‘We Will Speak Up for Rights of Muslims, Including in Kashmir’, says Tailban Leader

Taliban have said that it will always vocally support proper implementation of lawful rights of Muslims in Kashmir or India in the same way that issues about minorities in Afghanistan are raised by the Indian side.

With the Taliban in effective control of Afghanistan, the concern in India has been that it will boost violence in Kashmir, with fighters moving to another part of the subcontinent.

In an interview with BBC Hindi, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said that the group would abide by the 2020 Doha agreement with the United States and will not permit Afghan soil to be used by groups to attacks any other country.

However, Doha-based Shaheen also stated that the Taliban reserved the right to speak up for Kashmiri Muslims if their civil rights are violated.

“Exactly like that, we have the right as a Muslim, if in Kashmir, in India, or any other country, there are atrocities done against Muslims. We will say that see these Muslims are your people, your citizens. Your laws say that everybody is equal. That should be implemented and give their rights,” he said.

He said that the Taliban had the right to talk of Kashmir Muslims, just as India has only highlighted Afghan Hindus’ and Sikhs’ issues. He cited an example of how India had raised the case of an alleged incident of a Taliban fighter going and bringing a religious flag at a gurudwara in an eastern province of Afghanistan.

BBC Hindi: What is the Taliban’s view on the issue of Kashmir?

Shaheen: Two things. One is that we signed the Doha agreement with the United States. As per its provisions, we will not permit any group or entity to use Afghan soil against another country.

Secondly, in the last few days, about ten days ago, one incident happened. Someone said that a person from the Taliban had come and asked them to take down the religious flag from the Gurudwara. Even though we are not against minorities…we have given them the freedom to conduct their rituals.

Lots of messages came to me. Exactly like that, we have the right as a Muslim if in Kashmir, in India, or any other country, there are atrocities done against Muslims. We will say that see these Muslims are your people, your citizens. Your laws say that everybody is equal. That should be implemented and give their rights. We have said that earlier and will say so in the future. But, we won’t do any military operations or take action against any country. That is not our policy.

Shaheen was referring to Indian media reports in early August that the ‘Nishan sahib’ had been taken down from Guru Thala Sahib in Afghanistan’s Paktia province. While the Ministry of External Affairs did not make a public comment, “government sources” had condemned the act.

Ending decades of no official contact with the Taliban, MEA had announced that the Indian ambassador met with the Head of Taliban’s Political Office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, at the Indian embassy in Qatar on August 31.

However, there has been no official confirmation from any Taliban spokesperson or outlet about the contact with India till now, even though the group is quick to put out announcements of meetings with foreign delegations.

As per the MEA press release, India had expressed concern that Afghanistan’s territory “should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner”.

This was again reiterated by the MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi at the weekly media briefing on Thursday. “One of the primary immediate concern is that Afghan soil should not be used for terror, anti-Indian activities or terrorism against India,” he said.

During the interview, Shaheen was asked about the allegations that the Haqqani network had been behind the 2008 Indian embassy attack and facilitated the 1999 IC-814 Air India hijack during the Taliban regime.

While denying all involvement in those cases, Shaheen also stated that there was no difference between the Haqqani Network and the Taliban. “Haqqani group is not a group. They are Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the title used by the Taliban to refer to themselves.

He stated that the Taliban had no role in the 1999 hijack and helped the Indian government free the hostages. India had to release three terrorists, including Jaish-e-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar.

Shaheen said India should have been grateful for the Taliban’s “constructive” role during the hijack.

He also denied that the Taliban was acting as a proxy for Pakistan. “India’s policy regarding us is based on propaganda,” he said.