(Repeats to fix headline)
By Amie Ferris-Rotman
KABUL Aug 29 The leader of the Afghan Taliban
said his group wants to boost the country's mining and energy
sectors once it regains strength after the NATO-led force
fighting them pulls out in 2014.
Interest in economic stability and investment in mining
marks a new approach for the resurgent Islamist group, ousted
from power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.
"Afghanistan has vast arable land, rich mines and high
potential of energy resources, therefore, we can make
investments," Mullah Omar said in a lengthy statement carried by
the SITE online monitoring service on Sunday.
Such investments would "wrangle ourselves from the tentacles
of poverty, unemployment, backwardness and ignorance," the
one-eyed reclusive leader said in honour of Eid al-Fitr, Islam's
most important festival, which marks the end of Ramadan and will
most likely kick off in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Omar also said the ongoing battle against the NATO-led
forces would lead to an "imminent victory" for the Taliban.
NATO is racing against the clock to train Afghanistan's
poorly equipped army and police force by the end of 2014, the
deadline for U.S. combat troops' exit and when all security
responsibilities will be handed over to the Afghans.
The United States and NATO earlier this year reluctantly
backed Kabul's peace plan, which involves negotiating with some
members of the Taliban. But the extremist group has repeatedly
said it will not consider that until all foreigners fighting in
its country have left.
The Taliban's interest in Afghanistan's natural resources
coincides with government plans to explore what Kabul says is
Asia's largest unmined iron deposit - the 2 billion tonne
Hajigak project in the centre of the country.
But experts warn the bounty from such plans could be decades
away with potential investors facing infrastructure, security
and corruption hurdles.
Taking a softer tone than in the past, Omar also said that
the Taliban would ensure the private sector would be safeguarded
and that "businessmen will be further encouraged, without any
discrimination, to serve their religion and country".
Under the group's extremist rule from 1996-2001 -- which
gained global criticism for its harsh treatment of women --
shops selling music, certain toys and clothing were banned from
operating as they were deemed un-Islamic.
(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Bryson Hull and