Have right to raise voice for Muslims in Kashmir: Taliban

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen was quoted by BBC Urdu as saying that the group does not have a policy of taking up arms against any country

By Rezaul H Laskar

New Delhi: A Taliban spokesman has said the group reserves the right to speak out in support of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, remarks that run counter to senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani’s contention that the organisation would not interfere in Kashmir.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen was quoted by BBC Urdu, in a report published online on Thursday, as saying that the group does not have a policy of taking up arms against any country. In this context, he referred to the terms of the agreement signed by Taliban and the US in February 2020.

However, Shaheen said the Taliban, as Muslims, have the right to raise their voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India or any other country. “We will raise our voice and say that Muslims are your own people, your own citizens. They are entitled to equal rights under your laws,” he was quoted as saying.

Shaheen’s remarks are completely contrary to the stance taken by Haqqani Network leader Anas Haqqani, a member of the Taliban’s 14-member negotiating team, in an interview aired by News18 channel on Wednesday.

Haqqani said in the interview that Kashmir was not an issue for Afghanistan. “We have a clear policy that when something is not an issue for our country, we cannot interfere in another country,” he said, speaking in Urdu.

He also described reports about the Haqqani Network supporting Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which are active in Kashmir, as “propaganda”.

There was no immediate response from Indian officials to Shaheen’s remarks.

As reported by Hindustan Times, Haqqani has been engaged in an outreach towards India, along with senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, who is expected to be given a senior position in the government to be formed by the Taliban.

Haqqani said in the interview that the Taliban have a policy of not interfering in the internal matters of other countries. “Our desire is that we don’t negatively interfere in internal problems. Our doors are open to the whole world for political relations and humanitarian aid, we want good relations with all countries,” he said.

He contended that the Indian government has supported the Taliban’s opponents in Afghanistan for 20 years, adding, “But we don’t want to remember the past and we want good relations with all countries, including India.”

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the narrative being presented by Taliban leaders such as Shaheen and Anas Haqqani has to be seen in the context of the Taliban’s long-standing ties with Pakistan, and the channels of communication between India and the Taliban.

“There is a constituency in Pakistan that the Taliban have to satisfy,” one of the people cited above said.

On Tuesday, India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s political office, at the Indian embassy in Doha following a request from the Taliban side.

In his interview with BBC Urdu, Shaheen claimed the “propaganda” against the Haqqani Network was based on “mere claims”. “The Haqqanis are not a group. They are part of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan.”

Shaheen also raised the issue of the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar.

The Taliban were then in power in Kabul and Indian officials have long contended that the Taliban helped the Pakistani terrorists who hijacked the airliner to force India to release three terrorists, including Masood Azhar, who went on to create the terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Shaheen contended the Taliban didn’t play a role in the hijacking and that the Indian government should be “grateful” for the help the group provided in Kandahar. The Indian side told the Taliban that the airliner was short on fuel and the group provided assistance for the release of the passengers, he claimed. (HT)

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