Taliban close to forming new government in Afghanistan
Kabul (AFP) – The Taliban were on Friday close to forming a government, with the hardliners under intense international scrutiny over their vow to rule Afghanistan with greater tolerance, especially on women’s rights.
The announcement of a new administration, earlier expected to be made after Friday afternoon prayers, would now not happen until Saturday at the earliest, a Taliban spokesman told AFP.
The Islamists face the enormous challenge of shifting gears from insurgent group to governing power, days after the United States fully withdrew its troops and ended two decades of war.
While the West has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the Taliban, there were some signs of engagement with the new leaders gathering pace.
China confirmed a tweet from a Taliban spokesman hours earlier, indicating that Beijing will keep its embassy in Kabul open.
“We hope the Taliban will establish an open and inclusive political structure, pursue moderate and stable domestic and foreign policy and make a clean break with all terrorist groups,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
The United Nations said it had restarted humanitarian flights to parts of the country, linking the Pakistani capital Islamabad with Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and Kandahar in the south.
The country’s flag carrier Ariana Afghan Airlines said it would resume domestic flights later Friday, while the United Arab Emirates sent a plane carrying “urgent medical and food aid”.
Western Union and Moneygram said they were resuming money transfers, which many Afghans rely on from relatives abroad to survive, and Qatar said it was working to reopen the airport in Kabul — a lifeline for aid.
– Threat of humanitarian disaster –
Even before the Taliban’s lightning offensive, Afghanistan was heavily aid-dependent — with 40 percent of the country’s GDP drawn from foreign funding.
The UN has warned 18 million people are staring down the barrel of humanitarian disaster, and another 18 million could quickly join them.
The new rulers have pledged to be more accommodating than during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, which also came after years of conflict — first the Soviet invasion of 1979, and then a bloody civil war.
That regime was notorious for its brutal interpretation of sharia law, and its treatment of women, who were forced behind closed doors, deprived of access to school and work, and denied freedom of movement.
This time round, the Taliban have made repeated declarations that they will not carry out revenge attacks on opponents, women will have access to education and some employment.
They have promised a more “inclusive” government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the international community must test the Taliban on their “sincerity”.
“It’s important at this stage to judge the Taliban by these initial, probably quite modest tests, and see whether they can deliver,” Raab said during a visit to Pakistan, where he discussed the safe passage of Afghans out of the country.
The European Union on Friday also laid out its conditions for stepping up engagement with the Taliban, agreeing to establish a joint Kabul “presence” to help departures if security allows.
– Women’s protest –
Speculation is rife about the makeup of a new government, although a senior official said this week that women were unlikely to be included.
In Kabul, some 30 women took to the streets to demand the right to work and inclusion in the government — just a day after several dozen women held a similar protest in the western city of Herat.
Women’s rights were not the only major concern in the lead-up to the Taliban’s announcement of a new government.
In Kabul, residents voiced worry over the country’s long-running economic difficulties, now seriously compounded by the militant movement’s takeover.
“With the arrival of the Taliban, it’s right to say that there is security, but business has gone down below zero,” Karim Jan, an electronic goods shop owner, told AFP.
The United Nations warned earlier this week of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” in Afghanistan, as it called for those still wanting to flee the new regime to be given a way out.
Italy’s foreign minister was due to visit Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Qatar and Pakistan from Friday to assist Afghan refugees.
Qatar’s foreign minister said on Thursday the Gulf state was working with the Taliban to reopen Kabul’s airport as soon as possible.
Turkey said it was also evaluating proposals from the Taliban and others for a role in running the airport.
There were also signs of normality on Friday in Kabul, where a near-full house turned out to watch Afghanistan’s top cricketers play in a trial match — the first since the city fell to the insurgents — with Taliban and Afghan flags waving side by side in what witnesses described as a show of national unity.