Photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed in crossfire and his fault was to not coordinate with the Taliban, a spokesperson of the group told NDTV on Friday as it made rapid advances in Afghanistan, taking control of key cities including Herat and Kandahar.
In an interview, Muhammad Sohail Shaheen, spokesperson of the Taliban's political office in Doha, Qatar, said the Taliban has taken control of "90 per cent" of Afghanistan.
Asked about Danish Siddiqui, the Pultizer-winning photojournalist killed on assignment by Taliban fighters, the spokesperson countered: "You can't say he was killed by our fighters. Ask why he didn't coordinate with us. We have announced to journalists not once but many times that when they come to our places, please coordinate with us and we will provide you security."
He continued: "But he was embedded with the security forces of Kabul. There was no difference - whether they are security personnel or militia or soldiers of Kabul or a journalist among them. He was killed in cross-firing, so it is not known whose firing killed him."
Reports say Danish Siddiqui was captured and executed and his body was mutilated.
The Taliban spokesperson denied it. "We have rejected the mutilation allegation two-three times. It is not our policy. It is possible that security forces did it to malign us. It is against the rules of Islam to mutilate dead bodies," he said.
He was asked whether journalists could simply approach the Taliban and be allowed to report from the ground.
"Journalists from around the world, if they want to come to our areas and file reports, they can come...They can open branches in our areas to see the ground reality with their own eyes," claimed Shaheen.
The Taliban has taken control of major Afghanistan cities and is virtually at the gates of Kabul leaving only small pockets of territory in government hands after US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan to end two decades of war.
The Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were thrown out by US-led forces. They notoriously enforced oppressive policies based on their version of the Islamic Sharia law; women were banned from education and work, women could not leave home without a male relative, men had to grow beards and cover their heads too. All entertainment was banned and any violation of their brutal restrictions would provoke whipping or beatings.
After being ousted by US forces, the Taliban allegedly regrouped in Pakistan, which is accused of helping the group.
When asked whether the Taliban considers India its enemy or a friend, he said, "You should ask your government if they consider the Taliban a friend or an enemy, not me. See, if India provides guns, arms and ammunition to the people of Afghanistan to create unrest against us, then that will certainly be seen as an act of enmity. But if India works for the peace and prosperity of the nation, then it will be seen as not a move in enmity. That is for India to decide."
On reports that India had held talks with Taliban recently, Shaheen said: "Yes, I too have heard reports that an Indian delegation held talks with Taliban in Doha and elsewhere, but there are not confirmed to me. What I do know is that yesterday there was a meeting in which an Indian delegation was also present as so was a Taliban delegation. That I can confirm."
Shaheen said if the Taliban comes to power, it will not allow terror groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda to operate from Afghanistan's soil. He also denied that Pakistan was providing active support to the Taliban.
"You say Taliban is backed by Pakistan, but I think you say that because of your (India's) enmity with Pakistan, not really about the ground situation in Afghanistan," he said.