ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The Taliban leadership knows it cannot win the war in Afghanistan and is prepared to accept peace with the Afghan government, but only if the militant group plays a prominent role in the country's future, according to an interview with an alleged senior Taliban commander conducted by a former high-ranking diplomat.
The full interview, to be published in Thursday's edition of the British current affairs magazine New Statesmen, was conducted by Michael Semple, the former UN envoy to Afghanistan during Taliban rule and current fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard. Semple is considered an authority in Pashtun politics and reportedly still has contacts within the Taliban's senior ranks.
The Taliban commander, whose name is not revealed during the interview, is said to be a senior leader who spent time at Guantanamo Bay and is described in a preview of the article as "one of the most senior surviving Taliban commanders and confidant of the movement's leadership."
In the preview published on the New Statesmen's website, the Taliban commander says it would take "some kind of divine intervention for the Taliban to win this war" and calls al Qaeda a "plague" on Afghanistan.
Other revelations from the interview, according to the Taliban commander:
Taliban's Icy Relationship With al Qaeda "Our people consider al Qaeda to be a plague that was sent down to us by the heavens. Some even concluded that al Qaeda are actually the spies of America. Originally, the Taliban were naive and ignorant of politics and welcomed al Qaeda into their homes. But al-Qaeda abused our hospitality."
Relief at Bin Laden's Death "To tell the truth, I was relieved at the death of Osama. Through his policies, he destroyed Afghanistan. If he really believed in jihad he should have gone to Saudi Arabia and done jihad there, rather than wrecking our country."
Taliban Control of Kabul Won't Come Anytime Soon "The Taliban capturing Kabul is a very distant prospect. Any Taliban leader expecting to be able to capture Kabul is making a grave mistake. Nevertheless, the leadership also knows that it cannot afford to acknowledge this weakness. To do so would undermine the morale of Taliban personnel. The leadership knows the truth -- that they cannot prevail over the power they confront."
Controversial Taliban Policies Evolving? Maybe Later "In their time, the Taliban gained notoriety over three points: their treatment of women, their harsh enforcement of petty rules on things like beards and prayers, and their international relations. The priority now should be restoration of security. But on the other issues I anticipate that they would soften their tough policies."
Pakistan Remains a Taboo Subject "The one thing I dare not talk about is the relationship with Pakistan."
Reports of the interview come days after a videotape surfaced showing a purported Taliban execution in a village just an hour's drive from Kabul. On the video, a young woman squats on a patch of ground before a militant approaches her, firing several shots at point blank range, while a crowd of a hundred or so alleged militants cheers "Long Live the Mujahideen" in the background. The Taliban often refer to themselves as Mujahideen, or freedom fighters, trying to expel foreign invaders from the country.
The video met with international condemnation. U.S. officials denounced the crime as a cold-blooded murder, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered his security forces to apprehend those behind it.
On Wednesday in Kabul, dozens of protesters, mostly women, took to the streets to demand justice. Many held placards calling on the international community to do more to safeguard women's rights in the country, while others chanting "death to the perpetrators."
"Every day these violences and these killings are getting more and more" said Zujra Alamyar, a women's rights activist. "We want the government to take serious action and stop them."