The Taliban political chief, who headed the group’s delegation during the latest round of peace talks with the United States, has said he is optimistic and assured Afghans that they had no reason to fear a settlement.
“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 on Thursday in an eight-minute audiotape of an interview conducted by the Taliban and posted online.
The latest round of talks in Qatar lasted 16 days and ended on Tuesday, with officials from both sides saying that progress had been made, but that there was no agreement on when foreign troops might be withdrawn.
Making his first public comments since his release last year from a prison in Pakistan, Baradar sought to reassure Afghans who have worried that peace with the Taliban could herald the return of its strict interpretation of Islamic law.
“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.”
During their time in power from 1996 to 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.
“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.
Two sides reach draft agreement
Al Jazeera has exclusive access to a video showing the face-to-face meetings that took place between the US and the Taliban in Doha over 16 days.
“They show the US delegation, including military officers led by [US special peace envoy] Zalmay Khalilzad and other US officers meeting with senior Taliban figures,” Al Jazeera’s James Bays said.
“The Taliban themselves say the talks went well. Both sides say they have reached a draft agreement in two areas: withdrawal of a majority of US forces, and a deal where the Taliban would no longer assist other groups such as al-Qaeda in using the Afghan soil for attacks on other nations,” said Bays.
The Taliban’s role in Afghanistan after a possible peace settlement has not been defined, and the group has refused to negotiate with the government led by President Ashraf Ghani, regarding it as illegitimate.
“Officially, the Afghan government has welcomed the process of peace talks, but I can tell you that key officials in Kabul are very wary,” said Bays.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion that followed the September 11, 2001 attack on the US.
Khalilzad, who led the US 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.