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By Amie Ferris-Rotman
KABUL, Aug 29 (Reuters) - 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 Yoko Nishikawa)