Afghan women are anxious for assurances that their gains will not be compromised in an eventual deal with the Taliban.
The leader of the Afghan Taliban has given his backing to peace talks with the Afghan government, saying that the goal of the negotiations is an “end to occupation” by foreign forces.
Mullah Mohammad Omar’s message was released on Wednesday ahead of the Eid holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In the statement, he also urged Muslim leaders of the world to unite and pledged to continue armed struggle until foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
He made no specific mention of the first face-to-face Kabul-Taliban talks that were hosted by Pakistan earlier this month.
The talks, supervised by US and Chinese representatives, were said to have made progress, with the two sides agreeing to work on confidence-building measures and hold more such meetings after Ramadan.
The talks came after several informal contacts between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives, most recently in Qatar and Norway.
But during and immediately after the July 7 meeting near Islamabad, it was not clear whether the Taliban representatives who attended had the green light from Mullah Omar or the armed group’s political office in Qatar, which was specifically set up to work toward a peace deal.
Plea for ‘unity’
There have been differences among the Taliban over the talks in the past.
“The objective behind our political endeavors as well as contacts and interactions with countries of the world and our own Afghans is to bring an end to the occupation and to establish an independent Islamic system in our country,” Mullah Omar said.
Ousted from power by the 2001 US-led invasion, the Taliban soon regrouped as an armed rebel group battling NATO troops and Afghan security forces. After the war began, Mullah Omar went into hiding and has not been seen in public since.
The US has offered a reward of $10m for information leading to his capture.
Though the Taliban are divided among rival factions, Mullah Omar continues to enjoy the loyalty of many local figures. In the wake of the departure of NATO combat forces at the end of last year, the Taliban have stepped up attacks on Afghan security forces, which are now in charge of security in the country.
Some of the Afghan rebels have also recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Mullah Omar made no reference to the ISIL affiliates in Afghanistan or beyond but demanded that all in the “Muslim world maintain unity and fraternity among themselves and not allow internal differences to weaken their ranks.”
The statement came as 13 Afghan civilians were wounded by a roadside bomb that was detonated by remote control in northern Faryab province, according to Baryalai Basheryar, deputy provincial police chief.