In his first message since the Afghan government opened peace talks with insurgents, the reclusive leader of the Afghan Taliban delivered an unexpected endorsement Wednesday, calling political dialogue “a legitimate Islamic principle.”
Mullah Mohammad Omar did not specifically mention the nascent talks that began this month in Pakistan, but his message ahead of Eid, one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar, appeared to signal support among Taliban leaders for a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
“If we look into our religious regulations, we can find that meetings and even peaceful interactions with enemies are not prohibited,” read the statement published on the group’s website.
“The objective behind our political endeavors … is to bring an end to the occupation and to establish an independent Islamic system in our country.”
The comments came after Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives held their first direct meeting last week in the Pakistani town of Muree, outside Islamabad. The encounter was over in less than a day, but Pakistani officials said the two sides agreed to meet again after Eid, which concludes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Experts believe the Taliban have become increasingly splintered in the 14 years since the U.S.-led invasion forced them from power in Afghanistan. Some Taliban members have said they reject talks with the Afghan government, which they view as a Western puppet.
But the effort to open direct negotiations is believed to have the support of Omar, who sent a close aide, Mullah Abbas, to lead the Taliban delegation in Muree, according to Pakistani officials.
In his message, Omar said his supporters “should be confident that in this process, I will unwaveringly defend our legal rights and viewpoint everywhere.”
Yet Omar notably did not call for an end to violence. Attacks by the Taliban and their allies have resulted in record casualties this year among Afghan forces and civilians alike.
More than 110 civilians have been killed or wounded in attacks since Sunday, marring the final days of Ramadan. In the most recent attack, an explosion in front of a bank in the capital of northern Faryab province Wednesday morning injured at least 20 people, according to media reports.
Omar said it was “still obligatory upon us to continue our sacred jihad to liberate our beloved homeland and restore an Islamic system.”
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