Preview: Michael Semple interviews a senior member of the Taliban
A high-ranking operative from the Afghan Taliban movement on Pakistan, al-Qaeda and the future of Afghanistan.
In David Miliband's guest-edited issue of the New Statesman, the former diplomat and author Michael Semple has interviewed a veteran leader of the Afghan Taliban movement – “one of the most senior surviving Taliban commanders and a confidant of the movement’s leadership”. The identity of his interviewee is protected, to allow him to speak freely about the upper echelons of the movement, but Semple has verified his seniority and cross-checked his account.
You can read the full interview in the magazine but here are a few extracts to whet your appetite.
On relations with al-Qaeda:
At least 70 per cent of the Taliban are angry at al-Qaeda. Our people consider al-Qaeda to be a plague that was sent down to us by the heavens. Some even concluded that al-Qaeda are actually the spies of America. Originally, the Taliban were naive and ignorant of politics and welcomed al-Qaeda into their homes. But al-Qaeda abused our hospitality. It was in Guantanamo that I realised how disloyal the al-Qaeda people were... To tell the truth, I was relieved at the death of Osama. Through his policies, he destroyed Afghanistan. If he really believed in jihad he should have gone to Saudi Arabia and done jihad there, rather than wrecking our country.
The one thing I dare not talk about is the relationship with Pakistan.
On whether the Taliban can regain control of Afghanistan:
It is in the nature of war that both sides dream of victory. But the balance of power in the Afghan conflict is obvious. It would take some kind of divine intervention for the Taliban to win this war. The Taliban capturing Kabul is a very distant prospect. Any Taliban leader expecting to be able to capture Kabul is making a grave mistake. Nevertheless, the leadership also knows that it cannot afford to acknowledge this weakness. To do so would undermine the morale of Taliban personnel. The leadership knows the truth – that they cannot prevail over the power they confront.
On the aims of his movement’s struggle:
The Taliban are fighting to expel the occupiers and to enforce shariat... If they fall short of achieving national power they have to settle for functioning as an organised party within the country. We also know that there are other political forces in Afghanistan – for example, [the warlords] Dostum and Sayyaf. They all have their own political programme. Even when the Taliban were in power there was a difference in the way shariat was practised. There was shariat in Kandahar and Kabul, but far less in Herat and almost none in the north. If the Taliban were ever to return to power they would face enormous problems. But they are a long way from having to grapple with the challenges of power, and for the moment, as long as Mullah Omar is alive, the Taliban will be prepared to follow him in this fight.
On what a future Taliban social policy might look like:
In their time, the Taliban gained notoriety over three points – their treatment of women, their harsh enforcement of petty rules on things like beards and prayers, and their international relations. The priority now should be restoration of security. But on the other issues I anticipate that they would soften their tough policies.
On relations with the international community:
You cannot be human and refuse to recognise others. The Taliban have no fundamental disagreement with the international community.
This week’s New Statesman is guest-edited by David Miliband. The issue focuses on shifts in world power, and includes contributions from, among others, Hillary Clinton, Kevin Rudd, Richard Branson, Tony Blair, Ed Miliband, David Walliams and Russell Brand.
Copies are available on the newsstands from Thursday 12 July and in the rest of the country from Friday 13 July. Single-issue copies can be purchased here.