Taliban pledge peace, women's rights

New Afghan rulers announce general amnesty; West resumes evacuations after Kabul airport chaos eases


Reuters August 17, 2021
Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

KABUL:

The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday they wanted peaceful relations with other countries and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law, as they held their first official news briefing since their shock seizure of Kabul.

Moreover, the Taliban's co-founder returned to Afghanistan on Tuesday, as a top spokesman insisted the insurgents will not seek "revenge" and declared a general amnesty.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar's arrival from Qatar -- where he has spent months leading talks with the United States and then Afghan peace negotiators -- crowns an astonishing comeback for the Taliban.

The Taliban announcements, short on details but suggesting a softer line than during their rule 20 years ago, came as the United States and Western allies resumed evacuating diplomats and civilians the day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans thronged the runway.

As they rush to evacuate, foreign powers are assessing how to respond to the transformed situation on the ground after Afghan forces melted away in just days, with what many had predicted as the likely fast unravelling of women's rights.

"We don't want any internal or external enemies," the movement's main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said. Women would be allowed to work and study and "will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam", he added.

"If the question is based on ideology, and beliefs, there is no difference... but if we calculate it based on experience, maturity, and insight, no doubt there are many differences," Mujahid told reporters.

"All those in the opposite side are pardoned from A to Z," he said. "We will not seek revenge."

Read More: Explainer: How did the Taliban take over Afghanistan so quickly?

Mujahid said a government would soon be formed but offered few details, only saying the Taliban would "connect with all sides".

In response, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York: "We will need to see what actually happens and I think we will need to see acts on the ground in terms of promises kept."

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session in Geneva next week to address "serious human rights concerns" after the Taliban takeover, a United Nations statement said.

The European Union said it would only cooperate with the Afghan government following the Taliban's return to power if they respected fundamental rights, including those of women.

"The EU calls on the Taliban to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law in all circumstances," said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Taliban spokesman Mujahid said the group would not seek retribution against former soldiers and members of the Western-backed government, and was granting an amnesty for former Afghan government soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.

"Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors," he said, adding that there was a "huge difference" between the Taliban now and 20 years ago.

Mujahid said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan and that the Taliban were committed to the media within their cultural framework. He also said families trying to flee the country at the airport should return home and nothing would happen to them.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow all those who wanted to leave the country to depart, adding that NATO's aim was to help build a viable state in Afghanistan.

Under a US troop withdrawal pact struck last year, the Taliban agreed not to attack foreign forces as they leave. The decision by US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, to stick to the deal struck by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump has stirred widespread criticism at home and among US allies. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said "the images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political West", referring to the anarchic scenes on the runway on Monday.

US forces took charge of the airport - their only way to fly out of Afghanistan - on Sunday as the militants wound up a week of rapid advances by taking over Kabul without a fight.

The US State Department said later on Tuesday that Washington had completed a draw-down of embassy personnel from Kabul and those diplomatic personnel remaining were assisting the evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies.

US military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians restarted earlier in the day after having been suspended on Monday due to chaos at Kabul airport.

US troops had fired warning shots to disperse crowds and people clung to a US military transport plane as it taxied for take-off. The US Air Force said on Tuesday it was investigating the circumstances surrounding human remains that were found in the wheel well of one of its C-17s that flew out of Kabul.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Taliban had told the United States it would provide safe passage for civilians to reach the airport.

Asked how Washington would hold the Taliban to their pledge to respect women's rights, Sullivan signalled that options included sanctions and marshalling international condemnation and isolation.

Biden said he had had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal. He blamed the Taliban takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and its army's unwillingness to fight.

Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov met with the Taliban in Kabul, hailing a "positive and constructive" meeting.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would "have to talk" to the Taliban.

But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would not recognise a Taliban government. Agencies

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