Representatives of the Taliban jihadist organization told Afghan media outlets on Sunday that the goal of their participation in peace talks held this weekend in Doha, Qatar, with the legitimate Afghan government and the United States was to negotiate the liberation of Taliban jihadists and a return of Islamic law to the country.
A 21-person delegation featuring at least four former Guantánamo Bay detainees represented the Taliban at the talks, attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior Afghan government negotiator Abdullah Abdullah. Both Pompeo and Abdullah expressed enthusiasm that the talks would result in the full withdrawal of American troops from the region and thus an end to the longest war in American history, spanning nearly two decades.
Speaking to Afghan news sources, members of the Taliban team expressed hope in seeing fellow members of the terrorist organization freed.
“Negotiations about the government and the release of remaining prisoners are the topics that will be on our agenda,” Mohammad Naeem Wardak, a Taliban spokesperson, told Afghanistan’s Khaama News. The outlet quoted a negotiator on the Afghan government’s side, Massom Stanekzai, saying that he felt the talks had begun on a positive note and “there wasn’t any effort to drive the negotiations towards controversial discussions.”
Khaama interpreted Wardak’s remarks to mean the Taliban was hopeful to see the 7,000 Taliban jihadists in Afghan custody freed: “Wardak said at a meeting Sunday evening in Doha that establishing an Islamic government in Afghanistan and releasing 7,000 Taliban prisoners are their agenda for the Intra-Afghan negotiations, according to sources.”
Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, another member of the Taliban negotiation team, told the Afghan news network Tolo that his colleagues sought a return to a fully Islamic Afghanistan under Sharia, the Islamic law, and an end to the American and NATO presence in the country established after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“(We want) a government in which the Holy Quran is ruling, the hadith of the messenger (Muhammad) is ruling, the Hanafi school is there, and the occupation is over,” Tolo quoted Kabir as saying.
The Taliban do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the government of Afghanistan. Instead, it considers itself the true government, forced into exile by the U.S. “occupation.” It refers to itself as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
Tolo news described the backgrounds of each member of the Taliban negotiating team, including four with extensive stays in Guantánamo Bay after their capture. Mohammad Fazel Mazloom, Noorullah Noori, and Abdul Haq Wasiq all spent 12 years at the U.S. military detention center. Also on the list of negotiators is Abdul Manan Omari, the brother of Taliban founder Mullah Omar.
The Taliban have reason to be optimistic about the release of jihadist prisoners. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly green-lit the release of significant numbers of Taliban jihadists, most recently reportedly approving the release of six Taliban members considered at “high risk” for returning to the battlefield. Kabul transferred the six to Doha, where the Taliban is headquartered. Ghani released another 400 Taliban prisoners in August; prior to that, he issued a decree to release 1,500 in March and vowed to release another 2,000 in May.
The U.S.-Afghan peace deal brokered in February reportedly required the release of up to 5,000 Taliban jihadis and, in turn, 1,000 Afghan government prisoners prior to official talks. By July, the Afghan Senate had verified that a significant number of those freed had returned to the battlefield.
Speaking at a conference to open the peace talks in Doha this weekend, Pompeo noted that the peace deal is contingent upon the Taliban agreeing not to harbor members of international jihadist organizations that are a threat to the United States, primarily al-Qaeda. The Taliban’s relationship with Osama bin Laden, the late head of al-Qaeda responsible for the September 11 massacres, triggered the U.S.-Afghan war.
“We welcome the Taliban commitment not to host international terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, nor to allow them to use Afghan territory to train, recruit, or fundraise,” Pompeo said in Qatar. “We welcome the same commitments by the Government of the Islamic Republic.”
Speaking to reporters, including Breitbart News, on the journey to Doha this weekend, Pompeo said the goal for America in these peace talks is to “reduce our forces to zero” as quickly as possible, but that any troop reduction is contingent upon the Taliban meeting their commitments in the agreement, which include not only peace with America, but not aiding terrorist groups at war with America.
Afghanistan is also home to several other jihadist organizations, including the local wing of the Islamic State, known as ISIS Khorasan. ISIS expanding into Taliban territory and, potentially, threatening the Taliban’s lucrative opium cultivation has led to significant violence between the groups. Experts do not believe the Taliban enjoys a friendly relationship with Islamic State jihadists, though some have expressed concern that a peace deal may result in more fanatical members of the Taliban defecting.
In relation to the Taliban’s expressed hope of seeing a jihadist government once again take the reins of Afghanistan, the head of the Afghan government’s delegation Abdullah used the opportunity to speak at the Doha meeting to remind the world that Afghanistan is already an Islamic republic, if not an emirate as the Taliban desires.
“Ladies and gentlemen, on the guidance of our sacred religion Islam and on the basis of our free will and the right demands of our noble nation, we have come to this country to achieve a dignified and lasting peace,” Abdullah, who was promoted to lead the talks after a bitter presidential race against Ghani, said in his remarks.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who spoke to the audience in Doha on behalf of the Taliban, reiterated the importance of agreeing on an Islamic government.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, in the agreement of Doha [the Feb. 29 agreement with the United States], we have acted on all those points that were in the agreement. We also firmly request the other side to act according to those things that have been agreed in the agreement so that we can have the process without any kind of a problem,” Baradar said. “Also in this ceremony, I request and I hope that both sides pay attention to the presentation of the holy religion Islam and that very important purpose.”