- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Afghan Taliban’s top leader says the Islamic radicals who once sheltered Osama bin Laden view talks with the U.S. as a way to put an end to the “occupation” of Afghanistan, but will never abandon their religious principles or national interests.

“The aim of our contacts and talks with the invaders, which are conducted through the Political Office [in Qatar], is to put an end to occupation of Afghanistan,” Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar said in a message to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. “No one should perceive that the mujahideen will relinquish of their lofty religious principles and national interests.”

Mullah Omar said the Taliban has no intention of monopolizing power once foreign troops leave Afghanistan, but he also expressed disdain for elections scheduled for next year.

The Taliban opened a political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, in June to facilitate talks with the U.S. and Afghan government. That effort faltered as the Taliban angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai by displaying the group’s official flag and the name it used when it governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The Karzai administration believes that by opening the office in Doha, the Taliban is trying to establish a government in exile.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the Taliban has since held secret talks with Mr. Karzai’s representatives on the High Peace Council.

Habibullah Fauzi, a former Taliban diplomat who is now a member of the High Peace Council, told The Associated Press that “some individuals [on the peace council] have met Taliban on an individual basis” and that he had heard reports of meetings in Saudi Arabia between High Peace Council members and Taliban who were in that country to perform the Islamic pilgrimages of Umrah and Hajj.

An Afghan official confirmed the contacts.

Mullah Omar, meanwhile, said the Taliban believes in “reaching understanding with the Afghans regarding an Afghan-inclusive government based on Islamic principles.”

He was dismissive of elections in which he said “selection, de facto, takes place in Washington.”

“These nominal rulers are not elected through the ballots of the people,” he said. “Rather they are selected as per the discretion of Washington! Participation in such elections is only a waste of time, nothing more.”

The U.S. and its allies are expected to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by next year.

Mullah Omar has not been seen in public since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001 toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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