Afghanistan: Kabul in danger of takeover by Taliban

Afghanistan: Kabul in danger of takeover by Taliban

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Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen said fighters were remaining on the capital’s outskirts as negotiations took place.

The Taliban readied its forces on the outskirts of the Afghan capital from all sides on Sunday as panicked civilians prepared for the armed group’s takeover of Kabul nearly 20 years after relinquishing power in an American-led assault.

Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen said fighters were remaining on the capital’s outskirts as negotiations took place.

“Our forces have not entered Kabul city, and we just issued a statement saying that our forces will not enter Kabul city,” Shaheen told Al Jazeera from Doha, Qatar, where peace talks are taking place.

“We are talking and awaiting a peaceful transfer – a transition of the capital city.”

Sirens could be heard along with sporadic gunfire in Kabul. Multiple helicopters were flying above the city centre dropping flares to prevent attacks by heat-seeking missiles.

The Taliban said it has no plans to take the Afghan capital “by force”.

“Negotiations are under way to ensure that the transition process is completed safely and securely, without compromising the lives, property and honour of anyone, and without compromising the lives of Kabulis,” a Taliban statement said.

“The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul, not to try to enter the city,” a spokesman for the Taliban tweeted, although some residents reported fighters peacefully entered some outer suburbs.

Panicked workers fled government offices. Thousands of civilians now live in parks and open spaces in Kabul itself, fearing the future.

The chief of staff to President Ashraf Ghani on Twitter urged the people of Kabul not to panic. 

“Please don’t worry. There is no problem. The situation of Kabul is under control,” the chief of staff said. 

Afghan Interior Minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said there would be a “peaceful transfer of power” to a transitional government after the Taliban ordered its fighters to hold back from entering Kabul.

“The Afghan people should not worry… There will be no attack on the city and there will be a peaceful transfer of power to the transitional government,” he said in a recorded speech.

There was no immediate word on the situation from Ghani. A palace official said he was in emergency talks with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and top NATO officials.

The senior official told Reuters news agency the Taliban was coming in “from all sides” but gave no further details.

Three Afghan officials told The Associated Press the fighters were in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman in the capital. Fighters earlier took Jalalabad, near a major border crossing with Pakistan, the last main city other than Kabul not under their control.

Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis, reporting from Kabul, said it was unclear exactly what was going on.

“I have just heard heavy gunfire coming from the airport direction,” she said. “I spoke to a Taliban contact, he said, ‘Yes, we are in Kabul.’ He said the leadership is asking everybody to be calm, that they come with a message of peace.

“They have been instructed that if anybody does want to leave the city, that they should be given safe passage to do so. I understand that there is a leadership meeting within the Taliban happening at this moment.”

Many of Kabul’s streets were choked by cars and people either trying to rush home or reach the airport, residents said.

“Some people have left their keys in the car and have started walking to the airport,” one resident told Reuters by phone. Another said: “People are all going home in fear of fighting.”

United States officials said diplomats were being ferried to the airport from the embassy in the fortified Wazir Akbar Khan district. More American troops were being sent to help in the evacuations.

At Kabul International Airport, Afghan forces abandoned the field to Western militaries, said a pilot who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss security matters.

The speed of the Taliban offensive has shocked many and raised questions about why Afghan forces crumbled despite years of US training and billions of dollars spent. Just days ago, an American military assessment estimated it would be a month before the capital would come under pressure.

Who are the Taliban?

A report by the BBC narrated how the Taliban were removed from power in Afghanistan by US-led forces in 2001, but the group has been on the offensive in recent months and is now on the brink of seizing power again.

As the US prepared to complete its withdrawal by 11 September, after two decades of war, the militants took major cities and have now reached the outskirts of the capital Kabul.

The group entered direct talks with the US back in 2018, and in February 2020 the two sides struck a peace deal in Doha that committed the US to withdrawal and the Taliban to preventing attacks on US forces. Other promises included not allowing al-Qaeda or other militants to operate in areas it controlled and proceeding with national peace talks.

But in the year that followed, the Taliban continued to target Afghan security forces and civilians, and advanced rapidly across the country.

The Taliban, or “students” in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is believed that the predominantly Pashtun movement first appeared in religious seminaries – mostly paid for by money from Saudi Arabia – which preached a hardline form of Sunni Islam.

The promise made by the Taliban – in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan – was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.(Sahara Reporters)

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