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Taliban leader dismisses Afghan elections as 'waste of time' by Ben Sheppard =(FILE PICTURE)= ATTENTION - ADDS quotes, background / KABUL, Aug 06, 2013 (AFP) - Taliban leader Mullah Omar Tuesday dismissed elections due in Afghanistan next year as "a waste of time" but insisted the militants had no desire to grab power after NATO troops leave.

Afghanistan is scheduled to go to the polls on April 5 to elect a successor to the Western-backed President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

The United States and other foreign donors say the poll is crucial for the country's future after the vast majority of NATO-led troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

Omar issued a lengthy statement on the Internet ahead of Eid celebrations due to begin in Afghanistan on Thursday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The reclusive one-eyed supremo offered glimmers of hope for peace after 12 years of war, saying the Taliban - who sheltered Al-Qaeda during their 1996-2001 regime - did not seek a return to absolute power.

"As to the deceiving drama under the name of elections 2014, our pious people will not tire themselves out, nor will they participate in it," Omar said.

"Participation in such elections is only a waste of time, nothing more." In previous elections, the Taliban called on Afghans to boycott voting, sent fighters to block roads to polling stations and targeted candidates and activists.

Omar's statement struck a conciliatory tone on some issues.

"(The Taliban) does not think of monopolising power. Rather we believe in reaching understanding with the Afghans regarding an Afghan-inclusive government based on Islamic principles," he said.

The remark signalled a willingness to consider power sharing.

Omar also said the Taliban would not "allow anyone to harm others from our soil" - a vow in line with US demands that the country does not return to being a safe haven for global militancy.

During their hardline rule, the Taliban banned girls from going to school, outlawed television, music and cinema, and forced women wear the all-covering burqa.

But Omar, who presided over the Taliban government, signalled a partial change to their extreme interpretation of sharia law.

"Our young generations should arm themselves with religious and modern educations because modern education is a fundamental need of every society," he said.

Omar added that "selfless" aid groups were welcome to work in Afghanistan, an apparent reference to a much-criticised attack in May on a Red Cross compound, for which the Taliban denied any responsibility.

Writer and analyst Ahmad Saeedi said the "softer" messages in the suggested the Taliban could take a more strategetic approach to gaining maximum influence after 2014.

"The Taliban know that the world has changed, and that they cannot reach power with violence alone, and they want to give hope to their supporters," he told AFP.

Nearly 70,000 US troops and 30,000 soldiers from other countries are still deployed in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban and training the national army and police to take on the insurgents.

All foreign combat troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with many Afghans fearing they face a new era of turmoil after decades of war since the Soviet occupation in 1979.

The US is considering leaving a residual military force in the country to aid stability, target Al-Qaeda figures and further strengthen the security forces.

But Omar railed against the plan, saying that foreign countries "should not try their fate once more by prolonging the occupation".

Attempts to start peace talks with the Taliban collapsed in June when a new office in Qatar for the insurgents enraged President Hamid Karzai, because it was styled as an embassy for a government in exile.

Omar said the office proved the Taliban was "showing honesty and commitment to resolve problems of its oppressed people...

but the invaders and their allies are creating obstacles".

Violence has continued to rage across much of Afghanistan as NATO troops begin their pullout and Afghan troops increasingly move to the frontlines.

"The current jihad in Afghanistan is continuing with great success," Omar, who has often been rumoured to be dead, said, adding a call for unity among Taliban factions and an appeal for fighters to avoid civilian casualties.

A recent UN report found that 74 percent of civilian casualties were caused by insurgents.

US special envoy James Dobbins said on Thursday if the election result was widely accepted "most other of Afghanistan's challenges are going to be satisfactorily met".

bgs-emh/pdw/jm Afghanistan-unrest-vote-Taliban AFP 061123 GMT AUG 13