Britain's Raab To Discuss Kabul Airport In Qatar As Taliban Poised To Announce Government
By RFE/RL September 02, 2021
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will meet with the emir of Qatar and his foreign minister in Doha on September 2 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan amid international efforts to resume operations at the Kabul airport, which would facilitate humanitarian assistance and further evacuations of foreigners and others seeking to flee Taliban rule.
Raab's trip to the Qatari capital comes amid expectations the Taliban will unveil its government more than two weeks after the hard-line Islamist group took control of Kabul and days after the last U.S. troops withdrew from the war-torn country after a 20-year presence.
Taliban member Ahmadullah Muttaqi said on social media that a ceremony was being prepared at the presidential palace in Kabul, while private broadcaster TOLOnews reported that an announcement on a new government was imminent.
The United States and its allies evacuated more than 123,000 foreigners and Afghans out of Kabul since August 14, the day before the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan two decades after being removed from power by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
But tens of thousands of Afghans who had helped Western nations oust the militants during a 20-year war and others at risk remained behind.
The United Nations has urged the Taliban to allow safe passage for those seeking to leave Afghanistan, while also warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe with the government paralyzed and foreign assistance at a near standstill because of the turmoil.
The militants have promised to allow Afghans to leave and return to the country, but many remain in doubt about the hard-line Islamist group's intentions.
The U.K. Foreign Office said in a statement that Raab, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and other Qatari leaders to discuss "the prospects of getting Kabul airport up and running and safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans across land borders."
The foreign secretary "will seek Qatari views on the feasibility of a functioning airport in Kabul, either for charter or commercial flights, which would provide a vital route for remaining UK nationals and Afghans most at risk to leave the country," it said.
On September 1, Afghanistan's civil aviation authority said it had a technical team working at Kabul airport to repair the radar system so flights could resume.
A Taliban spokesman was quoted as saying that a joint team of technicians from Turkey and Qatar had arrived in the capital to provide technical and logistical services to help repairs of the Kabul airport.
The goal was reportedly to resume flights for both humanitarian aid and to provide freedom of movement for Afghans.
Since the Western-backed government and Afghan Army collapsed under a lightning Taliban offensive, thousands of Afghans have fled their homes fearing a repeat of the Taliban's brutal rule between 1996 and 2001.
The Taliban has declared an amnesty for all Afghans who worked with foreign forces during the war that ousted it from power and said it was in talks with "all factions" to reach an agreement on a future government.
The militants have promised a more tolerant and open brand of rule compared with their first stint in power. However, many reports have said summary executions and house-to-house searches for those who worked with international groups or the previous government are occurring across the country.
While the Taliban has control of Kabul and other provincial capitals, it is still fighting with opposition groups and remnants of the Afghan Army, led by Ahmad Massud, son of a former mujahedin commander who fought against the Taliban in northeastern Afghanistan in the late 1990s, holding out in mountains north of the capital.
Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Motaqi said the militants have "tried very hard" to resolve the issue of Panjshir through negotiations and communication, " but unfortunately, that has not worked so far."
In the Qatari capital, Raab will also hold talks with the British Embassy to Afghanistan, which has temporarily relocated to the tiny Persian Gulf nation.
The British prime minister's special envoy for Afghan transition, Simon Gass, will also brief him "on the talks he has held in recent days with senior Taliban political representatives" in Doha, which is hosting a Taliban political office.
In its statement, the U.K. Foreign Office said London was "keen to work with Qatar and other international partners to help deliver our priorities - ensuring that the Taliban government will bear down on the threat from [IS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group] and Al-Qaeda and honouring their commitment...to prevent Afghanistan soil being used to threaten the security of other countries; facilitating humanitarian access; and protecting human rights, especially those of women and girls."
This story includes reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.
With reporting by Reuters and TOLOnews
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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