Taliban Rebels Spurn Peace Offer From New Afghan Prime Minister
KOTAL-E-TAKHT, Afghanistan (AP) _ Rebel fighters spurned a peace offer from Afghanistan’s new prime minister Thursday, one day after their deadliest attack on the capital in a year killed at least 62 people and wounded 130.
The Taliban militia commander who ordered the barrage of more than 100 rockets Wednesday insisted that ``the only way we can solve this problem is by fighting.″
``Several times they offered peace, but they are not honest, that is why we are not willing to talk,″ Maulana Ghomi told The Associated Press in an interview at his militia outpost about six miles outside Kabul.
As he spoke, the thud of Taliban rockets fired from a neighboring outpost lent credence to his threat.
Despite the high civilian death toll from Wednesday’s attack, Ghomi insisted the rebels ``don’t want to target people. But sometimes a rocket misses the target and hits the people.″
The death toll from the assault continued to climb Thursday. Hospitals struggled to compile a realistic list of the dead, a difficult task because many people in Afghanistan bury their dead immediately in accordance with Muslim practice.
At Kabul’s Jamhuriat Hospital, Dr. Humayan Farid said 62 dead was the most realistic estimate based on a survey of all hospitals and medical clinics in the city.
The onslaught of rockets tapered off Thursday, but Ghomi warned the battle for Kabul had just begun.
``We have issued messages and messages to the people of Kabul to leave or vacate the area near military sites,″ Ghomi said. ``If they don’t ... they must be supporting the government.″
The Taliban rebels, a band of former religious students who want to install a strict Islamic government in Kabul, have been on the outskirts of the capital since September.
They demand the immediate resignation of President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The latest assault came in response to the new alliance between Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former staunch government enemy who was sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday.
Ghomi rejected Hekmatyar’s offer to hold elections within six months to a year.
``Hekmatyar won’t keep his promise,″ he said. ``We will fight to bring Islam to Afghanistan.″
The Taliban’s rejection of Hekmatyar’s peace overtures have many in Kabul worried that Wednesday’s rocket attack foreshadows worse fighting.
``What happens now?″ asked Nasir Abdul, a taxi driver in the capital. ``They will join together now to fight the Taliban and we will be caught in the middle.″
But Hekmatyar called Wednesday for an end to the bitter civil war that has raged in and around Kabul since 1992, when then-allied Muslim rebels ousted the communist government and turned their guns on each other.
Hekmatyar’s ascent to the prime ministry is the latest step in a new alliance with Rabbani. The former enemies’ troops now stand side-by-side guarding government buildings in Kabul, where the streets are filled with armed men, most members of Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami faction.
``The wounds are there, but we are trying slowly to build confidence,″ said Qaribur Saeed, a Hekmatyar spokesman.
He said Hekmatyar’s promise of elections was an olive branch to the Taliban, adding: ``if (they) are really popular, then let them contest elections.″
But he warned that Rabbani and Hekmatyar’s combined forces have the weapons and strength to defend the capital.
``We won’t (initiate) a fight, but we will defend ourselves like we have done in the past,″ he said.