Several passenger planes arrived in Kabul on Thursday morning as Taliban officials said US passport holders and other foreigners could soon leave the international airport there, the first passenger flights to leave Afghanistan since the frenzied US military evacuation ended late last month.
Bilal Karimi, a close aid to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, said three flights from Gulf countries had landed at the airport and more were expected. They arrived with urgently needed humanitarian aid, said Mr. Karimi, and should be allowed to leave in the next few days.
He did not say whether Americans or other foreigners, or Afghans with dual citizenship, would be on the planes when they leave, but he did say they would be allowed to leave the country once operations at the airport resumed.
Mr Karimi warned that technical problems could still lead to delays in the take-off of the planes.
While the move would be the first step in resolving a diplomatic standoff that has left dozens of Americans and other international workers stranded in Afghanistan, there was no indication that the Taliban would allow the tens of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. emergency visas to enter. leave. .
It also remained unclear whether charter flights would be allowed to fly from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where dozens of Americans and hundreds of Afghans were waiting to leave the country.
During a press conference on Wednesday at the US Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany, Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken said the Taliban were entirely to blame for the inability of charter flights to leave Mazar-i-Sharif.
“The Taliban will not allow the charter flights to depart,” Mr Blinken said. “They claim that some of the passengers do not have the required documentation. While there are limits to what we can do without staff on the ground without an airport with normal security procedures, we are going to do everything we can to support those flights and get them off the ground.”
The Taliban blamed the Americans for the delays, saying that when US troops left last week, they disabled the radar and other equipment at the Kabul airport.
Engineers from Qatar, along with workers from Turkey, have been working to repair the damage and devise a security protocol that would allow international passenger flights to resume.
Afghanistan’s new acting Prime Minister Mullah Muhammad Hassan told Al Jazeera in an interview that aired Thursday that foreigners and Afghans had nothing to fear.
He called on former officials who had fled when the Taliban took power last month to return to the country, saying the group would “guarantee their safety and security”.
He reiterated previous Taliban pledges and said that anyone who cooperated with the United States would be given an amnesty.
“No one will be able to prove that he took revenge,” Hassan said. “And in such tense circumstances, it’s easy to do what you want. But the movement is disciplined and controls its shooters.”
Those assurances have done little to allay the concerns of tens of thousands of Afghans who watch as the Taliban tighten their control over the country.
Anti-government demonstrations have been banned and protests have been violently crushed.
“The Taliban have repeatedly insisted that they will respect human rights, but these claims are completely at odds with what we are currently seeing and hearing in cities across the country,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday. “Afghans who have taken to the streets, understandably fearful of the future, face intimidation, harassment and violence – especially against women. Multiple journalists who tried to cover the protests have reported being detained, beaten up and their equipment confiscated.”
Rejecting those reports, Hassan said the caretaker government would guarantee the security of diplomats, embassies and humanitarian aid institutions, stressing that the group wanted to establish positive and strong relations with countries in the region and beyond.
While the West has been wary of the Taliban government, China has made tentative overtures to a potentially dangerous neighbor Beijing is eager to influence.
In addition to welcoming the newly announced acting cabinet, China this week pledged to provide $30 million in food and other aid to the new government in Afghanistan, as well as three million doses of vaccine against the coronavirus.
Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, spoke at a meeting of officials from Afghanistan’s neighboring countries on Wednesday, blaming the United States for the situation in the troubled country. But as a sign of China’s competing priorities, he also urged the Taliban to contain terrorist groups and asked Afghanistan’s neighbors to share intelligence and tighten border controls. Officials from Iran, Uzbekistan and Pakistan attended the meeting.
The Taliban must “build broad and inclusive political structures, adopt a moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policy and draw a clear line against terrorist forces,” Mr Wang said, according to a statement from the Chinese government.
So far, China has refrained from fully recognizing the Taliban government, even as it has cautiously embarked on a charm offensive. In July, weeks before the fall of the Afghan government, China hosted a Taliban delegation, including the head of the group’s political bureau. The meeting prompted the Taliban to call China “a close friend.”
Now that the United States and Europe have suspended aid, the struggling Taliban have turned to countries with deep pockets like China for investment. China, for its part, has left open the prospect of full recognition, even though it has instructed the United States to take a leading role in providing economic aid.
“We should make an objective assessment of the history of the Afghan issue and call on the United States and its allies to learn profound lessons and take their due responsibility in the Afghan issue,” Mr. Wang said by the Chinese government .
China shares a border about 80 kilometers to the west with Afghanistan’s remote Wakhan Corridor. Chinese officials have been concerned for years about foreign influence among the Muslim minorities living in the area, and it has cracked down on dissent there by detaining hundreds of thousands of members of the Uyghur ethnic group in re-education camps.
Li You research contributed.