KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban political chief, who headed the Islamist militants’ delegation during the most recent round of peace talks with the United States, said on Thursday that he was optimistic and assured Afghans that they had no reason to fear a settlement.
The latest round of talks in Qatar lasted 16 days and finished on Tuesday, with officials from both sides saying that progress had been made, but there was no agreement on when foreign troops might be withdrawn.
“We are very hopeful for the peace talks, because the latest round had some good dialogues which paved the way to more progress regarding peace in the future,” Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said in an eight-minute audio tape of an interview conducted by the Taliban and posted online.
Making his first public comments since his release last year from a Pakistan prison, Baradar sought to reassure Afghans who have worried that peace with the Taliban could herald the return of its hardline Islamist values.
“If (Afghans) think of us like brothers I trust in God that all the problems will be solved,” Baradar said, speaking in Pashto.
“I ask all our countrymen to be sure there is no need to worry. Everyone will be treated very well,” he added.
During their time in power from 1996-2001, the Taliban banned music and girls’ education and carried out public executions in Kabul’s football stadium. Fatefully, they also allowed Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda to establish a base in the country.
The Taliban’s role in Afghanistan after a possible peace settlement has not been defined and the group has refused to meet with the government led by President Ashraf Ghani, regarding it as illegitimate.
At the end of the latest round of talks, U.S. negotiators said progress was made over the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops, and on assurances from the Taliban that they would not allow their homeland to be used again by foreign militant groups to mount terrorist attacks in other countries.
“We assure the neighbouring, regional and other countries that the upcoming system will not be against anyone, we are not under the influence of anyone, and have no aim of harm to anyone,” Baradar said.
Baradar also offered a message to Taliban fighters, saying that even though he felt the group had achieved political and military victory, they should remain composed and not become arrogant.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that followed al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attack on the United States.
U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the U.S. delegation in Qatar, said in a series of tweets on Tuesday that it was “clear all sides want to end the war.” Further talks are expected later this month.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; writing by Rod Nickel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)