the group’s success, defecting to swear allegiance to the IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi instead of the invisible Mulla Omar.
The notoriously uncompromising IS has shown no desire to negotiate — and if the Taliban faultlines widen, there is a danger the talks process could drive more of its hardline fighters into the arms of the Middle Eastern jihadist group.
“We have directed all our Mujahideen to preserve their unity and forcefully prevent all those elements who attempt to create differences, damage this Jihadi front,” Omar´s statement said in an oblique reference to the IS.

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