Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
August 31, 2021
The Taliban, now in full control of Kabul’s airport with the final departure of foreign forces, has clashed with resistance fighters in the northeast as the rest of the world watches to see if the militants live up to their promises of a more tolerant and open brand of rule compared with their first stint in power.
The last U.S. military aircraft left the airport’s runway overnight, marking the end of a 20-year presence in Afghanistan and the United States’ longest war, following a chaotic final evacuation that left behind thousands of Afghans looking to escape Taliban rule.
The Taliban said Afghanistan had “gained full independence” with the U.S. withdrawal, while also warning that the Taliban’s victory was a “lesson for other invaders.”
Just hours after the last U.S. military plane took off, reports of fighting emerged on August 31 from the one part of Afghanistan not under Taliban control: Panjshir Province 100 kilometers northeast of the capital, long a pocket of resistance to the militants.
At least seven people were killed in the fighting, according to local media reports and sources quoted by international news agencies.
The resistance, led by Ahmad Masud, the son of a revered Afghan resistance fighter, has said it would prefer negotiations with the Taliban, though it also has gathered thousands of armed men “ready to fight.”
The violence is a stark reminder of the precarious situation in the country.
Celebratory gunfire could be heard as the militants cheered what a spokesman called the regaining of “full independence.
Zabihullah Mujahid also said that the hard-line Islamist group wished to have “good relations with the U.S. and the world.”
The group has urged foreign diplomatic missions to stay in the country, but most countries have closed their embassies.
The militants have said they will allow normal travel after assuming control of Kabul airport.
While the United States suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul, transferring operations to the Qatari capital, Doha, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would continue its “relentless efforts” to help Americans — and Afghans with U.S. passports — to leave Afghanistan if they want to.
He said the Taliban needed to earn its legitimacy and would be judged on the extent to which it fulfilled its commitments to not carry out violent reprisals in Afghanistan, respect human and women’s rights, and not allow the country to become a base for international terrorism.
U.S. President Joe Biden will address the nation on August 31 in Washington after earlier noting his decision to stick to an August 31 deadline for withdrawal was the “unanimous recommendation” of military commanders.
Since the Western-backed government and Afghan army collapsed under a lightning Taliban offensive, thousands of Afghans have fled their homes fearing a repeat of the Taliban’s brutal rule between 1996 and 2001.
The Taliban has said it was in talks with “all factions” to reach an agreement on a future government, and repeatedly promised a more tolerant and open brand of rule compared with their first stint in power.
However, many reports have said summary executions and house to house searches for those who worked with international groups or the previous government are occurring across the country.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, a member of Afghanistan’s tiny Sikh minority in Kabul told RFE/RL that Sikhs and Hindus “haven’t left their homes” since the Taliban seized power.
“Currently, we feel very uncertain and do not know what will happen after this. We want the international community and the U.S. to not leave us alone.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the Taliban was discussing the management of Kabul’s international airport with Qatar and Turkey.
He insisted that the Islamist group secure the facility quickly so that people who want to leave Afghanistan can do so using commercial flights.
During a visit to Islamabad, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Berlin was closely watching whether the Taliban delivers on its pledges to form an inclusive government and to allow people to leave the country if they choose.
Maas said Germany was coordinating with Pakistan for the evacuation of its citizens from Afghanistan and also “preparing in close cooperation with others to organize charter flights as soon as Kabul airport is operable again.”
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said he expected that a new “consensus government will be formed in the coming days.”
Qureshi also urged the international community to act to prevent an ‘economic collapse” in Afghanistan, which he said would create more instability and a further exodus of Afghans.
Amid anxiety about their future and what the new government will look like, Afghans woke up with no international troop presence in their country for the first time in two decades.
“The city is quiet,” Lotfullah, a central Kabul resident, told the dpa news agency.
Most shops in the Shahr-e Nau district were open, but only have a few customers, he said.
In the western district of the Dasht-e Barchi, another resident said private and public schools had reopened for the first time since the Taliban takeover.
The BBC reported that huge queues have been forming outside shuttered banks, ATMs, and money transfer services in Afghanistan.
With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, the BBC, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.