KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The secretive leader of the Afghan Taliban pledged on Monday that his followers will keep fighting if the government in Kabul signs a crucial security deal with the United States.
Mullah Mohammad Omar also called on his fighters to intensify their insurgent campaign against Afghan and NATO forces, and urged all Afghans to boycott next year's elections, including the vote to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai.
The message from the Taliban leader came in an email distributed to media on the eve of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
Violence across Afghanistan has spiked as insurgents try to retake territory ahead of the full NATO pullout at the end of 2014. The Taliban, whose weapon of choice is roadside bombings and suicide attacks, have been blamed for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties.
On Saturday, Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reached an agreement in principle on the major elements of a deal that would allow American troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 and allow the U.S. to lease a number of military bases around the country.
However, key issues, such as immunity for American troops who will stay on, remain unresolved. The jurisdiction over those forces must still be worked out, and U.S. officials have said this was a potentially deal-breaking issue.
Karzai has called tribal elders for a meeting of a consultative national assembly, known as Loya Jirga, for next month.
In his message, Omar warned members of the Loya Jirga not to approve the U.S.-Afghan deal.
"Those who would sign this could not be called a representative Loya Jirga of the country. Their decisions are not acceptable," Omar said. "The invaders should know that their limited bases will never be accepted. The current armed jihad will continue against them with more momentum."
The reclusive Taliban leader has not been seen since he vanished shortly after the American invasion on Oct. 7, 2001. But messages in his name are regularly issued by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — as the country was known under the Taliban regime.
In his message, Omar also called on Afghans to boycott the April 5 elections. Karzai is not eligible for a third term and 27 candidates have declared their candidacies to replace him.
"The votes of the people have no value in the elections, nor will participation benefit. Therefore, the Islamic Emirate rejects these elections and urges the people to avoid participation in them," the message said.