KABUL: The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said on Wednesday that militants were committed to a landmark deal with the US, despite being accused of carrying out thousands of attacks in Afghanistan since it was signed.
In a rare message released ahead of the Eidul Fitr, Akhundzada urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the deal to end America’s longest war. “The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement… and urges the other side to honour its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity to go to waste,” Akhundzada said in a statement.
After months of negotiations, the Taliban and the US signed a deal in February, which stipulated Washington would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by next year in return for security guarantees. “I urge American officials to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay and ultimately derail this internationally recognised bilateral agreement”, the reclusive leader said.
Akhundzada hails from the Taliban’s traditional bastion of Kandahar, and was appointed head of the group after a US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in 2016. Mansour had succeeded Mullah Omar, the warrior-cleric who founded the group.
Akhundzada, former head of the Taliban court system, also outlined the political system he envisaged for Afghanistan after the exit of foreign troops. “The objectives of our jihad… are freedom of our country and to establish an Islamic system,” he said. “Every male and female member of society shall be given their due rights.”
The statement comes as US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Wednesday and met President Ashraf Ghani in a bid to push the peace process forward. They discussed the importance of “a ceasefire or reduction in violence before the start of direct talks,” Ghani’s office said.
Last week, Khalilzad said the militants had kept up their end of the bargain—even if recent violence violated the spirit of the accord. “The Taliban have implemented their agreement not to attack the coalition forces,” he said.
His remarks came after a horrific attack against a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed dozens—including mothers and infants—and a suicide bombing at a funeral. The Taliban denied involvement in the attacks, but Ghani blamed them and the Islamic State (IS) group for the bloodshed.
“They’ve committed not to carry out attacks in 34 major cities, and they haven’t done that, based on our assessment,” Khalilzad said of the Taliban. “But we believe that they’re in violation of the spirit” of the deal, he said.
Following the recent attacks the government ordered security forces to switch to an “offensive” posture against the Taliban. The Taliban responded by vowing to increase attacks against government forces. The United Nations has warned that the spike in violence has caused increased civilian casualties.