Taliban take over Kabul after 2 decades as Ashraf Ghani flees

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, along with his close aides, flew out of Afghanistan on Sunday, paving way for Taliban to regain power 20 years after a US-led military invasion ousted them.
A senior Afghan Interior Ministry official confirmed the development. However, the president’s office said it “cannot say anything about Ashraf Ghani’s movement for security reasons”.
Shortly after President Ghani flew out of the country, Taliban commanders claimed that they “took control” of the presidential palace in Kabul, Russia’s RT reported. The report quoted the group as saying that it expected a total handover of power.
Two officials from the militant group told Reuters there would be no transitional government following their lighting sweep across Afghanistan.
Ghani’s destination is uncertain, as a senior Interior Ministry official said he had left for Tajikistan, while a Foreign Ministry official said his location is unknown and the Taliban said they are checking his whereabouts. Some local social media users branded him a “coward” for leaving them in chaos.
Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is said to have accompanied Ghani and the others who left, in a tweet vowed not to bow to the Taliban, but he did not respond in the message to reports of him leaving the country.
Acting defence minister Bismillah Mohammadi, earlier in the day, said that the president had handed the authority of solving the crisis in the country to political leaders. Mohammadi, according to ToloNews, said that a delegation will travel to Doha on Monday for talks on the country’s situation.
Meanwhile, sources close to the Taliban said that it has been agreed that Ghani will resign after a political agreement and hand the power to a transitional government.
Soon after an Afghanistan interior ministry official confirmed reports of Taliban entering Kabul from all sides earlier in the day, a spokesperson for the Taliban stated that the fighters have been ordered to remain at the city’s gates, and not enter it.
The Taliban’s announcement signalled the insurgents were confident of taking power imminently, as the United States and other nations rushed to evacuate their citizens from the capital.
“The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul, not to try to enter the city,” a spokesperson for the Taliban tweeted.
Earlier in the day, Afghanistan Minister of Interior General Abdul Satar Mirzakwal announced that there will be a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ to a ‘transitional government’ hours after the Taliban began entering Kabul. “The security of Kabul is the responsibility of the security forces,” he said.
President Ghani’s government was left completely isolated on Sunday after the Taliban claimed the anti-Taliban northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif and the eastern city of Jalalabad.
Like with most of the other captured cities, the seizure of power came after government forces surrendered or retreated.
It left the Taliban holding all the cards in any negotiated surrender of the capital.
Earlier in the day, Taliban insurgents entered Kabul and said they expect to take power within days, promising to moderate their earlier hardline Islamic rule even as foreign diplomats and many locals tried to leave.
American diplomats were evacuated from their embassy by chopper after a lightning advance by the militants, who were poised to run Afghanistan again 20 years after they were toppled by US-led forces following the Sept 11 attacks on the United States.
Taliban fighters were reaching the capital “from all sides”, a senior Afghan interior ministry official told Reuters. However, there were no reports of fighting.
The group was in talks with the Western-backed government for a peaceful surrender, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said.
“Taliban fighters are to be on standby on all entrances of Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power is agreed,” he said in a statement.
Ali Ahmad Jalali, a US-based academic and former Afghan interior minister, could be named head of an interim administration in Kabul, three diplomatic sources said, though it was unclear whether the Taliban had agreed.
Known during their past rule for keeping girls out of school and their hardline practice of Islamic law, including punishments of amputation, stoning and hanging, the Taliban appear to be trying to project a more modern face. Taliban Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said the group would protect the rights of women, as well as freedoms for media workers and diplomats.
“We assure the people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” Shaheen told the BBC, saying a transfer of power was expected in days.
The ease of the Taliban’s advance, despite billions of dollars spent by the United States and others to build up local Afghan government forces, has stunned the world.
Earlier, the US officials said diplomats were being ferried by helicopters to the airport from its embassy in the fortified Wazir Akbar Khan district. More American troops were being sent to help in the evacuations after the Taliban’s surge brought the Islamist group to Kabul in a matter of days.
“Core” US team members were working from the airport, a US official said, while a NATO official said several European Union staff had moved to a safer location in the capital.
Earlier on Sunday, the insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan. They also took over the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving Kabul airport the only way out of Afghanistan still in government hands.
“The governor has surrendered to the Taliban,” a Jalalabad-based Afghan official told Reuters. “Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives.”
A video clip distributed by the Taliban showed people cheering and shouting “Allahu Akbar” – God is greatest – as a convoy of pickup trucks entered Jalalabad with fighters brandishing machine guns and the white Taliban flag.
After US-led forces withdrew the bulk of their remaining troops in the last month, the Taliban campaign accelerated as the Afghan military’s defences appeared to collapse.
Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities have closed down Torkham border with Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of Jalalabad city and entered Kabul.
The authorities have also beefed-up security on the Pakistani side of the border while the Taliban can be seen on the Afghan side.
The Jalalabad city is approximately 65 kilometres from Torkham border, making it a centre for trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Jalalabad highways also connect Peshawar city of Pakistan to Afghanistan.
The border closure due to the security situation in the neighbouring country will hit not only bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan but also the regional trade. Pakistan’s exports of goods and services to Afghanistan witnessed an increase of 10.47 percent during the fiscal year 2020-21, compared with the corresponding period of the last year, according to the central bank. The overall exports to Afghanistan were recorded at $983.295 million during the fiscal year 2020-21 against the exports of $890.052 million during July-June 2019-20.
Meanwhile, two aircraft of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) have airlifted 499 passengers stuck at Kabul airport to Islamabad on Sunday.
Two aircraft including Boeing 777, which had 329 passengers, and an Airbus 320, carrying 170 passengers, landed at Islamabad airport. According to PIA, three flights will be operated between Islamabad and Kabul on Monday (today) as well, as there is a large volume of Pakistanis and other nationals looking to leave Kabul.
The sources said that there were many people without air tickets who wished to get on board the PIA flights. Eight such people were allowed passage, whereas the others were turned away. Among the passengers are diplomats from Pakistan and their families, as well as other countries.
Earlier, the aircraft were not allowed the use of the runway to take off as the US military evacuated American diplomats.
Media reports said that two helicopters belonging to the US military were blocking the runway and over the past few hours, four C-130 cargo planes, also belonging to the US military, landed for evacuations of American diplomats. Several US embassy cars were seen entering the airport. – TLTP

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