2021Last August, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. He also pledged to bring peace to a country torn by decades of conflict and U.S. occupation.
The group is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary in power. During this period, the Islamic State (ISIS) planned and carried out several deadly attacks. At this time, concerns were raised about the security situation in Afghanistan. Last week, an Islamic State-affiliated group killed a senior Taliban religious scholar.
The killing came just days after a U.S. drone strike wiped out al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The incident has raised concerns in the West over armed groups seeking safe havens in Afghanistan.
The Taliban agreed that it would not allow armed groups to harm Western interests on Afghan soil. After that, foreign troops led by the United States withdrew from Afghanistan.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani answers how he sees the group’s achievements and failures since taking power on August 15, 2021.
Al Jazeera: Your government has been in power for a year. What have you achieved and where have you failed?
Anas Haqqani: Over the past year, we have brought a lot of great developments, chief among them freedom and independence. Because we are free from foreign occupation, injustice and oppression. This is what any people or country under occupation desires. This is what we are most proud of and a blessing.
When you go outside and look around, you can see for yourself that our country is going through a big transformation, mostly in terms of security. For the first time in 40 years, the central government controls every corner of the country and every inch of land. There are many more achievements worth listing, but one that must be mentioned is that the mandatory taxes that were levied on people in the past no longer exist. There are no longer any special militant groups (or groups called “Islands of Power”) operating in Afghanistan. Also, the central government is able to pay the salaries of government employees in all state agencies without any taxation or foreign aid. These are just a few examples.
Al Jazeera: So let’s talk about last year. Why didn’t you negotiate with the then Western-backed government and take over Kabul by force? Some say this violates the Doha agreement signed in 2020.
Haqqani: From the beginning, we followed the Doha agreement. In the 14 months since the troop and NATO withdrawal, we have not done a single thing in violation of this agreement. The host and sponsor country Qatar is a living proof.
By contrast, the US military and the former Kabul government (led by President Ashraf Ghani) have committed more than 1,000 breaches of the agreement. For example, when US President Joe Biden came to power, he extended the agreed (withdrawal) deadline (in the Doha agreement) by four months, which was not negotiated with us. Also, the United States did not remove us from the (terrorist organization) blacklist until today. Also, the release of Afghan prisoners was delayed by the United States. There are many cases of them breaking the agreement. Although we were frustrated by this, we were reluctant to resort to violence.
And we intervened because of the sudden political vacuum in Kabul, and more importantly, former President Hamid Karzai and CEO Abdullah Abdullah begged us to take charge.
Al Jazeera: You promised a lot of things. You promised to bring peace, to give rights to Afghans. You also committed to an inclusive government that promised women’s rights. How much have you done?
Haqqani: Foreign occupying forces have been in control of Afghanistan for the past 20 years. Despite their advanced technology, great capabilities and resources, they have not been successful for such a long period of time. They cannot restore the security and order that our people now enjoy.
And while we’ve only been in power for a year, the world shouldn’t expect us to achieve everything overnight. This is almost impossible, especially since (the international community) has yet to deliver on its promises, including the recognition of the legitimacy of our rule and the nature of foreign aid. Although they have delayed these things, God forbid we have made great progress on many fronts.
Now, you can see girls going to college and going to grade 12 (most provinces still don’t allow high school girls to get an education). Of course we know that there are still many measures that need to be implemented by all our ministries and other state agencies. However, with so many challenges we face right now, don’t expect us to achieve all at once what no one else has been able to achieve in the past 20 years.
Al Jazeera: Do Taliban leaders under international sanctions need to serve in government? Isn’t this a hindrance to the government? Why are other Afghans (other than the Taliban) not included in the government?
Haqqani: To this day, there is no universal definition of “terrorism”. This is generally the case, with those in power putting labels such as “terrorist”, “enemy”, “hostile”, “criminal offender” on anyone who gets in the way. There are many examples in history, such as Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela. They had been on the blacklist for years, but were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The so-called blacklists and sanctions are nothing more than political tools.
Our first priority is to free our country from the shackles of foreign occupiers and regain its freedom and independence. And this is what we have achieved. We do not want to interfere in the affairs of other countries and their people. We and all Afghans hold our leaders in high regard, not only as heroes, but as pioneers of freedom and independence. We expect these issues to be resolved over time.
Al Jazeera: More than 2.6 million Afghans are currently refugees, and about 3 million are facing internal displacement. Afghanistan also faces the world‘s second-largest food crisis. Against this background, are you still satisfied with what you have achieved this year? What are you doing now to address the humanitarian crisis?
Haqqani: As I mentioned earlier, Afghanistan today is nothing like it was 20 years ago. For example, the previous government did not do anything about the Mazar-e-Sharif incident; moreover, under pressure from others (from the occupiers or the United States), they also faltered. And we are starting to move in the right direction. Now you can see that local and foreign companies are mining minerals and natural resources. Allah, we are now generating income through these projects, enough to cover the running costs of our ministries and other agencies.
Yet another source of revenue is tariffs. In the past, all this income was controlled by bad guys. All the country’s revenue now goes to the central government’s treasury, the central bank and the Ministry of Finance. These are also the most prominent examples of the progress we have made.
I have also said that we aspire to maintain good and friendly relations with all countries and with the international community as a whole. Our responsibility is to provide people with a dignified and comfortable life. We serve the people right now. I think we’ve done a lot for them. And even though the international community has not yet recognized the legitimacy of our rule, this leads us to the challenge too. However, we still aspire to achieve more.
Al Jazeera: You made a commitment to the international community. One of them is that outside armed groups are not allowed to operate on Afghan soil, and there is no tolerance for any terrorist organization. Over the past few weeks, we have also seen a number of assassinations. For example, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban has been killed; the leader of Al Qaeda has also been killed in Kabul. So what is your government doing? How will you keep your promise?
Haqqani: We have been fulfilling all our obligations since the signing of the Doha Agreement. We dare to bring up any instance or scenario of our territory being used to undermine the security of other nations. And we are prepared to refute any related allegations. We are true Muslims, first of all, we are obliged to keep our word. The “Islamic Emirate” (i.e. the Taliban government) has issued a statement explaining its position very clearly, namely: “We are committed to the Doha Agreement”. At the same time, the agreement clearly sets out our obligations with the United States. If there is any breach of the agreement, it is only one thing that the United States entered our territory without our permission or even notice. Clearly, this is a violation on the part of the United States.
These claims that we violated the rules are all false and just malicious propaganda to smear the image of the Taliban in the eyes of the world public. We deny and refute these false claims. I reiterate that we have not violated any of our obligations under the Doha Agreement. In addition, we would like to see the other party to the agreement respect these provisions and live up to their obligations.