Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar optimistic about peace deal in rare audio recording

Marathon talks with US have raised hopes for return of Sharia and withdrawal of foreign forces, senior insurgent says

Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is leading peace talks with the US in Doha.
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The Taliban's deputy head has released a rare audio interview to tell followers he is optimistic about peace talks with the Americans and is looking forward to Islamic law in Afghanistan.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar told other Afghans they had nothing to fear from a deal and that the Taliban would treat them as brothers.

Mullah Baradar, who is also political head of the talks delegation, said the movement had not compromised any of its principles during marathon discussions that ended earlier this week in Doha.

Sixteen days of talks ended on Tuesday with President Donald Trump's envoy saying an agreement on a US troop withdrawal and Taliban assurances to keep terrorists out of Afghanistan had been reached “in draft”.

“It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides,” Zalmay Khalilzad said.

Baradar helped found the Taliban movement and was co-ordinating its military operations until he was arrested in Pakistan in 2010 and spent nine years in captivity. While revered among the rank and file, he is also considered a pragmatist who had been open to negotiation before his arrest. Freed last year, he was appointed to lead the Taliban's diplomatic mission in Doha and his attendance at the talks was seen as giving the delegation wide-ranging authority to cut a deal.

“We have great expectations because the recent round of talks paved the way for future peace negotiations,” he said in an eight-minute recording released on Thursday.

“We are hoping to see life under Sharia law in Afghanistan, withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and we live in peace with our Afghan brothers.”

American and Taliban envoys have now held weeks of talks in an attempt to settle their 17-year-long conflict. But so far talks have focused largely on the Taliban's demand that the Americans withdraw, and the US demand that Afghan soil never again become a haven for terrorist plotters. The Taliban still refuse to talk to the Afghan government to discuss wider issues of how they might join the Afghan political system or coexist with their enemies.

Many Afghans fear the talks are little more than a fig leaf allowing Mr Trump to quit a war he considers a costly failure. Once the Americans leave, there are fears that the Taliban will revert to fighting, or take power and try to reimpose their strict regime of the 1990s. Their self-style emirate held sway from 1996 until 2001 when it was toppled by US forces for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden. Their time in power became notorious for strictures banning music and television and insisting women wore burqas and could not work or go to school.

“Anyone who deals with us in a good manner and doesn't become the enemy of Taliban then we will consider them our brothers,” Mullah Baradar said.

“We are expecting that all the Afghan brothers must keep confidence in us and not become suspicious. The Taliban leadership don’t have bad intentions for our Afghan brothers. This is our own Islamic country and we need to sit down together and give respect to each other and forgive each other.”

Heavy fighting has continued during the talks. The Taliban are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghan police and soldiers in recent years, as well as high casualty rates among civilians. The insurgent movement killed at least 1,348 civilians and injured 2,724 during 2018, according to United Nations estimates.