‘Islam Is the Religion of Peace’: Taliban Chief Takes Victory Lap at Afghan Cleric Summit

TOPSHOT - A man sells stickers picturing Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada at market in Kabul on December 26, 2021. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP) (Photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Taliban Supreme Leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada made a surprise appearance at an ongoing conference of Islamic clerics in Kabul, Afghanistan, declaring Islam “the religion of peace” while declaring that the Taliban “hopes for martyrdom” and celebrates the success of “our jihad.”

Akhundzada has taken great care not to be seen in public. His remarks at the conference surfaced through Taliban media outlets like the Bakhtar News Agency and via spokesmen such as top Taliban representative Zabihullah Mujahid. The Taliban allowed friendly outlets to public audio, but not photos, of the event and reportedly blocked independent media from attending the event.

Taliban officials convened thousands of Islamic clerics, Afghan media reported, to discuss political solutions to the nation’s problems. The jihadist organization banned women from the event, insisting that their “sons” would represent their wishes on issues such as banning girls from schools and women from working outside of the home.

Currently, following the Taliban’s seizure of power in August, the terrorist organization prohibits women from leaving their homes nationwide unless absolutely necessary, such as in the case of a medical emergency. The Taliban is also forcing all women working on television broadcasts to cover their faces.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (C) speaks during a press conference in Kabul on June 30, 2022. (WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty)

Afghan media have yet to publish a full English-language transcript of Akhundzada’s remarks at the conference at press time, instead sharing highlights from the address. According to Afghanistan’s Tolo News, the supreme leader spent much of his address celebrating the end of the 20-year war with America, which concluded with the Taliban returning to power after President Joe Biden violated a deal brokered by President Donald Trump to end the war by May 2021. Biden’s extension of the Afghan war prompted the Taliban to resume attacks on U.S.-backed government strongholds, sending then-President Ashraf Ghani fleeing to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Akhundzada did not apologize for decades of Taliban slaughter, but excused it as a “war of belief and sharia.”

“Killing Afghans was not our intention,” Tolo paraphrased the supreme leader as saying. “An Islamic system has been achieved with many sacrifices. … We thank those who supported our Jihad.”

The Taliban’s Bakhtar News Agency also quoted Akhundzada as proclaiming, “Islam is the religion of peace, we want peace and security, we have no ill intentions towards anyone.”

Akhundzada nonetheless also emphasized that the Taliban would be open to resuming war with America if it felt once again threatened and described Afghanistan as “a nation which hopes for martyrdom,” a term typically used for dying in an act of jihad, or holy war.

“The success of the Afghan jihad is not only a source of pride for Afghans but also for Muslims all over the world,” Bakhtar also quoted the supreme leader as asserting.

The reports of the supreme leader’s comments do not indicate that he offered any specifics on recent updates regarding the relationship with the United States. The Taliban jihadist group last week celebrated a significant victory against Washington: the release of an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist from the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Assadullah Haroon Gul spent 15 years detained at the facility after Afghan forces detained him in the country.

“As a result of the efforts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban] and its direct and positive interaction with the United States, one of the remaining two detainees, Asadullah Haroon, was released from Guantanamo prison,” Mujahid, the top Taliban spokesman, said last week. “IEA, [sic] considers this as its duty to release Afghans detained in other countries and strives to ensure that no Afghan remains oppressed in any country of the world.”

Elsewhere in the remarks on Thursday, Akhundzada, the Taliban supreme leader, repeated months of Taliban pleas urging Afghan refugees, especially businessmen, to return home and help rebuild the economy to enrich the Taliban.

“We ask traders to return, there is no fear for them, they can open factories and to invest in their country, because foreign aid cannot build our economy, rather, it would make us more depended [sic] to foreign funds,” Bakhtar quoted Akhundzada as saying.

Taliban members stand guard near the conference venue of the Loya Jirga in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 30, 2022. The much-awaited Loya Jirga or grand assembly of religious scholars and elders opened in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Thursday, the Afghan caretaker government’s chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. (Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua via Getty)

Akhundzada also repeated the Taliban lie that those who cooperated with the United States or did not ardently support the Taliban during the war did not have to fear retribution from the terrorist organization. In reality, the United Nations had documented by January upwards of 100 killings of former Afghan officials or soldiers tied to the prior government at the hands of Taliban jihadists. Taliban revenge killing sprees had begun in 2021 prior to the formal capture of Kabul.

The Qatari news agency Al Jazeera reported that the Taliban convened upwards of 100 men, most of them Islamic clerics, at Kabul’s Polytechnic University this week for the summit. Other speeches from Taliban officials and invited guests touched on topics such as economic independence, allowing girls in schools, and the general theme of “inclusivity” that the Taliban has attempted to promote since seizing power in the country.

“The problems with the Islamic Emirate will be solved through engagement. If we don’t join hands, it doesn’t matter from which language and tribe–the enemy is monitoring us,” Mullah Hassan Akhund, the Taliban “prime minister,” said during his remarks, according to Tolo News.

Tolo noted that at least one speaker identified as Nasrullah Waezi addressed the convention with a call to allow girls to return to school.

“I offer that there should be efforts to form the mechanism which was pledged to the people about reopening schools for our sisters and mothers,” Waezi was quoted as saying.

Tolo also noted that another speaker, identified as Mawlawi Mujeeb Rahman Ansari, called for the “beheading of those who oppose the current government.”

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