New Delhi: With the deadline of 1 May approaching, the world’s eyes are on Afghanistan as the Joe Biden-led United States government has indicated that it is unlikely to recall its estimated 2,500 soldiers who are based in Afghanistan. This has led to a sharp reaction from the Taliban.

The Sunday Guardian spoke to one of the main protagonists of the entire Afghanistan peace process, Dr Muhammad Naeem Wardak, who has a PhD from the International Islamic University, Islamabad. Wardak hails from Chak district, Afghanistan, and is a part of the Taliban political office in Doha and has been representing the Taliban at the peace talks. With the interaction between the Indian government and the Taliban representatives likely to increase in the coming days, Wardak will play a key role during these interactions.

Wardak spoke on the topic of India, the Haqqani network, the IC-814 hijack and Pakistan. Edited excerpts:

Q: The 1 May deadline is approaching and the United States administration has indicated that it will not recall its soldiers who are stationed in Afghanistan. How do you see this development? And what should the world expect post 1 May if US soldiers are not withdrawn?

A: Our expectation is that the United States will deliver on its promise and withdraw from Afghanistan on time, in accordance with the terms of the agreement. Failure to comply with the agreement will result in liability for those who violate the agreement.

Q: One reason cited by officials for not letting US troops leave Afghanistan is that once these soldiers leave, the Taliban will overthrow the civilian government and create a situation similar to what the world had seen in 1996 when the Taliban had taken over Kabul and hanged former President Mohammad Najibullah. How would you like to respond?

A: These are ridiculous excuses made by the Kabul administration to keep foreigners in Afghanistan and protect their personal interests as they have for the last 20 years.v

After the end of the foreign occupation in Afghanistan, we are determined to reach an agreement with all Afghan parties through the political process in the country—an agreement in which Afghanistan’s 40-year-old dream will be fulfilled and the scourge of corruption removed from our country.

Inter-Afghan talks are currently underway in Doha. We are hopeful that these talks will pave the way for an agreement.

Q: The US has recently asked different countries, including

India, to become a part of the peace process. Do you welcome this development or do you see India being involved in Afghanistan peace process as a problem?

A: We welcome anyone who comes forward to work for the independence and freedom of our country and for the establishment of an independent and strong Islamic system.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Taliban and the Haqqani network?

A: The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has one leadership and one command; we are all united. There is no such thing (Haqqani Network) in the Islamic Emirate.

Q: One of the concerns among Indian security experts is that Taliban does whatever it is told by Pakistan’s ISI. An example of this was seen during the Kandahar IC 814 hijack as terrorists like Masood Azhar were hugged by Taliban fighters and safely escorted out. Do Taliban take instructions, if not regularly, then occasionally, from GHQ, Rawalpindi?

A: That is not true. The Islamic Emirate is independent and free. It is waging jihad to defend the values and freedom of its people. That is why the Muslim people of Afghanistan stand by us.

Regarding the hijacking of the Indian plane that you have mentioned, if you refer to the Indian authorities of the time and the media, the Islamic Emirate had helped India in that incident and the abducted passengers were rescued and freed from the clutches of kidnappers.

The Indian plane was not hijacked from India to Afghanistan, but it landed in Amritsar for the first time, then landed in Lahore, Pakistan, then in Dubai, and finally it arrived in Kandahar from Dubai. The lives of all passengers were prioritized by the Islamic Emirate, all facilities were provided to them, everything went according to understanding and requirements of the then government of India. And the problem was resolved after successful negotiations between them.

Q: Does the present Taliban leadership believe that its past leadership took some decisions, including helping Masood Azhar, that it should not have?

A: From the beginning, the policy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has been to neither interfere in anyone’s internal affairs nor allow others to interfere in our affairs. We are working to solve the problems of our country and people.

Q: How do the Taliban offer a guarantee, considering past such incidents, that it will not let anti-India terror groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, use Afghanistan to carry out anti-India activities?

A:The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, according to its policy, does not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against anyone and does not allow anyone else to interfere in its affairs.

Q: It is being reported, even by independent media that released Taliban prisoners are returning back and in contravention of the deal, taking part in violent actions. How would you like to respond to this?

A: The released prisoners of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan have gone home, started their studies or are busy with their family activities. Praise be to Allah, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has a large number of Mujahideen. Their services are not required on the battlefields.

The fact that some detainees have been recaptured from their homes by the Kabul administration under various pretexts or martyred in raids and bombings is a problem from the Kabul administration.

Every day, one or two provinces of Afghanistan face civilian casualties, and these casualties are confirmed by the United Nations and various humanitarian organizations.

The Islamic Emirate recently provided a list of released prisoners who have been martyred by the Kabul administration in their homes, businesses and gardens, or arrested for the second time in hospitals or while moving between provinces. In that case, everyone has the right to self-defence.

Q: What do the Taliban expect from the Indian government, considering the ancient goodwill that India enjoys with the people of Afghanistan?

A: The people of Afghanistan have been at war for more than 40 years. And now more than ever there is a need for comfort and prosperity.

The hope of all our neighbours and countries of the region and the world is to help and cooperate with the Afghan people in the freedom and independence of the country, and in the reconstruction of the country as much as they can.

Q: Will the Taliban leadership take the initiative to reach out to the Indian officials concerned, seeking their cooperation in the Afghanistan peace process?

A: The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan welcomes all the efforts and assistance that are beneficial for the independence of our country and the well-being of our people.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to have positive and fruitful relations with its neighbours, the region and the world.