The Taliban declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join its government on Tuesday, trying to calm nerves across the tense capital city of Kabul that only the day before saw chaos at its airport as people tried to flee the Taliban rule.
The comments by Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, represent the first comments on governance from a federal level across the country after their blitz across the country.
While there were no major reports of abuses or fighting in Kabul, many residents have stayed home and remain fearful after the insurgents’ takeover saw prisons emptied and armories looted. Older generations remember their ultraconservative views during their rule before the US-led invasion in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Back then, women were barred from attending school or working outside the home. They had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside. The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.
“The Islamic Emirate doesn’t want women to be victims,” Samangani said, using the Taliban’s term for Afghanistan. “They should be in government structure according to Shariah law.”
He added: “The structure of government is not fully clear, but based on experience, there should be a fully Islamic leadership and all sides should join.”
Samangani remained vague on other details, however, implying people already knew the rules of the Islamic law the Taliban expected them to follow.
“Our people are Muslims and we are not here to force them to Islam,” he said.
The insurgents have sought to project greater moderation in recent years, but many Afghans remain skeptical.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Stefano Pontecorvo, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s senior civilian representative to Afghanistan, posted a video online, showing the runway empty with American troops on the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. What appeared to be a military cargo plane could be seen in the distance from behind a chain-link fence in the footage.
The runway “is open,” he wrote on Twitter. “I see airplanes landing and taking off.”
Overnight, flight-tracking data showed a US Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules plane at the airport and later taking off for Qatar, home to Al Udeid airbase and the US military Central Command’s forward headquarters. There were no other immediate flights seen in Afghan airspace, which has been taken over by the American military as commercial flights have been halted in the country.
On Monday, thousands of Afghans rushed into Kabul’s main airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban that they held onto a military jet as it took off and plunged to their deaths. At least seven people died in the chaos, US officials said.
Across Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands had been wounded in the fighting. Security forces and politicians handed over their provinces and bases without a fight, likely believing the two-decade Western experiment to remake Afghanistan would not survive the resurgent Taliban. The last American troops had planned to withdraw at the end of the month.
“The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
A resolute US President Joe Biden on Monday said he stood “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw American forces and acknowledged the “gut-wrenching” images unfolding in Kabul. Biden said he faced a choice between honouring a previously negotiated withdrawal agreement or sending thousands more troops back to begin a third decade of war.
“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” Biden said in a televised address from the White House.
Talks appeared to be continuing between the Taliban and several Afghan government officials, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council. President Ashraf Ghani earlier fled the country amid the Taliban advance and his whereabouts remain unknown.
An official with direct knowledge of the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorised to brief journalists, said senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi had arrived in Kabul from Qatar. Muttaqi was the higher education minister during the Taliban’s last rule. Muttaqi had begun making contact with Afghan political leaders even before Ghani fled.