–At least 47 killed in three separate attacks as militant outfit promises ‘inclusive Islamic system’ at rare meeting with Afghan officials in Moscow
KABUL/MOSCOW: The Taliban has killed at least 47 people in separate attacks in Afghanistan, as they demanded a new constitution and promised an “inclusive Islamic system” to govern the war-torn country at a rare gathering with senior Afghan politicians in Russia on Tuesday that excluded the Kabul government.
The insurgents’ manifesto, outlined in Moscow before some of Afghanistan’s most influential leaders, comes a week after the Taliban held unprecedented six-day talks with US negotiators in Doha about ending the 17-year war.
The Doha and Moscow discussions, though entirely separate, both excluded the government in Kabul, where President Ashraf Ghani is seen as increasingly sidelined from key negotiations for peace in his country.
The Moscow meeting — the Taliban’s most significant with Afghan politicians in recent memory — saw the insurgents praying together with sworn enemies, including former president Hamid Karzai, as they discussed their vision for the future.
“The Kabul government constitution is invalid. It has been imported from the West and is an obstacle to peace,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who headed the Taliban delegation, told attendees at a central Moscow hotel.
“It is conflicted. We want an Islamic constitution,” he said, adding that the new charter would be drafted by Islamic scholars.
No representatives from the Kabul government were invited to Moscow but some of Ghani’s chief rivals — including Karzai as well as opponents in an election slated for July — were in attendance.
Ghani’s allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process, and the months-long push by the US to engage the Taliban has ostensibly been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with the government in Kabul.
Those efforts culminated in six days of talks between the US and the Taliban in January where both sides touted “progress” — stoking Afghan fears that America could cut a deal to withdraw its troops before a lasting peace with Kabul is reached.
Ghani has repeatedly said that all Afghans should agree on the need to end hostilities and an eventual withdrawal of foreign forces, but that he would not “surrender to a temporary peace deal”.
‘INCLUSIVE ISLAMIC SYSTEM’:
The Taliban consider Ghani and his administration to be US puppets, and have refused offers to talk a truce.
Stanikzai said the insurgents, who ruled Afghanistan under a ruthless interpretation of Sharia law between 1996 and 2001, did not want a “monopoly of power” but “an inclusive Islamic system”.
They also promised to stamp out Afghanistan’s poppy cultivation and take steps to prevent civilian casualties in a conflict that has killed and wounded hundreds of thousands.
Two women attended the round table conference. The Taliban closed girls’ schools and banned women from working under their regime, but have indicated they could loosen some guidelines in line with Sharia law.
“I think all sides are ready for a compromise. It is a good start,” said Muhammad Ghulam Jalal, the head of an Afghan diaspora group who hosted the meeting.
But images of Karzai and other powerful leaders attending prayer lead by a Taliban figure and dining with the militants invoked anger in Afghanistan.
“If you guys can eat together, laugh and pray together, hug each other why you are still killing innocent Afghans?” one Facebook user posted.
The Taliban are scheduled to hold another round of peace talks with the US in Doha on February 25.
TALIBAN ATTACKS IN AFGHANISTAN:
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the militant group launched a pre-dawn attack on an army base in northern Kunduz on Tuesday, killing 26 members of the security forces, Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the provincial council said.
There were at least 23 soldiers and three members of the local police force among those slain.
According to Ayubi, 12 troops were wounded in the Taliban onslaught, which lasted for over two hours until reinforcements arrived at the besieged base and the attackers were repelled.
“Day by day, the security situation is getting worse in and around Kunduz city,” said Ayubi, adding there are fears the city could again fall into the hands of the Taliban as it did briefly on two occasions in recent years – in September 2015 and in October 2016.
In the northern Baghlan province, at least 11 policemen were killed when fighters stormed a checkpoint, provincial officials said on Tuesday.
In the checkpoint attack, the Taliban targeted the local police force in the province’s Baghlani Markazi district on Monday night, triggering a gunfight that lasted for almost two hours, said Safder Mohsini, head of the provincial council.
Five policemen were also wounded and the Taliban seized all the weapons and ammunition from the checkpoint before reinforcements arrived, he said.
“They arrived there late, fought back and managed to get the checkpoint under control,” he added.
Earlier on Monday, the Taliban targeted a local pro-government militia in a village in northern Samangan province, killing 10 people, including a woman, said Sediq Azizi, spokesman for the provincial governor.
Four people were also wounded in that attack, in Samangan’s Dara-I Suf district, he said.
According to Azizi, the Taliban targeted local villagers, including women and children. As the area is very remote, the villagers have their own militia to provide security for their area and defend their homes from armed fighters.
The Taliban claimed both attacks in statements to the media.
They have been staging near-daily attacks and inflicting heavy casualties on the embattled Afghan army and security forces, as the United States is eager to pull out of the war-torn country.