As the US-led NATO forces prepare for their 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, the hype around "peace talks" with the Taliban has overshadowed many questions that remain in the minds of the average Afghan.
Amid a sense of urgency for a solution to the decade-long war - for which, the south of the country has unevenly carried the brunt - the unaddressed issues could come back to derail any short-term deal.
The Taliban leaders participating in the Qatar process have been tight-lipped over most issues except the release of their high-profile prisoners out of the US detention centre Guantanamo Bay. What kind of a role do they envision for the Taliban in a future Afghan state? Are they willing to compromise on certain extremities that they were notorious for during their six-year rule?
In an exclusive interview with Mullah Dawran, a senior Taliban commander in northeastern Kunar province, we raised some of these issues. While he is only one voice in an increasingly fractured movement, his views are indicative of the morale and mentality of many who fight for the Taliban.
Dawran has managed to escape several US military raids, in one of which he reportedly lost his wife and two children.
Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Tell us about the nature of the fight in your area?
The national army and police, they are tied to the government. In accordance with Sharia, fighting them is our obligation. This year, we believe we are passing through a difficult stage and god willing, this will be the year of victory. We have increased our operations compared to other years.
"These saplings [Afghan forces] that they planted with their hands - we want to uproot them so they dry out."
- Mullah Dawran
Last week, we started the clearance operations. We have cleared two to three kilometres already. A lot of people responded to our decisive announcement: that the army and police soldiers should come, repent. In accordance with Sharia, we have the right to… but we pardoned them, and they guaranteed not to join the infidel armies. A lot of people took advantage of that opportunity. Those who did not accept the offer were arrested by the Mujahidin [what Taliban refer to themselves]. Any area in Kunar that the Mujahidin conquer will be cleared in our spring operations.
We have given sacrifices so that a Sharia system comes. Security can't come without a Sharia system, the whole world - enemies and friends - has realised that.
What are you trying to achieve from such operations?
We have two goals: one, if we still see these people in the areas where we fight for the cause, we can't say we have won, that we have brought a Sharia system. Because in a Sharia system, you first get rid of the infidels and then those who committed big sins - the traitors. They fought alongside the infidels against Islam. The second goal is that when the Americans leave, they leave us these saplings. These saplings that they planted with their hands - we want to uproot them so they dry out.
Has there been a change of policy in how you fight Afghan forces compared to foreign forces?
For us, there was never doubt in their kufr [infidelity] - that when we announced jihad on the Americans, we included the Afghan forces in it. Whether killing them is allowed or not - that decision was made when we initially announced our jihad. But we used our Islamic and Afghan mercy, thinking they will realise they are fighting for foreigners and against their religion. But they did not understand that. Every day, their damage increases and not lessens. We sent out statements, we released them [Afghan soldiers] when we captured them, and we were more flexible on them in battle.
"The way they [Afghan forces] are effective in operations, the Americans are not."
- Mullah Dawran
But the damage they inflict increases from one day to next. Every day, their damage increases as they resist the Mujahidin. The way they are effective in operations, the Americans are not.
From the 11 years of experience and damages that we have seen, this is necessary. I want to tell all Mujahidin to prioritise the local traitors because these soldiers are the eyes of the foreigners. Their damage is more. We see it very necessary that we first deal with them.
In the areas of your control, we have seen morality police - the Vice and Virtue. How widespread is that? And what kind of activities are you after?
Thanks to god, we have religious scholars, Ulema, who decide. We have lifted our weapons for saving these people and one of our obligations is to save the children, the elders, these people from sin; if people cut their beards, if they smoke or chew tobacco, if they commit larger sins like theft. We try to prevent any vice. In the past, we tried to tell these people nicely. But more recently, the issue has… because we have conquered the area, people have to come to the mosques five times a day.
How about women? In your area, what is implemented regarding restrictions on women?
"The rights that Islam has given to a woman, no other religion has - that she sit quietly in her home, veiled. That she take care of food and clothes for her husband."
- Mullah Dawran
This is one thing we can say we have been lucky with from the past. I say luck because god will have mercy on those who spend their lives in the shadow of the Sharia. Allah ordered veiling and all our women oblige by it. If people don't oblige - no one does not oblige. This is a rarity. Those who cry of human rights or call themselves democrats say they give rights. The rights that Islam has given to a woman, no other religion has - that she sit quietly in her home, veiled. That she take care of food and clothes for her husband. See, the Americans say they have given their women rights. There is nothing more difficult than war and the Americans have given their women a back-pack and a weapon on their shoulder and they fight to give us rights.
What about female education? Do you allow that?
You saw that our schools are active and open in the area. Until a female reaches blogh [puberty], she should learn.
Here in the area, we have ulema in every school. I have to say one thing clearly: there is a hadith [prophet's saying] that everyone has heard that education is an obligation of every man and woman. But that hadith has not said the infidel way of education, or western way of education. That hadith means Quranic education. Education does not mean that a woman should lose her honour and dignity. If the leaders of the Emirate see education beyond this [puberty age] necessary - under circumstances that covering up of the women is obeyed - we will see then. Now, we only talk of education until puberty because here the system is weaker.
And would you allow women to work in offices?
Sharia does not allow that. We should leave this until we conquer some offices, and if there is need for work, we will gather the ulema to decide based on Sharia. That if a woman works, under what conditions should she work? Only if it is permitted under Sharia orders. If not, then working with a stranger, with a foreigner - even the voice of a woman is banned on a strange man. Allah says in his book that the man should lower his gaze and so should the woman - if looking is not permitted, talking is not permitted, then how can they work? Here, we want a Sharia system. Whatever is allowed in Sharia, we will not disobey. We do not want a western or democracy system.
What about the parliament? Would you permit them to be MPs?
"The kind of negotiations that steps on the blood of the martyrs and the Sharia - neither will anyone carry out that kind of negotiations, nor are we ready for it."
- Mullah Dawran
The way it is now, this parliament - we reject this entirely. This does not exist in the Sharia, this is a western system, a democracy system. Their going to this parliament and joining this kind of a parliament in itself could be a reason for jihad - that our women are this free now. Listen to BBC, how they speak. Hearing a woman's voice is banned on others. They speak on the radio, in the parliament, on TV - while not being covered - and the whole world hears their voice. I want to say this briefly: if Sharia does not allow it, we will not accept it.
Do you see the end to this war in fighting, or through negotiations?
The history of jihad shows the result of jihad is either victory or martyrdom on the battlefield. In negotiations, Sharia is stepped on. When you and I talk, and we have different opinions, I am obliged to accept some of your views if you accept mine, otherwise it would not be negotiations. I approve such negotiations that will not step on Sharia. The kind of negotiations that steps on the blood of the martyrs and the Sharia - neither will anyone carry out that kind of negotiations, nor are we ready for it.
If the Taliban come back to power, will there be a difference in how they treated people?
There is no more or less in Sharia. If people are not happy with Sharia law, there is no other law for happiness.
You mean it will be the same - the Vice and Virtue police will be patrolling, asking about beard lengths, destroying cassettes? The exact same?
No. You see, we want Sharia system for these people and they accept it. The same thing might have been said harshly once and people might be unhappy. This time, we - the ulema and all institutions - will try to educate a person of its benefits. That, look, we want you to grow your beard: it is the tradition of the prophet, it is the beauty of a human. The ulema say that if a person shaves his beard, it is like someone hurting their nose or ear. Those who hurt their nose or ears are crazy. Same with prayer: that is what separates a Muslim and an infidel. We will be soft - but they will have to pray, it is not like we will pardon them. Previously, we were harsh on prayers. This time, we will show them the disadvantages of not praying. Sharia does not change, or that we be lenient on people on things related to Sharia.
Follow the authors on Twitter: @QaisAje and @MujMash