KABUL, Afghanistan - Despite efforts to broker a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the insurgent group will not participate in presidential elections next year, its leader said in a statement Tuesday.
The insurgent leader, Mullah Omar, struck familiar notes in his annual Eid al-Fitr address, which commemorates the end of the holy month of Ramadan. He said his movement would continue to attack the foreign forces and would only support a fully Islamic government. He denounced the current government in Kabul as a bunch of hirelings and urged Afghans not to work with them.
The group’s stance on the elections is one of the first public indications that, even as members of the Taliban set up an office in the Gulf state of Qatar to ostensibly start peace talks, the group does not plan to participate in elections next April.
The office in Doha, Qatar, was meant to facilitate communication between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but it quickly became a source of international contention when the Taliban erected its flag and put up a sign as if it were an embassy. An uproar from Afghan leaders at the perceived slight quickly silenced talk of peace.
On the question of politics, the enigmatic Taliban leader said that his group was not seeking to control the entire country by itself, but rather through an Afghan-inclusive government.
Over the course of the more than 10-year war, the Taliban has come to embrace some of the trappings of modernity. It is active on Twitter and Facebook and runs a brisk press operation that is quick to spin attacks as victories and denounce statements by President Hamid Karzai as farcical. That is, in part, a recognition that the world has changed and that the insurgency, too, must adapt to remain relevant.
Omar also urged his followers to avoid civilian casualties when fighting the coalition and Afghan forces. The admonition, which the Taliban has issued for years, comes on the heels of a recent U.N. report that noted that civilian deaths and injuries increased by more than 20 percent in the first six months of 2013 and that the Taliban was responsible for more than 70 percent of those deaths and injuries across the country.
Although he condemned the figures as the biased work of an organization working on behalf of the Americans, Omar still commanded his followers to halt anyone using the name of the Islamic movement to carry out attacks that kill civilians. A suicide bombing in May on the International Committee of the Red Cross, an aid group the Taliban has applauded for its work in the country, underscored the Taliban’s frustration with insurgents who do not follow orders.
Those people who harm the commoners by misusing the name of mujahid or kidnap people for ransom or follow personal goals under the name of jihad, they are neither mujahedin nor belong to the Islamic Emirate, the statement said.
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed to this report from Kabul.