Afghan soil will not be used to carry out attacks

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Supreme Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said on Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to carry out attacks on other countries, and asked the international community not to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 – before retaking power – in which they pledged to fight terrorists. Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said that Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks on other countries.

“We assure our neighbours, the region and the world that we will not allow anyone to use our territory to threaten the security of other countries. We also want other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs,” Akhundzada said in a speech ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday.

The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for housing Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The religious group regained power in mid-August, during the chaotic final weeks of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The international community has been wary of any recognition of or association with the Taliban, especially after they curtailed the rights of women and minorities — measures harking back to their harsh rule when they last came to power in the late 1990s.

Achundzada, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, has remained a reclusive figure. He rose to leadership of the Islamist movement in a swift transfer of power after a US drone strike in 2016 killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

After the takeover, Akhundzada gained the support of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who heaped praise on the cleric and referred to him as “the emir of the faithful.” The endorsement by Bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s longtime allies.

However, in his Eid message, Akhundzada said: “In the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all parties.”

A three-day gathering of Islamist clerics and tribal elders in the Afghan capital that concluded on Saturday included pledges of support for the Taliban and called on the international community to recognize the country’s Taliban-led government.

In a surprising development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the rally on Friday. It would be his first visit to the Afghan capital since the Taliban took power.

In an hour-long speech at the meeting broadcast over state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”

A powerful earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan and sparked yet another crisis for the economically struggling country. Overburdened aid organizations that already keep millions of Afghans alive rushed supplies to earthquake victims, but most countries have been lukewarm to calls from the Taliban for international aid.

Afghanistan’s international cut-off in funding has exacerbated the country’s economic collapse and fueled humanitarian crises.

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