Evacuations go on after chaos kills seven at Kabul airport

Published August 23, 2021
KABUL: Afghans stand in line to be evacuated onto an Italian Airforce plane from Kabul airport on Sunday.—AP
KABUL: Afghans stand in line to be evacuated onto an Italian Airforce plane from Kabul airport on Sunday.—AP

• Taliban blame US for situation at the airport
• Fighters heading to Panjshir to take on opposition forces
• OIC calls for a terrorist-free Afghanistan

KABUL: A day after seven people were killed in a crush at the gates of Kabul airport, the Taliban fired into the air and used batons on Sunday to force people desperate to flee Afghanistan to form orderly queues there, as the militant group said its fighters were heading to the northern Pan­jshir valley to take on thousands of forces opposed to them.

There were no major injuries as armed men beat back the crowds, according to witnesses, and Washington said it was now able to get large numbers of Americans into the airport.

Britain’s defence ministry said seven Afghans were killed in the crush around the airport on Saturday as thousands tried to get a flight out, a week after the Islamist militants took control of the country.

Sky News showed soldiers on a wall on Saturday attempting to pull the injured from the crush and spraying people with a hose to prevent them from getting dehydrated.

Nato official said at least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses have said.

The Taliban on Sunday blamed the United States for the chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners from Kabul.

The United States has warned of security threats and the European Union admitted it was “impossible” to evacuate everyone at risk from the Taliban, who have vowed a softer version of their rule from 1996 to 2001. But terrified Afghans continue to try to flee, deepening a tragedy at Kabul airport where the United States and its allies have been unable to cope with the huge numbers of people trying to get on evacuation flights. “America, with all its power and facilities... has failed to bring order to the airport. There is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport,” Taliban official Amir Khan Mutaqi said.

Anti-Taliban forces

Leaders of the Taliban, meanwhile, have begun talks on forming an inclusive government.

They face opposition from forces in northern Afghanistan, which said this weekend they had taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley.

Anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud said on Sunday he hoped to hold peace talks with the Islamist movement but that his forces in the Panjshir — remnants of army units, special forces and militiamen — were ready to fight.

“We want to make the Taliban realise that the only way forward is through negotiation,” he said. “We do not want a war to break out.”

For their part, the Taliban said that “hundreds” of their fighters were heading to the Panjshir valley, one of the few parts of Afghanistan not yet controlled by the group. “Hundreds of Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are heading towards the state of Panjshir to control it, after local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully,” the group wrote on its Arabic Twitter account. According to a spokesman for the anti-Taliban forces, thousands of people have made their way to Panjshir. He said Ahmad Massoud had sought to assemble a force of around 9,000 people to counter the Islamist militants.

Talks with the US

In an interview to a television channel, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office Mohammad Naeem said that Al Qaeda was not present in Afghanistan and that the movement had no relationship with the organisation founded by Osama bin Laden. He added that talks were continuing with the United States and other countries regarding the fast-developing situation in Afghanistan.

Another spokesman for the Taliban, Suhail Shaheen, said a three-member committee had been formed by the group to facilitate and assist journalists in the Afghan capital. Using his Twitter handle @suhailshaheen1, he said: “A three-member committee has been set up in Kabul to reassure media.

“A member of the Cultural Commission, a member of the Union of Journalists and media outlets and a member of the Kabul Police Dept will participate as members. They will address media problems in Kabul.”

OIC statement

Weighing in on the situation in Afghanistan, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the country should never again be allowed to shelter “terrorist organisations”. It also called for an inclusive dialogue to resolve the crisis following the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

The Jeddah-based organisation said it would dispatch envoys to Afghanistan to stress the importance of “peace, stability, and national reconciliation”. Other multi-national organisations have also indicated they will convene to consider how to tackle the situation in Afghanistan, including the G7.

In a statement, the OIC “called upon the future Afghan leadership and the international community to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as a platform or haven for terrorists and not allow terrorist organisations to have a foothold there”.

It also raised an alarm over the humanitarian situation in the country, with surging numbers of displaced people and refugees.

The organisation “called on the Member States, the Islamic financial institutions, and partners to act swiftly to provide humanitarian assistance in the areas that need it the most and urgently”.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2021

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