KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban are fighting not to win power but to push foreign armies out of Afghanistan and U.S. President Barack Obama will only make the country more unstable by sending more troops, a former Taliban official said on Wednesday.
“The plan that he had to increase the number of troops, it’s not for the benefit of Afghanistan. Fighting is not the solution,” Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, told Reuters.
Obama, inaugurated on Tuesday, is expected to approve soon plans to deploy up to 30,000 extra U.S. troops in Afghanistan to reinforce the 65,000 NATO and U.S. troops in place and take the initiative against the growing Taliban insurgency.
There is already no justification for U.S. troops to be in Afghanistan, Zaeef said, and sending more would destabilize the country further, aggravate its neighbors and widen the war.
“It creates fear and anger in the region. There are countries in the region which have nuclear weapons and (more troops) creates fear … and opposition between them and they will interfere more in Afghanistan,” Zaeef said.
The former envoy, who says he is no longer a member of the austere Islamist movement, said the Taliban were not interested in returning to power in the country they ruled from 1996-2001.
“The Taliban are not fighting for power … or to participate in government … their target is for the foreign countries to withdraw from Afghanistan and leave,” he said.
Zaeef is one of a number of former Taliban officials who held a meeting with Afghan government officials hosted by Saudi King Abdullah in October last year, seen as a first step toward exploring the possibility of meaningful peace talks.
The Taliban have rejected direct negotiations while foreign troops remain in Afghanistan.
“They say it’s of no benefit because the decisions belong to foreigners, who are stronger here, and Afghanistan is practically occupied by Americans and foreigners,” Zaeef said.
NATO commanders say their war aim is to weaken the Taliban to a point where they can be brought to the table and a negotiated solution can be found. The Taliban, analysts say, see no reason to talk while they sense they are winning.
Zaeef said the only way to engage with the movement was through Saudi Arabia, one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government when it controlled most of Afghanistan.
“Saudi Arabia is now ready to enter this issue and talk with the government, talk with Americans and talk with the Taliban,” Zaeef said. “I don’t know exactly when, but Saudi Arabia has made a little progress in the issue, I’m not sure what kind.”
“Maybe the government knows, maybe the Americans know, I think if the Taliban come to the negotiations, and the Americans accept that, and the government start negotiations with the Taliban, respectfully and honestly, this will be better for the people of Afghanistan … it will stop war in Afghanistan.”
The former Taliban envoy, known abroad for his daily news conferences in Pakistan in the run-up to the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, was later detained by the U.S. military and spent more than three years imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.
Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, widely seen as a stain on the United States’ human rights record under President George W. Bush’s administration.
“One thing that I’m very optimistic about and I expect, is changes in human rights (under Obama), the difference will be good … Because Bush was the one who trampled all over international human rights law and the laws of Afghanistan,” Zaeef said.