The new regime

August 29, 2021

Taliban say they are looking to form an inclusive government

The new regime

He is almost 5 feet 4 and with a fair complexion. Carrying an American-made M4 carbine and wearing a white shalwar kamees with a black waistcoat and a black turban, he clearly looks like the tribal leader he is. There is, however, more to him than meets the eye. The United States had declared him a ‘globally designated terrorist’ and placed a $5 million bounty on his head. Khalil-ur Rahman Haqqani is the younger brother of the late Jalalud Din Haqqani and an uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Things have changed drastically for Haqqanis, following the Doha Accord in 2020, who are now playing a key role in forming a new Taliban-led government in Kabul.

“Having victoriously entered Kabul, what is your message for America?” I ask him. I wait while he recites something under his breath.

“We were never an enemy for America. That has not changed. However, when the US opposed our religion and sought to change our country and its culture, it compelled us to stand up to its forces and its allies,” replies Haqqani calmly in his first-ever interview with a foreign journalist.

“Now, we have got some of the American weapons. I see them as a prize, our reward for being steadfast when these were used against us. The turnaround has happened with the help of Allah.” He recalls that Afghanistan was heavily bombed. “Drones and planes dropped all kinds of bombs on us. There was a lot of devastation. Despite all that, America has lost the war. We did not turn against America for personal reasons. The reason behind all the bloodshed was that the superpower came to our country.” His eyes sparkle.

The new regime

“When Taliban entered Kabul, government leaders Ashraf Ghani, Amrullah Saleh and Hamdullah Mohib, who had been highly critical of you, left quickly. What is your policy towards them, today?” I ask him.

“Today, we have no animosity towards anyone including Ashraf Ghani, Amrullah Saleh and Hamdullah Mohib. If and whenever, they want to come here, they can return without a fear of reprisals. They are all our brothers now. Whatever was there between us [earlier] was due to the foreigners who were here,” Khalil Haqqani says.

Khalil, an uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani, is the senior most among family elders. However, Sirajuddin heads the family in accordance with local tradition. It has been reported that he, too, has close ties with several militant outfits.

I ask him about the concerns China, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have with regard to international militant organisations, including Al Qaeda, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Khalil listens patiently and is careful in selecting his words when he answers.

“We want peace among all the Muslim countries. My advice is peace. For the entire world, particularly Muslims, my message is that all countries and national governments should recognise the rights of all their peoples. This includes their right to follow their various religions. We want peace with everybody. Once you want peace, there should be no oppression,” he says.

The new regime

“Now we have no animosity with anyone including Ashraf Ghani, Amrullah Saleh and Hamdullah Mohib. Whenever, they want to come here, they can return. They are all our brothers now. Whatever we had [earlier] between us was on account of foreigners who were here,” says Khalil-ur Rahman Haqqani.

Khalil is meeting key opponents currently and trying to persuade them to either join the Taliban or agree not to oppose their government. His first big success was when Hashmat Ghani, a brother of Ashraf Ghani, announced his support for the Taliban. Khalil personally went to see him at his house on the outskirts of Kabul. The two families have known each other for some time. I draw his attention to the fact that many people in Kabul are scared and many civil servants are not coming to offices out of fear.

“Islam is a religion of peace,” he says by way of an answer. “The Emirate-i-Islami will not exact revenge on anyone. The fears and doubts are being spread by our enemies. The reason there was animosity in the first place was that a popular government was forcibly ousted and the governance system was changed. Now, the system is changing back. The Afghan people should not leave this country. It is their country. Everyone should live here and contribute towards its welfare. We, the Tajiks, Baloch, the Hazara, the Pashtuns, are all brothers,” he says.

To a question about Pakistan’s reservations over militant groups hostile to it based in Afghanistan, Haqqani says all Muslims should agree to peace among them. “I advise the same in this case.”

He says the US was defeated despite the fact that the NATO countries supported it. This only happened, he says, because the Afghan nation stood as one.

Haqqani, who is holding negotiations for the formation of a new government, moves under strict security. His men tell me about threats to his life. A 30-member Taliban team called the Badri Brigade is in charge of his security. He travels in a bullet-proof, bomb-proof SUV along his security detail. Asked about his vision of the future government, he says, “We will form an inclusive government and make all appointments on merit.”

The new regime

On August 25, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had held a meeting with a handful of foreign journalists and assured them of complete freedom for the media in the country. He had emphasized, meanwhile, the need for the media to be objective and portray a fair and comprehensive picture of Afghanistan rather than taking certain things out of context and blowing them out of proportion. However, even as Mujahid was talking to the media, Ziar Yaad, a reporter for Tolo News TV, one of the top news channels in the country, was briefly detained and manhandled in the Shahr-i-Nau area of the capital for filming and interviewing people. The Taliban security personnel reportedly took away his camera and other equipment.

Soon after the incident, Maulvi Waseeq, another Taliban spokesperson appeared on the TV screen and said that those guilty of the alleged trespass would be brought to justice. Most of the Tolo News female journalists have already fled the country.

“Many journalists are scared of working in this environment,” a senior Afghan journalist tells me while requesting anonymity. “We cannot tell the truth as we fear for our lives. Most of us are trying to leave the country. Some have already left. Fear of the unknown clouds the Afghan media,” he says.

The writer, an investigative journalist for The News and Geo TV, is the author of The Secrets of Pakistan’s War on Al Qaeda. Twitter: @AzazSyed

The new regime