ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan's Taliban have alleged the United States is blocking their way to securing international recognition for the Islamist group's new government in Kabul.
The insurgent-turned-ruling group seized power last August and installed an all-male interim administration following the end of almost 20 years of U.S.-led foreign military intervention in the war-torn South Asian country.
"As far as recognition by foreign countries is concerned, I think the United States is the biggest obstacle," chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said when asked to explain whether his group's policies or any country was responsible for the delay in winning the legitimacy.
"It [America] does not allow other countries to move in this direction and has itself not taken any step on this count either," he said, while responding to reporters' questions via a Taliban-run WhatsApp group for reporters.
Mujahid claimed that the Taliban had met "all the requirements" for their government to be given diplomatic recognition.
He asserted all countries, including the United States, need to realize that political engagement with the Taliban is in "everyone's interest." It would allow the world to formally discuss "the grievances" they have with the Taliban.
Mujahid insisted Taliban leaders "want better" bilateral ties with the U.S. in line with the agreement the two countries signed in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020. Washington also needs to move toward establishing better ties with Kabul, he said.
'We were enemies and fighting the United States so long as it had occupied Afghanistan. That war has ended now."
No country has yet recognized the Taliban as legitimate rulers of the country, mainly over their harsh treatment of Afghan women and girls. The group is also being pressed to govern the country through a broad-based political system where all Afghan groups have their representation to ensure long-term national stability.
Since taking control of Afghanistan 10 months ago, the Taliban have suspended secondary education for most teenage girls and prevented female staff in certain government departments from returning to their duties.
The Ministry for Vice and Virtue, tasked with interpreting and enforcing the Taliban's version of Islam, has ordered women to wear face coverings in public. Women are barred from traveling beyond 70 kilometers unless accompanied by a male relative.
The Taliban have rejected calls for removing the curbs on women and Mujahid also defended them. "The orders... regarding women are in accordance with [Islamic] Shariah, and these are the rules of Shariah," he asserted.
The Taliban are "religiously' obliged to implement Islamic Sharia to counter practices that Islam prohibits, Mujahid said, without elaborating.
'Hopefully Afghan women will also not make demands for things that are against the principles of Islam."
Afghanistan's immediate neighbors and regional countries also have urged Taliban authorities to ease their restrictions on women before they could consider opening formal ties with Kabul.
"[An] inclusive ethnopolitical government should be the first step toward this. We make no secret of this, and we say so outright to our Afghan partners," Zamir Kabulov, Russian special envoy for Afghanistan, said earlier this week, when asked whether Moscow was close to giving the Taliban legitimacy.
Additionally, scholars in many Islamic countries have disapproved of the Taliban's ban on female education and other policies limiting women's access to public life.
Mujahid claimed neither al-Qaida nor any of its members are present in the country, saying they all left Afghanistan for their native countries after the October 2001 U.S.-led military invasion.
Washington blames leaders of the terrorist network for plotting the September 11, 2001, attacks on America from the then-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
At the time, only three countries - Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - had recognized the Taliban. During their rule from 1996-2001, the group had completely banned women from public life and girls from receiving an education, leading to Afghanistan's diplomatic isolation.
Mujahid reiterated Kabul's resolve that it will not allow anyone to threaten the U.S. and its allies by using Afghan soil. "We are ready for this, but only if further steps are taken to build mutual trust and strengthen political ties."
A United Nations report said last month the Taliban continued to maintain close ties with al-Qaida, pointing to the reported presence of the network's "core leadership" in eastern Afghanistan, including its leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.
The report noted, however, that neither al-Qaida nor the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) "is believed to be capable of mounting international attacks before 2023 at the earliest, regardless of their intent or of whether the Taliban acts to restrain them."