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Taliban leader claims US-led war effort ‘condemned to defeat’

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The Taliban and al Qaeda consistently refer to Hibatullah Akhundzada as “Amir-ul-Mumineen,” a title usually reserved for a Muslim caliph.

The Taliban has released a statement attributed to its leader, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. Akhundzada boasts that the Taliban’s “rightful jihad and resistance against the occupation is nearing the stage of success.” The US-led war effort, which he describes as “armed hubris,” has been “condemned to defeat by your sacred defensive Jihad.” As a result, Akhundzada claims, the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate has taken “control of all military and political initiatives.”

Both the US and the Afghan government have sought a ceasefire, but the Taliban honcho makes no direct mention of this request. Instead, it appears that he has no intention of having his group lay down its arms. “No one should expect us to pour cold water on the heated battlefronts of Jihad or forget our forty-year sacrifices before reaching our objectives,” Akhundzada advises his audience.

To be sure, Akhundzada’s message is self-serving. But the message is telling, as the Taliban is informing its fighters and supporters that victory is drawing nearer.

Akhundzada’s message was released to the public in Pashto, Dari, Arabic, Urdu and English — an indication that the group seeks as wide an audience as possible.

Akhundzada trumpets the Islamic Emirate’s “victorious operations on the Jihadi battlefronts,” while the group is also “leading negotiations with the Americans about ending the occupation of Afghanistan.”

Together, these parallel military and political efforts, are intended to bring “an end to the occupation and establishment of an Islamic system.” He adds that these “military and political steps by the Islamic Emirate are taking place under a unified policy and command such that they reinforce one another in practice.”

At no point in his message does Akhundzada mention the supposed counterterrorism assurances that US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad says the Taliban’s political office has offered.

There are certain phrases peppered throughout Akhundzada’s that are intended to sound encouraging, until they are subjected to scrutiny. For instance, Akhundzada claims that the “Islamic Emirate does not seek monopoly over power,” as he and his men supposedly “believe that all Afghans shall genuinely see themselves represented in the government.” In addition, the “Islamic Emirate seeks the establishment of a sovereign, Islamic and inclusive government acceptable to all Afghans in our beloved homeland.”

However, Akhundzada clearly sees this government as the Taliban’s own “Islamic Emirate.” He refers to his “Islamic Emirate” about 19 times in his statement. And Akhundzada is given twin titles in the message. He is both the “Leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and “Amir-ul-Mumineen” — the latter meaning the Amir of the Faithful, a title usually reserved for a Muslim caliph.

Al Qaeda consistently refers to Akhundzada as “Amir-ul-Mumineen” and Ayman al Zawahiri has sworn his allegiance to the Taliban leader, but Akhundzada doesn’t make a single mention of the group.

The Taliban leader also mentions that the “rights” of all men and women shall be “given to them,” but only “under the shade of a sound Islamic government.” The Taliban is fighting to impose its draconian version of sharia, or Islamic law, and has established a shadow government to implement it. Akhundzada mentions this shadow governance in passing, saying that “[a]ll areas of the country where Mujahideen administrative bodies operate is a great test for the Mujahideen.” He asks his men: “Will you succeed or fail in serving the people and implementing justice as per your claims and slogans?”

Akhundzada briefly mentions “intra-Afghan dialogue” to “solve…internal problems…after the occupation has ended,” but the Taliban has refused to talk to the Afghan government.

Indeed, Akhundzada calls on members of the Afghan security forces and military to repent, saying “no excuse can justify your fight against your own Mujahid nation under the command of invaders whom are the most ardent enemies of our religion and land.”

Assuming the statement was truly penned, or at least endorsed by Akhundzada, the Taliban leader has sanctioned various diplomatic efforts. Negotiations with the US are centered on ending the “occupation,” as Akhundzada calls it. Those talks have strained relations between the US and the Afghan government.

But the Taliban is using other diplomatic initiatives to build the legitimacy of its “Islamic Emirate” as well. Akhundzada says these efforts have “managed to gain the consensus of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors and the wider region.” He points to the recent conference in Moscow, which did not include any official representatives of the Afghan government, as “clear proof of our statement.”

Here, too, Akhundzada sees the Islamic Emirate’s foreign diplomacy as another tool to undermine the Afghan government. After excluding government liaisons from those talks, the Taliban leader accuses the government of “trying to sabotage dialogue between the Islamic Emirate and Afghan political figures by seeking prominence.” That is, Akhundzada preaches “intra-Afghan dialogue” that excludes the main local force standing in the way of the Taliban’s path to power.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

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