Taliban consolidate control in Afghanistan’s capital; thousands remain stranded

Taliban fighters stand guard at an entrance gate outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul on August 17, 2021. (AFP)
Taliban fighters stand guard at an entrance gate outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul on August 17, 2021. (AFP)

Summary

  • Female presenters allowed on television in possible sign of Taliban moderation

 

The Taliban consolidated their control of the Afghan capital Tuesday as many stores reopened, traffic police returned to their posts and a senior official from the Islamist movement arrived for contacts with political leaders affiliated with the fallen Afghan republic.

Thousands of Afghans employed by Western embassies in Kabul remained stranded in the city, unable to enter the airport for evacuation flights. Military flights resumed as the U.S. sent additional troops to secure the airport, but access remained difficult as the Taliban erected checkpoints at the entrances, turning people away. Some evacuation flights were leaving near-empty as a result.

Taliban agents continued searching the offices and homes of Afghans affiliated with Western governments and organizations, collecting evidence. At the new checkpoints that sprang up in the city, they inspected residents’ smartphones for illicit content—and for communications in English.

In Kabul, the Taliban, who proclaimed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan when they first seized the country in 1996, have so far refrained from the kind of radical actions that brought world-wide condemnation in the past. They issued an amnesty for government officials and on Tuesday allowed female presenters on television channels.

The only known execution since the capital’s Sunday takeover was of Abu Omar Khorasani, the former head of Islamic State in South Asia, who was taken by the Taliban from an Afghan government prison and killed on the spot, according to officials. A photo of his body was later posted on social media.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, former chief peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah and former Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who initially allied himself with the Taliban but then reconciled with Kabul, have all remained in the Afghan capital after President Ashraf Ghani and most of his government fled the country on Sunday.

Mr. Hekmatyar, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Pashto service, said the Kabul-based politicians wanted to talk about sharing power with the Taliban, but didn’t have any details about how that would work. A more inclusive government—unlike the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate—could obtain international recognition and international aid.

Haroun Rahmini, an assistant professor of law at the American University of Afghanistan, which has suspended operations, said now that the Taliban are totally dominant, any new government that emerges will be of their choosing, rather than a more neutral interim setup. He said it was unclear whether the Taliban would be generous in their triumph.

“The non-Taliban side doesn’t have any leverage to force anything," he said. “But if the Taliban exclude their opposition, if they don’t try to expand the domestic base of their support, they may be laying the seeds for a resistance to emerge against them."

Unlike in the 1990s, where significant pockets of Afghanistan remained outside Taliban control, particularly in the Panjshir Valley and northeastern Badakhshan province, the Islamist movement this month seized the entire country and faces no organized armed opposition. Only one prominent member of the deposed government, former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, has vowed to actively resist Taliban rule.

Plans to resume power-sharing negotiations in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban’s political office is based, have stalled so far, in part because of unrest at Kabul’s airport. Thousands of desperate Afghans have flocked to the airport’s vicinity, many of them without visas or passports, hoping to get out of the country.

A member of the republic’s negotiating team said efforts were under way to get Mr. Karzai and Dr. Abdullah to Doha as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Amir Khan Muttaqi, a member of the Taliban’s top leadership council and a former information minister in their pre-2001 government, arrived in the Afghan capital for dialogue, Western officials and pro-Taliban accounts said. Footage on social media also showed him inspecting the offices of an Afghan state television channel, which resumed broadcasts and Tuesday had a female presenter—clad in a tight black veil but showing her face—interview a Taliban representative.

The Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said he would hold the group’s first press conference in Kabul later Tuesday.

Before the Taliban’s victory, the U.S. and other countries had been trying to convince the Taliban and the Afghan political representatives to form an interim administration, composed of people from both sides. That initiative never worked, in part because Mr. Ghani rejected Taliban demands to resign first, and in part because the Taliban stalled discussions about a road map to such an agreement, playing for time as their military offensive intensified.

 

 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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