Ex-Taliban Foreign Minister to seek office
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A former foreign minister for Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime said Wednesday he would be a candidate in the country's upcoming parliamentary elections.
Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, who is considered a relative moderate, surrendered to U.S. forces in the southern city of Kandahar in 2003 and was held by the U.S. military at its main base in Bagram, north of Kabul. He recently was freed after being under house arrest in Kabul.
"I have the right to be an independent candidate," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I am doing this for the sake of the people of Afghanistan. If I win, I will work for the peace and development of Afghanistan."
Muttawakil said he registered as a candidate in the southern city of Kandahar and would compete to represent the former Taliban stronghold in the new 249-seat legislature.
But the head of the joint U.N.-Afghan election commission, Bismillah Bismil, said he could not confirm that Muttawakil had registered for September's election. He said he had not received such a report from his field offices.
In a television interview broadcast earlier this month, Muttawakil called on his former Taliban comrades to hold talks with the U.S.-backed Afghan government, saying "it will be good for our people."
But when asked if he still had ties with the Taliban, Muttawakil said: "The Taliban are also Afghans. The public must decide who they want as their leaders, whether it's the Taliban or someone else."
He also criticized Osama bin Laden for refusing to heed a request made just before American bombing began in late 2001 to leave Afghanistan.
After the Taliban refused to turn bin Laden over for his role in the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States launched a bombing campaign that helped drive out the hardline Islamic militia.
The Afghan government recently has reached out to members of the Taliban to lay down their weapons and rejoin civil society. Several midlevel Taliban commanders have taken them up on the offer, though the rebel insurgency continues to produce heavy clashes.