Conflicts & War

Taliban’s supreme leader says US peace deal can help end Afghan war

Kabul, May 20 (efe-epa).- The supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, on Wednesday hailed the peace agreement signed by the group with the United States in February as an “extraordinary accomplishment,” that can end the 19-year long war in Afghanistan.

The Taliban chief released his first felicitation message for Eid-al-Fitr – the biggest Muslim festival that ends the holy month of Ramadan and is set to be celebrated later this week – after the rebel group signed the deal with the US in Doha on Feb. 29.

“The signing of the historic agreement with the US and the resultant termination of occupation is an extraordinary accomplishment for the Islamic Emirate (what the group call itself). (…) Its implementation 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,” Akhundzada said in the message..

He said the Taliban was “committed” to the agreement and urged the US to honor its own commitments and not allow this “critical opportunity” go to waste.

“I urge American officials to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay and ultimately derail this internationally recognized bilateral agreement between us,” the Taliban chief said in a veiled reference to the Afghan government, which has appeared hesitant to proceed with a prisoner swap with the insurgents agreed upon in the Doha deal as a precursor to intra-Afghan talks.

The exchange, according to which 5,000 Taliban prisoners must be released in exchange of for 1,000 government prisoners in the rebels’ custody, has become the main obstacle in the peace process between Kabul and the insurgent group.

After failing to agree on a framework, both sides began unilaterally releasing each other’s prisoners in March, and the government has released only around 1,000 Taliban prisoners so far while the insurgents have released just a few hundred government prisoners.

In his message Akhundzada emphasized on progress in the “implementation phase” of the peace agreement and the withdrawal of US forces. He claimed that afterwards the Taliban would establish an “Islamic system” that would offer rights to different sections of the society.

“To those sides and individuals that have reservations about the future political system following the end of occupation, (…) every male and female member of society shall be given their due rights. (…) All work necessary for the welfare, durability and development of society will be addressed in the light of divine (Islamic) Shariah law,” he said.

The Taliban chief said the group’s political ties across the region and elsewhere had “broadened tremendously” and they sought friendly relations with the neighbors and other countries.

Akhundzada called upon humanitarian organizations to ensure the “safe and quick release” of its prisoners from Afghan jails.

Even the unofficial prisoner release process was halted after a series of major attacks in the country last week – including the siege of a maternity hospital in Kabul run by Doctors Without Borders – which the government blamed on the Taliban, although the group has denied responsibility.

After the attacks, President Ashraf Ghani ordered the Afghan military to launch an offensive against the Taliban and other militant groups, saying the insurgents have ignored repeated calls to reduce violence, as agreed in the peace pact with the US. EFE-EPA

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