The New York Times is under fire for allowing a senior Taliban leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, to write an unchallenged opinion piece that was published Thursday.
The title of the 1,000-word essay, which mused about peace negotiations with the U.S., was straightforward: “What We, the Taliban, Want.”
The Times identified Haqqani as the deputy leader of the Taliban. The FBI describes him as someone believed to be a terrorist who planned attacks against the U.S. in Afghanistan and is wanted for questioning about an attack on a hotel in Kabul in 2008, which left an American and five others dead.
The FBI has labeled Haqqani a global terrorist and is offering up to $5 million for any information that leads to his arrest.
“We did not choose our war with the foreign coalition led by the United States. We were forced to defend ourselves,” Haqqani wrote. “The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand.”
Many people, including a senior Times staffer and the Afghan presidential palace, were shocked by the op-ed and criticized the paper for giving the accused terrorist a platform.
The New York Times defended its decision to publish the op-ed by pointing to its team of reporters who have long reported on the war in Afghanistan for nearly two decades.
“We know firsthand how dangerous and destructive the Taliban is,” Danielle Rhoades Ha, the vice president of communications for the Times, told HuffPost in a statement, adding that the Times has had multiple journalists who have been kidnapped by the Taliban.
But, our mission at Times Opinion is to tackle big ideas from a range of newsworthy viewpoints. We’ve actively solicited voices from all sides of the Afghanistan conflict, the government, the Taliban and from citizens. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second in command of the Taliban at a time when its negotiators are hammering out an agreement with American officials in Doha that could result in American troops leaving Afghanistan. That makes his perspective relevant at this particular moment.
In the op-ed, Haqqani said the group would soon be signing a peace deal with the U.S., though he noted that the Taliban was “very far from fully trusting” the U.S.
U.S. representatives are currently negotiating with the Taliban in Qatar; the agreement would be over a reduction in violence for seven days and could possibly lead to the U.S. withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Reuters reported.
“My fellow Afghans will soon celebrate this historic agreement,” Haqqani wrote. “Once it is entirely fulfilled, Afghans will see the departure of all foreign troops.”
A spokesperson for the Afghan presidential palace described the Times’ decision to publish Haqqani’s piece as “sad.”
“It is sad that the [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,” the spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, told Reuters.
A senior correspondent for The New York Times, Mujib Mashal, also challenged Haqqani’s op-ed, saying that the Taliban leader is not known for wanting peace, and is responsible for acts of war and many deaths.
The piece “omits the most fundamental fact,” Mashal tweeted. “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.”
This story has been updated with a response from the Times.