World powers urge Taliban to give ‘safe passage’ to Afghans
JEDDAH: World leaders have offered to “engage” with the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new government, provided the militants guaranteed safe passage for anyone who wanted to leave.
Less than a week before the deadline for the withdrawal of US troops, thousands of Afghans continue to crowd the gates to Kabul airport seeking to flee, and it will be impossible for everyone eligible to be airlifted out by Aug. 31.
The Taliban said again on Tuesday that the deadline could not be extended, and an emergency meeting of leaders of the G7 group of the world’s wealthiest nations failed to persuade US President Joe Biden to keep US troops in Kabul beyond Aug. 31.
Instead, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired the emergency talks, said the group had agreed on “a roadmap for the way in which we’re going to engage with the Taliban.”
He said: “The No. 1 condition is to guarantee … through Aug. 31 and beyond, a safe passage for those who want to come out.”
The G7 leaders also agreed that the Taliban would be “held accountable for their actions on preventing terrorism, on human rights — in particular those of women, girls and minorities — and on pursuing an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.”
They said they would remain committed to Afghanistan and back the UN in coordinating immediate humanitarian help in the region, which faces a new influx of refugees.
Britain currently chairs the G7, which also comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US. They met after reports emerged that US spy chief William Burns, head of the CIA, held secret talks in Kabul on Monday with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s political chief and widely tipped to be Afghanistan’s new president.
The Taliban sought to assure the thousands of Afghans massing outside Kabul airport that they had nothing to fear and should go home. “We guarantee their security,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. He also called on the US not to encourage Afghan people to leave, and urged foreign embassies not to close or stop work.
Mujahid said there was no list of people targeted for reprisals and the group was trying to come up with a procedure so women could return to work.
Russia ready to mediate Afghan
crisis alongside China, US, Pakistan
Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan are interested in serving as mediators to the crisis in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said, as aid agencies warned of a looming humanitarian crisis under the new Taliban rulers.
The statement comes ten days after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, with Pakistan, India, China and other regional powers looking to cement their grip on the region.
In a press briefing during a visit to Hungary, Lavrov was quoted by Reuters as saying his country and others, including Pakistan, could serve as mediators in Afghanistan. Pakistan is already part of the Troika conference platform on Afghanistan led by the United States, China, Russia.
“We remain committed to the task of establishing peace and stability on Afghanistan’s territory so that it poses no threats to the region,” the foreign minister said, adding that Russia was opposed to the idea of allowing Afghan refugees to enter the ex-Soviet region of Central Asia — located between Russia and Afghanistan — or having US troops deployed there.
“If you think that any country in Central Asia or elsewhere is interested in becoming a target so that the Americans could fulfil their initiatives, I really doubt anyone needs that,” Lavrov said.
Russia maintains close ties with Central Asia’s former Soviet republics — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — and regards the region as part of its sphere of interest.
On Tuesday, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi left on a regional diplomacy tour that includes visits to Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, to discuss the unfolding situation in Afghanistan and present Pakistan’s perspective.
The foreign minister has said his visit aims to promote a coordinated regional approach as well as strengthen Pakistan’s engagement with Central and West Asia.
“Pakistan believes that the neighboring countries have a vital stake in the peace, security and stability of Afghanistan and the region,” a statement released by Qureshi’s office on Tuesday said. “It is important to coordinate closely with the neighbors to address common challenges and advance shared goals of peace, security, stability and regional connectivity.”
Last week, Qureshi spoke with his Russian counterpart over the phone and discussed the situation in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan and Russia, as part of Troika Plus, had made valuable contributions to these efforts,” Qureshi said as the two figures agreed to continue working closely through the Troika format.
Tens of thousands of Afghans fearing persecution have thronged Kabul’s airport since the Taliban takeover, the lucky ones securing seats on flights, mostly arranged by Western governments, that have so far evacuated at least 70,000 people.
Taliban say August 31 deadline is ‘a red line’
The Taliban said Monday that they will not extend the deadline for Western forces to leave Afghanistan. Spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the foreign journalists that 31 August was a red line and that any extension would be a “clear violation” of the Doha agreement between the United States and the Taliban.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to request that US troops remain at Kabul airport past the 31 August deadline at Tuesday’s virtual meeting of G7 leaders.
The Taliban warned on Monday there would be “consequences” if the United States and its allies extend their presence in Afghanistan beyond next week, as chaos continued to overwhelm Kabul airport.
“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday. Staying beyond the agreed deadline would be “extending occupation”, he added.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that Paris believed it necessary to continue Afghan evacuations beyond Washington’s August 31 deadline following the Taliban takeover. “We are concerned about the deadline set by the United States on August 31. Additional time is needed to complete ongoing operations,” Le Drian told reporters at the UAE’s Al-Dhafra air base, where France has set up an air bridge for people evacuated from Kabul.
The Taliban will not announce the makeup of its government until the United States completes its troop withdrawal, two sources in the movement said Monday. “It has been decided that the formation of the government and cabinet will not be announced as long as a single US soldier is present in Afghanistan,” a Taliban source said, and this was confirmed by a second insider.