For several years, the Taliban’s official spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, had avoided appearing in the media, while still racking up hundreds of thousands of followers on social media as he posted live military updates about the war and various developments.
Days after the Taliban captured Kabul, and the collapse of the US-backed government, Zabiullah appeared on television for a surprise press conference live from the Afghan capital. Many sources have speculated that he will be name media minster of the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” that will be declared in the coming days.
Asharq Al-Awsat had interviewed Zabiullah on three previous occasions. During one of those talks in 2015, he confirmed the death of Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban, two years earlier. He revealed during the interview that a new of emir of the movement had been running the emirate for five years before his official appointment.
In the last ten days of the war, Zabiullah made announcements over the fall of a city in the hands of the Taliban. His updates on social media effectively turned him into the media minister of the conflict that the Taliban was rapidly winning.
With the war over, Sheikh Zabiullah, as he is known, will have a new mission of convincing the Afghan people and international community that the Taliban is capable of transitioning from the battlefield to peaceful rule.
Days after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Zabiullah responded to a request by Asharq Al-Awsat for an interview during which he stressed that the movement is seeking security and reconstruction in the country that has been ravaged by war for decades.
Asked about United Nations claims that the “Emirate” had sought retribution against Afghans, including intelligence, police and armed forces, who had aided foreign troops during the war, Zabiullah replied that a general amnesty was issued for the figures named in the UN report.
The mujahidin of the “Emirate” are committed to executing the orders of their leadership, but the amnesty is not absolute, he added. It does not include underground operatives, who have stored weapons and explosives and are organized and enjoy a military and intelligence background.
Zabiullah said the Taliban is responsible for protecting innocent civilians. This responsibility cannot be swayed by political and media extortion.
The Taliban deals with all sides, both inside and outside Afghanistan, with good intentions as long as the gesture is reciprocated by the other. This approach will not change unless the other changes its behavior, which should be based on mutual respect and common interests.
Asked to explain the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan in a matter of days, he replied that the victory was not swift. He dismissed those assertions as media exaggeration that is used for political purposes.
The fighting, he clarified, had lasted for 20 years. This is in no way a rapid victory. Given the Taliban’s modest means, it had to resort to exhausting the enemy. This needed time and prolonging the fight. The longer it lasted, the more determined the movement became and it started to reap gains and make advances on the ground.
It is natural for the Taliban to emerge from the war in a stronger position and for the enemy to be weakened, said Zabiullah. Moreover, he added that the movement had managed to seize advanced weapons and equipment from the enemy.
On the sudden collapse of the capital, he attributed it to the enemy’s realization that defeat was imminent, so they despaired and their morale dipped.
He asserted that the war was very long. Twenty years is not a short time, but American media influences world media, so it speaks of a rapid collapse, which is far from the truth.
On the post-war scenario, Zabiullah stated that the Taliban is seeking to achieve security in the country and reassure all sides. This will then be followed by reconstruction.
Asked about the new government’s prospective relations with Arab and Islamic countries, he replied that he hoped those countries would be up to the Taliban’s expectations. He hoped that they would realize that the victory against the Americans and their allies is a victory for all Arabs and Muslims, adding that the Taliban was looking forward to their faithful help in rebuilding Afghanistan.
On the country he believes is most aligned with the Taliban’s views, Zabiullah said it is not essential for it to agree to everything the movement does. Rather it is important that such a country does not obstruct the movement’s implementation of Sharia law and would instead support Afghanistan’s stability and the security of its people, who have long suffered from war.