Taliban seek no ‘revenge’ and all Afghans will be ‘forgiven’

Islamist group’s spokesman uses first press conference to urge people trying to flee via Kabul airport to return home

The Taliban have said they seek no “revenge” on opponents and that everyone will be “forgiven”, during the first press conference held by the hardline Islamist group since taking power in Kabul on Sunday.

Saying the group did not seek “internal or external enemies”, their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters invited to the media centre used by the former Afghan government that the group wanted to “congratulate the [Afghan] nation” for its victory.

“We assure you that nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped,” he said, despite reports from different parts of the country that Taliban fighters were doing precisely that. He encouraged people who had fled to the airport with their families to return.

Mujahid added a vaguely worded pledge to honour women’s rights and allow them to work, but within the group’s interpretation of Islamic law, and said private media would be permitted to “remain independent” if journalists “did not work against national values”.

There were a series of assurances apparently aimed at the international community, including a promise to end the narcotics trade from Afghanistan and to prevent the country being used as a base by terrorist groups to attack other countries.

Earlier Germany announced it had halted development aid to Afghanistan over the Taliban takeover. Such aid is a crucial source of funding for the country, and the Taliban’s efforts to project a milder version of themselves may be aimed at ensuring that money continues to flow.

Kabul remained quiet on Tuesday, although there were allegations that insurgent fighters had drawn up lists of people who had cooperated with the government and were seeking them out.

A United Nations spokesperson said it would judge the Taliban by their acts on the ground. “We will need to see what actually happens and I think we will need to see action on the ground in terms of promises kept,” Stéphane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

Despite the Taliban’s apparently emollient tone, in a sign of the dangerous frictions ahead, Nato warned on Tuesday that the alliance retained the military power to strike from a distance should the Taliban host terrorist groups.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, warned: “Those now taking power have the responsibility to ensure that international terrorists do not regain a foothold. We have the capabilities to strike terrorist groups from a distance if we see that terrorist groups again try to establish themselves and plan, organise attacks against Nato allies and their countries.”

He joined the US president, Joe Biden, in blaming Afghan leaders for the Taliban’s lightning victory, calling it a tragedy. “Ultimately, the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up to the Taliban and to achieve the peaceful solution that Afghans desperately wanted,” he said. “This failure of the Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today.”

Afghanistan’s former vice-president Amrullah Saleh, who is reportedly in hiding in the Panjshir area north-east of Kabul, claimed to be the legitimate caretaker president and issued several defiant messages on Twitter vowing never to cooperate with the Taliban, amid suggestions he has allied with Ahmad Massoud, the son of the late and noted anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in September 2001.

The US sent more troops to the capital’s airport to reinforce the escalating evacuation effort and American officials suggested they could airlift up to 9,000 people a day. An earlier US statement said the airport was secure after the chaos of Monday when thousands of desperate Afghans mobbed planes on the tarmac, some falling to their deaths after clambering on wheels. US reinforcements were due to arrive on Tuesday.

The Taliban has declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government on Tuesday, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed since their brutal rule of the country in the late 1990s.

After a blitz across Afghanistan during which many cities fell to the insurgents without a fight, the Taliban have sought to portray themselves as more moderate this time around. But many Afghans remain sceptical.

Older generations remember the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic views, which included severe restrictions on women as well as public stonings and amputations before they were ousted by the US-led invasion following the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

On Tuesday the Taliban patrolled the streets of Kabul and many residents stayed home, fearful after the insurgents’ takeover saw prisons emptied and armouries looted. Many women have expressed dread that the two-decade western experiment to expand their rights and remake Afghanistan will not survive the resurgent Taliban.

Promises of amnesty from Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, were the first comments about how the Taliban might govern on a national level. His remarks remained vague, however, as the Taliban are still negotiating with political leaders of the country’s fallen government and no formal handover deal has been announced.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with full dignity and honesty has announced a complete amnesty for all Afghanistan, especially those who were with the opposition or supported the occupiers for years and recently,” he said.


Peter Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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