QUETTA, Pakistan - Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar issued a fresh appeal to his supporters Friday to turn public opinion against the next year’s presidential elections - another headache for the country as it prepares for the withdrawal of U.S.-led NATO forces.
“We have been tasked by our leadership to urge the public and clerics to boycott the elections next year," senior Taliban leader and cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz told NBC News while on a visit to Quetta, just across the border in neighboring Pakistan.
“An anti-election campaign has been launched,” he said. "I am here to convince the Afghan refugees residing in Quetta not to participate in elections.”
Mullar Omar himself has barely been seen in public since 2001, but messages in his name are regularly issued through his supporters.
"Neither we nor any Jihad forces will participate in any election to be held before the end of the occupation of Afghanistan by the U.S. and its allies," Aziz said.
He said bomb attacks against Muslims and innocent unarmed people were against the teaching of Islam but that "suicide attacks on U.S. and NATO forces" were justified.
"We will fight for hundred years if necessary to free our homeland from the U.S. occupation," Aziz said.
Some American troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, but their exact role and status are yet to be agreed upon.
Aziz, 48, is chairman of the 500-member Afghan Ulema Council – a group of Muslim clerics that supports the Afghan Taliban, Hizb Islami and other Jihadi groups. He is from the Zabul province of Afghanistan.
The council was formed in response to the creation of a government-sponsored council of clerics.
President Hamid Karzai is not standing in the April 5 elections because he is not eligible for a third term. Dozens of candidates have begun initial campaigns to replace him, including a mother of two who has been compared to Hillary Clinton.
Aziz said supporters of the Taliban would not take part in any grand council with government-supporting clerics. However, he urged “political reconciliation” to avert a civil war following the withdrawal of U.S. and allies forces from Afghanistan – a move that is due to begin in 2014.
"We fear the breakout of a civil war after the U.S.- led forces withdraw but we clerics will try our best for a political reconciliation to avert such a situation," Aziz said.
Aziz said clerics who opposed the post-2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan had been excluded from talks about the country’s future. "No one contacted us for a peaceful solution of Afghan problem up till now,” he said.
Alastair Jamieson reported from New York.