The New York Times on Thursday published an opinion-editorial article written by the deputy leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, prompting outrage from many conservatives.
In a column, titled “What We, the Taliban, Want” Sirajuddin Haqqani claimed, among other things, “We did not choose our war with the foreign coalition led by the United States. We were forced to defend ourselves.”
Haqqani is a designated terrorist, according to the Department of State.
The State Department’s Reward for Justice program has offered up to $10 million for information that leads directly to his arrest.
His piece made no reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington or Osama bin Laden’s Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda group.
Haqqani’s op-ed comes about a month after two U.S. soldiers were killed and two others injured when their vehicle struck a bomb planted by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
It also comes roughly six months after President Donald Trump said he was ready to reduce U.S. troops in Afghanistan by as many as 6,000 as part of negotiations with the Taliban, but then cancelled those plans.
While decrying the U.S. military’s use of drones and airstrikes that brought “death…from the sky,” Haqqani said the Taliban’s willingness to consider peace talks “testifies to our commitment to ending the hostilities and bringing peace to our country.”
“That we today stand at the threshold of a peace agreement with the United States is no small milestone,” he wrote.
Haqqani also mentioned a “historic” pact between the Taliban and the U.S. aimed at reducing hostilities for seven days.
“That we today stand at the threshold of a peace agreement with the United States is no small milestone,” Haqqani wrote.
The agreement in principle, which was struck during negotiations between U.S. and Taliban representatives in Qatar, could lead to a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
“Achieving the potential of the agreement, ensuring its success and earning lasting peace will depend on an equally scrupulous observance by the United States of each of its commitments,” wrote Haqqani.
At another point in his piece, Haqqani discussed the rights of women in Afghanistan.
“I am confident that, liberated from foreign domination and interference, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected, and where merit is the basis for equal opportunity,” he wrote.
In 1996, the Taliban decreed all women should be banned from employment, citing sharia law.
Under Taliban rule, women reportedly had their fingers cut off for wearing nail polish.
The Afghan presidential palace reacted strongly to the article.
“It is sad that the (New York Times) has given their platform to an individual who is on a designated terrorist list. He and his network are behind ruthless attacks against Afghans and foreigners,” Sediq Sediqqi, a palace spokesman, told Reuters.
Commenters on social media were similarly critical.
Kabir Taneja, fellow at the Observer Researcher Foundation, wrote that he was “gobsmacked” and that the Times’ decision to publish the piece reflected “a major level of tone-deafness.”
I am a little gobsmacked, that The New York Times has given oped space to Sirajuddin Haqqani, deputy chief of the Taliban. I am sorry but this reflects to a major level of tone-deafness at the Times…https://t.co/ofVjXtpDqe
— Kabir Taneja (@KabirTaneja) February 20, 2020
Journalist Jeryl Bier called it “just another Thursday” for The Times.
So just another Thursday as a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization leader with ties to the Taliban and al-Qa‘ida in Afghanistan is on the front page of the @NYTimes with an op-ed:https://t.co/RoIWR8Wwml pic.twitter.com/lELv9nyDOf
— Jeryl Bier (@JerylBier) February 20, 2020
Even the Times’ senior correspondent in Afghanistan, Mujib Mashal, appeared to express surprise, tweeting that Haqqani is “no peace-maker as he paints himself” and is “behind some of the most ruthless attacks” of the war “with many civilian lives lost.”
The piece by Siraj Haqqani in @nytopinion – which's independent of our news operations & judgment – omits the most fundamental fact: that Siraj is no Taliban peace-maker as he paints himself, that he's behind some of most ruthless attacks of this war with many civilian lives lost
— Mujib Mashal (@MujMash) February 20, 2020
The European Media Director of the group Human Rights Watch, Andrew Stroehlein, also questioned the decision to platform Haqqani, calling him a “notorious war crimes suspect.”