International Flights Resume at Kabul Airport, as Taliban Say They Will Allow Americans and Other Foreigners to Leave

The move would be the first step in resolving an impasse that has left scores of foreigners stranded in Afghanistan, but there was no indication that Afghan nationals would be allowed to leave.,

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

Several passenger jets arrived on Thursday morning in Kabul as Taliban officials said American passport holders and other foreigners would soon be able to fly out of the international airport there, the first passenger flights to leave Afghanistan since the frenzied U.S. military evacuation drew to a close late last month.

Bilal Karimi, a close aid to the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said three flights from gulf nations had landed at the airport, and more were expected. They arrived with desperately needed humanitarian aid, Mr. Karimi said, and would be allowed to leave in coming days.

He did not say if Americans or other foreigners, or Afghans with dual citizenship, would be on the planes when they depart, but he did say that they would be allowed to leave the country as operations at the airport resume.

Mr. Karimi cautioned that technical issues could still result in delays in the planes taking off.

While the move would be the first step in resolving a diplomatic impasse that has left scores of Americans and other international workers stranded in Afghanistan, there was no indication that the Taliban would allow the tens of thousands of Afghans who qualify for emergency American visas to leave.

It also remained unclear whether charter flights from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where dozens of Americans and hundreds of Afghans were waiting to leave the country, would be allowed to fly.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the Taliban bore the entire blame for the inability of charter flights to leave Mazar-i-Sharif.

“The Taliban are not permitting the charter flights to depart,” Mr. Blinken said. “They claim that some of the passengers do not have the required documentation. While there are limits to what we can do without personnel on the ground without an airport with normal security procedures in place, we are going to do everything in our power to support those flights and to get them off the ground.”

Image

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meeting with an Afghan family on Wednesday at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany.Credit…Pool photo by Olivier Douliery

The Taliban blamed the Americans for the delays and said that as U.S. forces left last week, they rendered the radar and other equipment at the Kabul airport inoperable.

Engineers from Qatar, alongside workers from Turkey, have been working to repair the damage and to come up with a security protocol that would allow international passenger flights to resume.

Afghanistan’s new acting prime minister, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, told Al Jazeera in an interview aired on Thursday that foreigners and Afghans had nothing to fear.

He called on former officials who fled when the Taliban seized power last month to return to the country, saying the group would “guarantee their security and safety.”

Repeating earlier pledges made by the Taliban, he said anyone who had worked alongside the United States would be granted amnesty.

“No one will be able to prove that he was subjected to revenge,” Mr. Hassan said. “And in such tense circumstances, it is easy to do what you want. But the movement is disciplined and controls its gunmen.”

Those assurances have done little to ease the concerns of tens of thousands of Afghans who are watching as the Taliban tighten their control over the country.

Demonstrations against the government have been banned, and protests have been violently crushed.

“The Taliban have repeatedly insisted that they will respect human rights, yet these claims are completely at odds with what we are currently seeing and hearing in cities across the country,” Amnesty International said on Thursday in a statement. “Afghans who have taken to the streets, understandably fearful about the future, are being met with intimidation, harassment and violence — particularly directed at women. Multiple journalists attempting to cover the protests have reported being detained, beaten up and having their equipment confiscated.”

Mr. Hassan rejected those reports and said that the caretaker government would guarantee the security of diplomats, embassies and humanitarian relief institutions, stressing that the group wanted to establish positive and strong relations with countries in the region and beyond.

Image

The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced Afghanistan’s acting cabinet on Tuesday at a news conference in Kabul.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

While the West has treated the Taliban government warily, China made cautious overtures to a potentially dangerous neighbor that Beijing is eager to influence.

In addition to welcoming the newly announced acting cabinet, China this week pledged to give $30 million in food and other aid to the new government in Afghanistan, as well as three million coronavirus vaccine doses.

Speaking on Wednesday to a meeting of officials from Afghanistan’s neighbors, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, blamed the United States for the situation in the troubled country. But in a sign of China’s competing priorities, he also urged the Taliban to contain terrorist groups and asked Afghanistan’s neighbors to share intelligence and tighten border controls. The meeting included officials from Iran, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban should “construct broad and inclusive political structures, pursue moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies, and draw a clear line against terrorist forces,” Mr. Wang said, according to a Chinese government statement.

Thus far, China has held back from full recognition of the Taliban government, even as it has cautiously begun a charm offensive. In July, weeks before the fall of the Afghan government, China played host to a delegation from the Taliban, including the chief of the group’s political office. The meeting led the Taliban to call China “a good friend.”

With the United States and Europe having suspended aid, the cash-strapped Taliban have looked to deep-pocketed countries like China for investment. For its part, China has left open the prospect of full recognition, even as it has told the United States to take a leading role in providing economic assistance.

“We should make an objective assessment of the history of the Afghan issue and call on the United States and its allies to learn profound lessons and assume their due responsibilities on the Afghan issue,” Mr. Wang was quoted as saying by the Chinese government.

China shares a roughly 50-mile border in its west with Afghanistan’s remote Wakhan Corridor. Chinese officials have worried for years about foreign influence among its Muslim minorities living in the area, and it has responded harshly to dissent there, interning hundreds of thousands of members of the Uyghur ethnic group in re-education camps.

Image

A flight taking off last week from the Kabul airport as members of the Taliban are deployed there.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Li You contributed research.

Leave a Reply