Srinagar: The Taliban Tuesday demanded a new constitution for Afghanistan and promised an “inclusive Islamic system” to govern the country at a rare gathering with senior Afghan politicians in Russia excluding the Kabul government.
“The Kabul government constitution is invalid. It has been imported from the West and is an obstacle to peace,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who headed the Taliban delegation, told attendees at a central Moscow hotel.
“It is conflicted. We want an Islamic constitution,” he said, adding that the new charter would be drafted by Islamic scholars.
Stanikzai also said that Afghanistan peace talks with the United States last month had been a success, the Interfax news agency reported.
The fighters’ manifesto, outlined in Moscow before some of Afghanistan’s most influential leaders, comes a week after the Taliban held unprecedented six-day talks with US negotiators in Doha about ending the 17-year war.
The Doha and Moscow discussions, though entirely separate, both excluded the government in Kabul, where President Ashraf Ghani is seen as increasingly sidelined from key negotiations for peace in his country.
The Moscow meeting – the Taliban’s most significant with Afghan politicians in recent memory – saw the fighters praying together with sworn enemies including former president Hamid Karzai as they discussed their vision for the future.
No representatives from the Kabul government were invited to Moscow but some of Ghani’s chief rivals – including Karzai as well as opponents in an election slated for July – were in attendance.
Stanikzai said the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, did not want a “monopoly of power” but “an inclusive Islamic system.”
They also promised to stamp out Afghanistan’s poppy cultivation and take steps to prevent civilian casualties in a conflict that has killed and wounded hundreds of thousands.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the conference was about “opening channels to reach an understanding with non-government Afghan political groups.”
He said the movement wanted to explain its policies towards an “enduring peace in the homeland and establishment of an intra-Afghan Islamic system of governance.”
“I think all sides are ready for a compromise. It is a good start,” said Muhammad Ghulam Jalal, the head of an Afghan diaspora group who hosted the meeting.
The Taliban are scheduled to hold another round of peace talks with the US in Doha on February 25.
The two-day meeting in the Russian capital is seen as another step in a process aimed at resolving Afghanistan’s 17-year war, a process that has accelerated since the appointment last September of US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad has been holding separate negotiations with the Taliban even as he presses for a dialogue that would bring together all key Afghan players.
Ghani’s office said that Afghan politicians attending the gathering were doing so “in order to gain power.”
Ghani’s chief adviser, Fazel Fazly, tweeted that it was “regrettable.”