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Taliban wants an Islamic state in Afghanistan: Report

Last updated on: November 03, 2008 10:47 IST

Refusing peace talks with America, a top-ranking Taliban commander has said that his group has waged war against the US-led forces to create an Islamic State in Afghanistan and to bring Sharia law back to the country, a media report said on Monday.

"There is nothing to talk about. This is not a political campaign for policy change or power sharing or cabinet ministries. We are waging jihad to bring Islamic law back to Afghanistan," Mullah Sabir told Newsweek.

The news magazine said it conducted interview at textile shop on Afghanistan-Pakistan border and identified Sabir as one of the highest ranking commanders but said that he did not want his full name to be used.

The diktat comes from Mullah Omar

The refusal to negotiate comes straight from the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, Sabir was quoted as saying. "The tone of his rejection has been so strong from the first that no one would dare to raise the subject with him."

But Newsweek says Sabir hasn't seen Mullah Omar in years, and he doesn't know of anyone who has. Internet posts released in Mullah Omar's name on Muslim holy days are the only hint that the one-eyed leader is still alive. All the same, Sabir says he and thousands of other Taliban won't stop fighting until they're back in power.

Distrust is spreading in the ranks, Newsweek says, adding that off the battlefield, Taliban fighters wonder aloud what has become of Mullah Omar. Some think he may have been put under house arrest by his second in command and brother-in-law Mullah Baradar.

No whereabouts on Omar

"He may have removed himself, or someone may have removed him," says a former Mullah Omar aide. "For the past two years, no one that I know has any hard evidence of where he is or what he's doing."

What would Mullah Omar say about mowing down civilians and beheading captives in the name of jihad? the aide asks, describing his former boss as a simple, decent village mullah who was always upset to hear of his men doing bad things.

Everyone seems eager to talk peace in Afghanistan except the only people who can turn the wish into a fact, the magazine comments, pointing out that Taliban's "brutal insurgent ally" Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has endorsed the idea of negotiations; so has the US defence secretary Robert Gates.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah personally hosted an exploratory discussion in Holy city Mecca between Afghan and Pakistani officials and former Taliban members during Ramadan, and last week Afghan and Pakistani tribal elders and politicians held a two-day meeting in Islamabad.

But Mullah Omar's fighters, the magazine says, aren't about to quit while they're on a roll. The number of coalition deaths in Afghanistan since May has exceeded US deaths in Iraq for the first time since the invasion of Iraq.

The Afghan insurgency on the rise

The Afghan insurgency, which seemed as good as dead in 2004, has come back strong.

The Americans, it says, aren't racing to the peace table either, despite Gates' in-principle support for talks.

Big moves are likely to wait until the next US president takes office, and the consensus in any case is that the situation on the ground isn't right yet.

"If you go into these talks when you appear to be militarily weak, you're negotiating a partial surrender," warns Robert Neumann, who was US ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. The hope is that Gen David Petraeus, the architect of the surge strategy in Iraq, will find a way to fix that problem in his new role as CINCCENT commander in chief, US Central Command.

Iraq's turnaround, Newsweek recalled, came when tribal leaders in Anbar province, fed up with the brutality of Al Qaeda in Iraq, banded together against the insurgency.

But the Taliban are running their own war, not taking orders from psychopathic foreigners. Taliban commanders say Osama bin Laden's global jihadists are not a significant force in Afghanistan anymore.

"If they want to hide and fight here with us, we won't stop them," says Mullah Sabir. "But they have no bases here, and we will not let them use our territory as they did before their strikes on the United States."

The 9/11 attacks and the resulting US invasion are a source of deep resentment among the Taliban, Newsweek says.

'We lost Al Qaeda'

"Today we are fighting because of Al Qaeda," Sabir complains.

"We lost our Islamic state. Al Qaeda lost nothing." Still, talks with any segment of the Taliban will have to be predicated on a complete break with Al Qaeda.

If that condition can be met, there are fissures that Petraeus might find ways to exploit, the report says.

"Based on what we heard while we were there, a lot of these guys are involved in the insurgency for economic reasons first and ideological reasons second," Nathaniel Fick, who served as a Marine officer in Afghanistan during the first year of the war and returned this summer to do research for the Center for a New American Security, told he magazine.

"Eighty per cent of the fighters are part-timers. We know that from data the military has collected. Most of those part-timers, one would think, are 'reconcilable' "that is, they could be persuaded to leave the insurgency. Even some high-ranking members are showing interest in the Saudi meeting.

"Now the Taliban know there's another way besides the military option," Zabibullah, a senior Taliban political operative in Pakistan, is quoted as saying. "Talks may be something to consider." 

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