In his address for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada – supreme leader of the Taliban as well as one of its top clerics – promised equal rights for men and women under fundamentalist Taliban rule after the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan.
He also offered a general amnesty to the Taliban’s enemies, provided they “end their opposition” to the “establishment of an Islamic government.”
Eid al-Fitr is the festival that concludes the month-long fast of Ramadan, the paramount Muslim holiday. Eid, which traditionally lasts for three days, will officially begin on either Saturday or Sunday, depending on when the crescent moon appears over each country where Muslims live.
“To those sides and individuals that have reservations about the future political system following the end of occupation – the Islamic Emirate once again assures everyone that it does not have a monopolist policy, every male and female member of society shall be given their due rights, none shall feel any sense of deprivation or injustice and all work necessary for the welfare, durability and development of society will be addressed in the light of divine Sharia,” Akhundzada said in his Eid statement, delivered in advance of the holiday.
The Taliban likes to refer to itself as the “Islamic Emirate.” Muslim religious law, which the Taliban interprets with infamous severity, is known as “sharia.”
The Taliban chief denounced warnings about the horrors that await Afghans if his terrorist gang seizes power again as a foreign plot to sow dissent and slander the “Islamic Emirate.”
“Some circles seeking nefarious goals and power through a plan given to them by foreign intelligence networks to promote hatred and bigotry under linguistic, tribal, sectarian and other titles and to threaten and endanger the unity of our country must understand that the Afghan nation and the Islamic Emirate will not permit such undertakings,” he said.
“Just as it rescued our homeland from such dangers in the past, it still (Allah willing) retains such capabilities, hence, it would be better for the perpetrators of such activities to review their approach and refrain from troubling this nation with such evil actions and ideas,” he warned, somewhat undermining his previous message of tolerance and reconciliation.
Mixed with the Taliban’s threats against foreigners was an offer of general amnesty to their domestic opponents, provided they submit to fundamentalist rule and “renounce their enmity” for the Taliban and its leadership.
“We urge everyone to take full advantage of this amnesty by ending their opposition and not becoming an impediment for the establishment of an Islamic government which is the aspiration of millions of martyred, wounded, disabled, orphaned, widowed and suffering Afghans,” Akhundzada said.
He also demanded the Afghan government speed up the release of Taliban prisoners, who he said were suffering under inhumane conditions in government prisons.
Akhundzada called the Taliban’s peace deal with the United States a “historic agreement” and hailed the “resultant termination of occupation” as an “extraordinary accomplishment for the Islamic Emirate and the entire Afghan Mujahid nation.” Mujahid means “holy warriors.”
“The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement signed with America and urges the other side to honor its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity go to waste. The implementation of this agreement can prove to be a powerful instrument for bringing an end to the war between America and our country and for establishing peace and an Islamic system in our homeland,” the Taliban leader said.
“On the basis of our policy, we seek to have brotherly relations with Islamic countries, neighborly relations with our neighbors and strengthening of constructive relations with all regional and world countries in order that obligations be discharged vis-à-vis regional and global economic prosperity, security and communal life,” he promised.
The government in Kabul was not much impressed with Akhundzada’s Eid statement, noting that his ostensible call for peace and reconciliation included a good deal of language that could be construed as incitement to violence, such as instructing Taliban fighters to “remain focused on their objectives.”
“The people of Afghanistan do not need to hear a message from the Taliban. The Taliban, unfortunately, is still sending the message of war, panic, and fear, the Taliban is the main source of devastations and the killing of civilians,” said Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
Akhundzada assumed leadership of the Taliban after his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in the remote Balochistan region of Pakistan in 2016. The Obama administration said at the time that liquidating Mansour would destabilize Taliban leadership and hopefully bring a replacement who was more amenable to working out a peace deal with the United States.
Such an agreement was not signed until well into the administration of President Donald Trump, and as Akhundzada’s Eid remarks demonstrate, the Taliban sees the agreement more as a victory against the U.S. “occupation” and a step toward reclaiming total power from the elected government in Kabul than an equitable peace deal.
The deal has not brought a great deal of peace to Afghanistan, either. Fighting continues between the Taliban and government forces, most recently with a Taliban attack on the city of Kunduz on Wednesday.
According to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the attack was repelled with air support, resulting in the death of over 50 Taliban fighters.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, a primary architect of the peace deal, followed up a round of intense shuttle diplomacy across the Middle East on Wednesday by calling on all sides in Afghanistan to reduce violence.
“On violence, I told the Talibs, violence by all sides must fall,” Khalilzad said after meeting with both Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, his power-sharing partner Abdullah Abdullah, and Taliban leaders.