The president of Afghanistan has beseeched the Taliban to give up their weapons and join the country’s political mainstream, even suggesting that the militant group’s supreme leader should one day run for president.
“[Taliban chief] Mullah Mohammad Omar can come to any part of Afghanistan he wants to,” said President Hamid Karzai at a news conference in Kabul.
“He can open political office for himself, but he should drop the gun. He along with his friends can come and create his political party, do politics, become a candidate himself for the elections. If people voted for him, good for him, he can take the leadership in his hand.”
Karzai added: I repeat my call on all Afghans, those who aren't the puppets of others and have (only) issues with us at home -- they're welcome for any talks.”
However, the Taliban, and its reclusive leader, Mullah Omar, are likely to ignore Hamid Karzai’s entreaties as they have steadfastly refused to hold any direct negotiations with the established government in Kabul. The militants have repeatedly condemned Karzai as a puppet of the west, particularly the U.S., and have waged a ceaseless war against the Afghan government for the past ten years, at a cost of thousands of lives.
However, the Taliban have held direct talks earlier this year with U.S. officials in Qatar, although this relationship was severed after Washington failed to release some Afghan prisoners confined in Guantanamo Bay.
Meanwhile, the one-eyed Mullah Omar is one of the world’s most wanted fugitives, having been on the run since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He is believed to be an Afghan in his early 50s, who had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but little else is known about him. There exist few photographs of the man, and even such particulars as his height, weight and build have been debated.
The U.S. government has offered a $10-million reward for his capture – Mullah Omar is believed by Washington to be hiding out in the Pashtun tribal areas of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.
In the past, Karzai has accused Mullah Omar of serving as a puppet of Pakistan’s intelligence network, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – a charge hotly denied by Islamabad.
(Indeed, during Mullah Omar’s reign as the leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, Pakistan was one of only three countries on earth who recognized him as a legitimate head of state.)
Others, including former U.S. defense chief Robert Gates, believe Iran is behind Mullah Omar’s insurgency against the Afghan government.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.