The Taliban has announced a “general amnesty” for government workers across Afghanistan and urged women to join its government, trying to calm nerves as thousands rushed to Kabul airport to get out of the country.
The comments by Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, on Tuesday represent the first comments on governance on a federal level since President Ashraf Ghani fled the country in the wake of the group’s sweeping takeover.
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While there were no major reports of abuses or fighting in Kabul, many residents have stayed home and remain fearful after the Taliban takeover saw prisons emptied and armouries looted.
Older generations remember Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001, during which stonings, amputations and public executions were the norm. The group was removed from power in a US-led invasion following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
“The Islamic Emirate doesn’t want women to be victims,” Samangani said in a TV interview to Afghan national television RTA , using the group’s name 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 Islamic law the Taliban expected them to follow.
“Our people are Muslims and we are not here to force them to Islam,” he said.
Under Taliban rule (1996-2001), women were largely confined to their homes as part of their strict interpretation of Sharia law. The armed group has sought to project greater moderation in recent years, but many Afghans remain sceptical.
On Tuesday, Stefano Pontecorvo, NATO’s senior civilian representative to Afghanistan, posted a video online showing the airport’s runway empty with American troops on the tarmac.
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 Air Base and the US military Central Command’s forward headquarters.
The German foreign ministry, meanwhile, said a first German military transport plane had landed in Kabul, but it could only take seven people on board “because of the chaotic conditions”, before it had to depart again.
A special military flight with some 120 Indian officials on board landed in the western Indian state of Gujarat after taking off from Kabul on Tuesday, the Press Trust of India and state TV reported.
Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the staff of the Swedish Embassy in Kabul had returned to Sweden.
Chaos at Kabul airport
On Monday, thousands of Afghans rushed to 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.
“The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead,” United Nations 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 negotiated withdrawal agreement or sending thousands of soldiers 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 was not authorised to brief journalists, said senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi had arrived in Kabul from Qatar. Muttaqi is a former higher education minister during the Taliban’s last rule and he had begun making contact with Afghan government officials before Ghani fled.