KABUL: A street vendor waits for customers along a road in Kabul yesterday. - AFP

KABUL: The Taleban said yesterday they remain committed to peace talks but insisted a "genuine Islamic system" in Afghanistan was the only way to end the war and ensure rights-including for women. Talks between the militants and the Afghan government have been deadlocked for months and violence has surged across the country since May when the US military began its final withdrawal.

Fears are also growing that if the Taleban return to power they will reimpose their harsh version of Islamic law, under which girls were banned from school and women accused of crimes such as adultery were stoned to death in stadiums. Despite the rise in violence, Taleban co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said yesterday that the group was committed to the peace talks. "Our very participation in the negotiations... indicates openly that we believe in resolving issues through (mutual) understanding," Baradar said in a statement.

He said the only way to end the conflict in Afghanistan was to establish an Islamic system after the departure of all foreign forces. "A genuine Islamic system is the best mean for solution of all issues of the Afghans," Baradar said. His statement acknowledged the fears in Afghanistan and abroad about the kind of system that would emerge-and its impact on women-saying that fell "within the ambit of the intra-Afghan negotiations". Baradar also assured that the rights of all Afghans including women would be accommodated in that system, according to "the glorious religion of Islam" and Afghan traditions.

'Taleban destroying Afghanistan'

But many fear that the Taleban's interpretation of rights will clash with the changes that have happened in Afghan society since 2001. In May, a US intelligence report said the gains made over the past two decades on women's rights would be rolled back if the militants returned to power. As the US military presses ahead to meet the September 11 deadline to complete the troop withdrawal, the Taleban have fought daily battles with government forces and claim to have captured 40 districts.

The growing fear and uncertainty about the future have forced many Afghans to try and leave, including thousands of men and women who fear reprisals because they worked with foreign forces. Baradar called on Afghan youths to not leave the country, and also stressed that the Taleban would ensure that minorities, humanitarian organizations and diplomats had nothing to fear.

The recent losses faced by government troops have forced President Ashraf Ghani to change his defense and interior ministers. On Saturday, he announced the changes and called on the Taleban to make a choice between peace and enmity with the government. "If they choose enmity then the people will respond to them decisively," he said late on Saturday in a statement issued by the palace.

Ghani blamed the Taleban for starting the war and accused them of failing to come up with a plan to establish peace. "As officials of a legitimate government, we are committed to all the humanitarian laws in the war, but the Taleban are violating these laws and are destroying Afghanistan," he said. - AFP