claimed to be from Taliban leader Mullah Omar has endorsed recent talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials, saying that negotiating with the enemy is not prohibited in Islam.
The message was released on Wednesday to mark the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and comes a week after an official government delegation met with senior members of the outside the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The meeting was the first time in several years that the two sides have had an official sit-down. It has followed a series of informal meetings since May in China, Qatar and Norway.
The veracity of Mullah Omar’s Eid message, which appeared on an official Taliban website, has not been confirmed. Indeed, Omar’s name has appeared on in the past, with no proof he actually wrote them.
Bette Dam, the author behind an upcoming biography about the reclusive Taliban leader, said the message was most likely written by people from the political arm of the movement based in Karachi, where many have speculated Pakistani authorities are keeping Omar himself under house arrest.
She added it should not come as a surprise that people speaking for Mullah Omar would support peace talks. The declaration could yet help solidify support for negotiations.
“There is already a lot of enthusiasm among the Taliban for the peace talks, but this will help, especially among the younger fighters,” Dam said.
Omar, who was the Taliban’s head of state from 1996, has not been seen in public since the US-led coalition toppled his government in 2001. As a sign of growing discontent within the Taliban, some commanders have begun to openly doubt whether the mythical leader is still alive.
Some have created their own splinter factions and pledged allegiance to Islamic State (Isis). Though their presence in Afghanistan is still limited, the Taliban found it pertinent last month to issue a warning to Isis not to expand operations into .
Deepening these divisions, certain Taliban factions have in recent weeks publicly questioned the legitimacy of the delegations meeting with government officials.
Last week, senior Taliban representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council in Murree, a resort town outside Islamabad. According to presidential spokesman Zafar Hashemi, the two sides exchanged views in a “brainstorming session” and agreed to meet again after Ramadan.
The meeting drew support from both Washington and Beijing, but was denounced by members of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, who said the Taliban delegation was not authorised to represent the movement.
The purported Mullah Omar message sought to iron out those divisions. “All mujahideen and countrymen should be confident that in this process, I will unwaveringly defend our legal rights and viewpoints everywhere,” read the statement.
It is not just the Taliban who disagree internally on the issue of negotiations. The so-called national unity government is fragmented, a jumbled coalition of political rivals. The government’s power is split between president Ashraf Ghani who, like the Taliban, is Pashtun, and its chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik whose supporters from former Northern Alliance forces will be strongly opposed to shifting ethnic balances caused by granting the Taliban any form of political role in Afghanistan.
The tentative talks also come at a time of intensifying violence. Earlier this week, more than 100 civilians in attacks in 48 hours. Consequently, reconciliation will be a lengthy process.
“Fighting is the easiest thing to do. Peace talks is an extremely delicate thing,” said Dam, who encouraged western governments to give as much technical support as possible to potential negotiations.
“Instead of sending a battalion of soldiers, send a battalion of diplomats and experts. Make it as serious as the Iran negotiations,” she said.