‘Channels of communication’ open with Taliban: Blinken

Top US diplomat to visit Qatar and Germany, says Washington in constant contact with Americans remaining in Afghanistan.

A view of Kabul Bazaar in Kabul, Afghanistan September 1, 2021 [West Asia News Agency via Reuters]

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said “channels of communication” with the Taliban will continue on important issues.

Addressing reporters, Blinken also announced on Friday he will travel to Qatar on Sunday for meetings, before heading to Germany where he will hold a virtual ministerial meeting with more than 20 countries.

Qatar has expressed hope to see the establishment of “humanitarian corridors” in Afghanistan within 48 hours so that aid can enter through Kabul airport and other functioning airports.

The comments by Qatar’s special envoy to Afghanistan on Friday came as the Taliban is close to forming a government while also trying to deflect an armed challenge from rebels in the Panjshir Valley region.

The United Nations said it had restarted humanitarian flights to parts of the country, linking the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, with Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and Kandahar in the south.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been internally displaced due to the recent violence. As many as half a million others are also estimated to become refugees in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran.

Here are the latest updates:

Google locks Afghan government accounts as Taliban seek emails: Reuters

Reuters news agency is reporting that Google has temporarily locked down an unspecified number of Afghan government email accounts, as fears grow over the digital paper trail left by former officials and their international partners.

There have been fears that biometric databases could be exploited by the new Taliban rulers to hunt their enemies.

Google stopped short of confirming move but said the company was monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and “taking temporary actions to secure relevant accounts.”

One employee of the former Afghan government has told Reuters agency the Taliban are seeking to acquire former officials’ emails, and had asked him to preserve the data held on the servers of the ministry he used to work for.

US says it will provide trauma counseling for Afghan refugees

US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said his department is looking to improve the conditions of Afghan refugees awaiting resettlement.

“I have met with more than 40 community-based organisations, including Afghan-American organisations to learn of their ideas and recommendations,” Mayorkas said on Friday. “I have heard, and we will operationalise more robustly their recommendations – including cultural competency, access to counsel, trauma counseling and pastoral care.”

UN chief to hold aid meeting for Afghanistan

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres will hold an international meeting in Geneva on September 13 to raise humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

“The conference will advocate for a swift scale-up in funding so the lifesaving humanitarian operation can continue; and appeal for full and unimpeded humanitarian access to make sure Afghans continue to get the essential services they need,” Dujarric said in a statement.

“Afghanistan faces a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Nearly half of Afghanistan’s 38 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.”

Taliban officials meet with Pakistani ambassador in Qatar

A Taliban delegation in Qatar led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai met with Pakistani ambassador Syed Ahsan Raza Shah, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Friday.

“Both sides discussed the current Afghan situation, humanitarian assistance, bilateral relations based on mutual interest and respect, reconstruction of Afghanistan and issues related to facilitating people’s movement at Torkhan and Spinboldak,” Shaheen wrote on Twitter, referring to border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s embassy in Doha confirmed the meeting.

US: ‘No plans’ for meeting with Taliban during Blinken’s visit to Qatar

The US State Department has dismissed the possibility of meetings between US and Taliban officials during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s upcoming visit to Qatar.

“There’s currently no plans to do any meetings with the Taliban in Doha,” State Department official Daniel Benaim told reporters on Friday.”This is very much focused on our relationship with Qatar – thanking them for the incredible support that they’ve given.”

US to give each incoming Afghan evacuee up to $2,275 in aid

The Biden administration and more than 200 private agencies are rushing to establish a system for the resettlement of tens of thousands of Afghans, many of whom fled their country with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

The State Department plans to spend as much as $2,275 for each evacuee as the relocation effort unfolds in communities across the country over the next few months, according to a department official. The money is to be used for housing, food, other necessities and enrolling children in school.

Read more here.

People arrive at a processing center for refugees evacuated from Afghanistan at the Dulles Expo Center near Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, US [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

OPINION: We now feel the consequences of marginalising the Taliban

As the world is coming to grips with the sudden change of regime in Afghanistan, it is important to reflect on what led to this point. So far analyses have focused on the corruption and weakness of the Afghan state set up after the US-NATO invasion of the country in 2001 and on the disarray in the Afghan armed forces.

But it is important to consider another aspect of the story – the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with the Afghan government, which it saw as illegitimate and its determination to wipe it out. Why was the group so relentless on this?

Read more here.

Blinken to travel to Qatar and Germany

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel on Sunday to Qatar, where the new US diplomatic mission for Afghanistan moved after evacuation, he announced at a press briefing.

The top US diplomat said he will then head to Germany where he will visit the Ramstein Air Base, which is hosting Afghan refugees.

“I’ll be heading to Doha where I’ll meet with Qatari leaders to express our deep gratitude for all that they’re doing to support the evacuation effort,” Blinken said.

“Also I’ll have a chance to meet with Afghans including our locally employed staff from the embassy in Kabul who are now safely in Doha preparing for their journey to the United States.

“We continue to maintain channels of communication with the Taliban, on issues that are important,” Blinken added.

New Afghan government must uphold Taliban’s commitments: Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is not aware of the specifics of a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan that is expected to be announced soon, but he stressed that what matters is how the new authorities act.

He said the new government should include non-Taliban representatives from Afghan society.

“The expectation is to see a government that makes good on commitments that the Taliban had made, particularly when it comes to freedom of travel,” he said.

“When it comes to not allowing Afghanistan to be used as a launching ground for terrorism directed at us or any of our allies and partners, when it comes to upholding the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women and minorities, when it comes to not engaging in reprisals.”

Blinken: State Dept in ‘constant contact’ with Americans still in Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday the State Department was “in constant contact” with Americans remaining in Afghanistan who still wish to leave the country.

He told reporters at the State Department that most of those remaining were dual nationals whose homes are in Afghanistan and whose extended families live there. He also described the department’s efforts since President Joe Biden took office in January to speed the processing of special visas for Afghans who worked with US forces during the 20-year war, thousands of whom are still in the country.

Former Afghan religion minister among refugees evacuated to Germany

Among the thousands of people flown out of Kabul by the German Bundeswehr in the wake of the Taliban takeover was a minister of the former Afghan government under Ashraf Ghani, DPA news agency reported.

Mohammad Kasim Halimi, who previously served as minister for religious affairs, arrived in Germany almost two weeks ago, according to the information.

Halimi already had an important post in the foreign ministry during the Taliban’s first rule. After the group was toppled in 2001, he became one of its fierce critics.

Pentagon chief to visit Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will leave Washington on Sunday to visit Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon announced.

“Throughout his trip, Secretary Austin will meet with regional partners and thank them for their cooperation with the United States as we evacuated Americans, Afghans and citizens from other nations from  Afghanistan,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

Second Afghan boy dies of mushroom poisoning in Poland

A second child of an Afghan family evacuated from Kabul to Poland died on Friday after eating soup containing death cap mushrooms, which the family had unknowingly gathered in a Polish forest outside their quarantine centre.

The six-year-old boy had received an emergency liver transplant but doctors were unable to save him. His five-year-old brother was pronounced dead on Thursday at Poland’s main children’s hospital, where both were treated.

The boys’ 17-year-old sister was treated at the hospital and released, in good condition. Doctors said the dose of toxins was less damaging to an adult with larger body mass than to children.

Authorities are investigating whether negligence could have been a factor in the poisoning last week.

Gunfire heard in Kabul

Celebratory gunfire has been heard in Kabul amid conflicting reports over the situation in Panjshir Valley where Taliban fighters are fighting rival forces for the control of Afghanistan’s final holdout province.

Fighting in Panjshir matter of ‘deep concern’: Karzai

Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said the fighting in Panjshir Valley region was a “matter of deep concern” and the consequences would not be in the interest of the country or its people.

“I call on both sides that war is not only a solution, but a wounded and suffering Afghanistan,” he tweeted.

Taliban intends to raise voice for Kashmiri Muslims: spokesman

Speaking to the BBC, spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the Taliban intends to “raise its voice for Muslims” in Indian-administered Kashmir.

“As Muslims, we also have a right to raise our voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India or any other country,” Shaheen told the UK broadcaster.

Putin hopes the Taliban will be ‘civilised’, open to dialogue

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes the Taliban will behave in a “civilised” manner in Afghanistan so the global community can maintain diplomatic ties with Kabul.

“Russia is not interested in the disintegration of Afghanistan. If this happens, then there will be no one to talk to,” Putin said.

Read more here.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a plenary session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 3, 2021 [Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via Reuters]

US military looking to temporarily house 50,000 Afghans

The US military has built temporary accommodation for approximately 36,000 Afghan evacuees awaiting immigration processing and resettlement and is working to increase that capacity to 50,000, said General Glen VanHerck, commander of United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM).

“We continue to provide culturally appropriate food, water, bedding, religious services, recreational activities and other services such as transportation from the port of entry to the location of accommodations and some medical services,” VanHerck said at a news briefing.

Qatar hopes for Afghan airport aid corridors within 48 hours: Official

Qatar hopes to see the establishment of humanitarian aid corridors at Afghan airports within 48 hours, Doha’s special envoy to Afghanistan told Al Jazeera.

The Gulf nation has worked with the Taliban to quickly reopen Kabul’s airport, whose closure since the departure of US troops threatens major strategic and humanitarian challenges.

“We hope in the next 24 or 48 hours to see the opening of humanitarian corridors so humanitarian aid can enter through Kabul airport – and other functioning airports,” Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, special envoy of the foreign minister of Qatar for counterterrorism and mediation in conflict resolution, said.

Moscow in contact with potential Taliban members of Afghan govt: News agency

Russia is in contact with potential Taliban members of Afghanistan’s government, the RIA news agency cited Russia’s ambassador to Kabul as saying.

Sources in the group said earlier that Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar would lead a new Afghan government set to be announced shortly.

The Russian ambassador also said Moscow did not plan to supply weapons to the new authorities in Afghanistan, RIA reported.

Pakistan to engage government backed by Afghans: Foreign minister

Pakistan’s foreign minister has said his country would support any Afghan government that is backed by the people.

“Pakistan has said it’s for Afghans to decide their future. We will engage a government that has the backing of the people of Afghanistan,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi noted during a meeting with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Islamabad.

“Our focus is on the people of Afghanistan. We want to help people of our Afghanistan because we feel they have suffered. They’ve suffered for decades.”

Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Peshawar, said Raab assured Qureshi there is going to be around $40 million of additional funding for Afghanistan neighbours “to help facilitate the Afghans and others coming to these countries”.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab speaks next to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during a joint news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 3, 2021 [Salahuddin/Reuters]

Russia favours talks to end conflict in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley

The Russian foreign minister on Friday expressed hope that the confrontation between the Taliban and resistance group in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan will be solved peacefully.

Speaking at the New Knowledge Forum in Moscow, Sergey Lavrov said: “I hope the latest confrontation in the north of Afghanistan in the Panjshir Valley will end soon, giving way to negotiations.”

EU says Taliban must respect rights, guarantee security as conditions for help

The European Union is ready to engage with the new Taliban government in Kabul but the group must respect human rights, including those of women, and for Afghanistan not to serve as a “basis for the export of terrorism”, the EU’s foreign policy chief said, during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Slovenia.

“In order to support the Afghan population, we will have to engage with the new government in Afghanistan,” Josep Borrell told reporters.

He said this would not by itself constitute the formal recognition of the Taliban government, but called it an “operational engagement”.

“And this operational engagement will increase depending on the behaviour of this government,” Borrell added.

Qatar foreign ministry officials arrive in Kabul

Officials from Qatar’s foreign ministry landed in Kabul, seen as another step towards getting the airport back up and running.

“We have remedied most of the technical and logistic challenges facing the reopening of the airport,” Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, the special envoy of the foreign minister of Qatar for counterterrorism and mediation in conflict resolution, said at Kabul airport.

Qatar and Turkey have already sent technical teams to help restore operations.

“We hope our efforts will speed up the full or at least the gradual reoperation of the facility. This will help more flights into Kabul airport. As to the diplomatic course, we need to continue to talk with the Taliban to iron out certain political issues, namely to ensure the peaceful transition of power; a comprehensive political reconciliation; and above all to restore the country’s peace and stability,” he added.

“Over the past weeks, many of the world leaders have been approaching the Qatari leadership as active diplomatic efforts are under way in Doha; many of the diplomatic missions in Afghanistan have relocated to Qatar. We are doing all that we can to convey the world’s views to the Taliban. We hope that all our efforts will culminate with success, and peace and stability be restored in Afghanistan.”

Afghan interpreters: Many denied access to evacuation flights

The US says it airlifted a total of more than 120,000 people from Kabul, but many Afghans who applied for a special visa, including interpreters who worked with US forces, have been left behind.

Some told Al Jazeera they were beaten as they tried to get to the airport.

NATO seeks more Afghan evacuations

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the alliance would seek to evacuate more vulnerable Afghans and maintain contact with the Taliban, but that Afghanistan’s new rulers would have to show themselves worthy of aid and recognition.

Stoltenberg said diplomatic recognition would be discussed among NATO allies, but would be determined by a new government’s actions, including making good on their promises to prevent Afghanistan being a safe haven for international terrorists, on human rights, especially the rights of women, and on free passage.

Residents flee as Taliban intensifies battle to take Panjshir

Four days of fighting between Taliban and resistance forces in the northern province of Panjshir have disrupted the lives of residents, those living in nearby areas of neighbouring Parwan province told Al Jazeera.

“The fighting has gotten worse and worse with each night,” Asadullah, 52, said. He and other residents of Jab al-Seraj district of Parwan say the fighting is mainly relegated to the mountains, but that most residents have still fled the area.

The increased fighting, residents say, has forced at least 400 families to flee from the villages along the road that would normally lead to Panjshir’s calm, green valleys – about 125km (78 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.

Read more of Al Jazeera journalist Ali M Latifi’s report from Jab al-Seraj here.

Residents are scared by the continuing fighting [Ali Latifi/Al Jazeera]

Poll: Americans support Afghanistan withdrawal, not the way it was done

A new US poll conducted by the Washington Post newspaper and broadcaster ABC found that Americans overwhelming support Washington’s withdrawal from Afghanistan – but not how the chaotic evacuation was conducted.

The poll found 77 percent of Americans support the decision to withdraw all US forces from the 20-year conflict. About 52 percent of those polled support the withdrawal, but disapprove of how the Biden administration handled it.

EU hopes to set up joint presence in Kabul: Foreign policy chief

Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said the European Union hopes to coordinate its contacts with the Taliban through a joint EU presence in Kabul that will oversee evacuations and ensure that a new government in Afghanistan fulfils commitments on security and human rights.

“We have decided to work in a coordinated manner, to coordinate our contacts with the Taliban, including through a joint European Union presence in Kabul … if the security conditions are met,” Borrell said in a statement during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Slovenia.

UNHCR: Flow of Afghans crossing into Pakistan, Iran remains ‘small’

Afghans have not been fleeing in large numbers across the borders to Pakistan and Iran in recent days, but some have crossed over indicating they intend to claim asylum, the UN refugee agency has said.

Babar Baloch, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), speaking from Islamabad, said that the numbers leaving Afghanistan “remain small”, but gave no figures.

“So far what we have not seen is a large refugee influx,” Baloch told a Geneva news briefing. Up to 500,000 Afghans could flee their homeland by year-end, the UNHCR said last week.

Afghan refugees rest in tents at a makeshift shelter in Chaman, a Pakistani town at the border with Afghanistan [AFP]

UK wants to engage with Taliban, won’t recognise govt: Raab

The UK will not recognise the Taliban as the new government in Kabul but must deal with the new realities in Afghanistan and does not want to see the social and economic fabric of the country broken, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said.

Speaking during a visit to Pakistan he said it would not have been possible to evacuate some 15,000 people from Kabul without some degree of cooperation with the Taliban, which seized Kabul on August 15.

“We do see the importance of being able to engage and having a direct line of communication,” he said.

UAE flight heads to Kabul: Taliban

A flight from the United Arab Emirates carrying senior UAE officials was set to arrive in Kabul, a Taliban official has said.

Taliban official Ahmadullah Muttaqi said the group would meet with Taliban leaders. It is one of the first international flights to arrive in the country since the group took control of the airport on August 31.

A subsequent statement from the state-run WAM news agency said the flight was carrying “urgent medical and food aid”.

Read more here.

Taliban ‘green light’ resumption of domestic flights: Ariana Afghan Airlines

Domestic flights are set to resume in Afghanistan on Friday, the country’s flag carrier Ariana Afghan Airlines has said.

“We have received a green light from the Taliban and aviation authorities and plan to start flights today,” Tamim Ahmadi, a senior manager with the airline told AFP.

Fighting continues between Taliban, resistance forces in Panjshir

Fighting intensifies in Panjshir Valley

Taliban forces have intensified their bombardment of Panjshir Valley, the last remaining stronghold of opposition fighters loyal to Ahmad Massoud.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Golbahar near the only entrance to Panjshir Valley, said that the fighting has escalated in the last hour igniting fear among civilians living in the area.

“When we arrived, there was a lot of smoke, there was a lot of artillery being fired at that town. The Taliban is in control of it, and they have been responding in the last few minutes or so.”

Herat women protest against Taliban over right to work

Dozens of Afghan women have demonstrated in the western city of Herat to demand their rights to employment and education.

Since retaking Afghanistan last month, the Taliban leadership has assured that they would allow women to work and pursue education, as Afghans fear the return of strict rule.

In recent weeks, however, the Taliban has been sending mixed messages about women working. In late August, the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that women who work with the government should stay at home until they can ensure their safety on the streets and in offices.

But last week, the Taliban called on female workers at the Ministry of Public Health to return to work.

Read the full story here

Afghan journalists, families from US-funded media left behind

Afghan journalists working for US-funded media face possible retribution from the Taliban after they were left behind in the country following the withdrawal of US and allied troops.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, more than 100 media employees from Voice of America and the Afghan branch of Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe missed the evacuation, alongside their families who number up to 400.

Taliban: China to keep embassy in Afghanistan, increase aid

A Taliban spokesman has announced that China has promised to keep its embassy in Afghanistan open and to increase humanitarian aid to the war-ravaged country.

Abdul Salam Hanafi, a senior Taliban official in the group’s political office in Doha, Qatar, “held a phone conversation with Wu Jianghao, deputy foreign minister of the People’s Republic of China,” spokesman Suhail Shaheen wrote on social media.

“The Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister said that they would maintain their embassy in Kabul, adding our relations would beef up as compared to the past. Afghanistan can play an important role in security and development of the region,” he said.

China also issued a statement saying that it “affirms” its ties with Afghanistan and that it wishes Afghans well as they rebuild their country.

Taliban close to forming new government in Afghanistan

The Taliban was expected to form a government as early as Friday with the new rulers under intense international scrutiny over their promise to rule Afghanistan with greater tolerance, especially on women’s rights.

The announcement of a new administration could be made after Friday afternoon prayers, two Taliban sources told the AFP news agency, as the group shift gears to governing, days after the US fully withdrew its troops and ended 20 years of war.

While the West has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the Taliban, there were some signs of engagement with the new leaders gathering pace.

A Taliban spokesman posted on social media early Friday that China’s foreign ministry had promised to keep its embassy in Afghanistan open and to “beef up” relations and humanitarian assistance.

Pakistani soldiers stand guard in front of a member of the Taliban force, in the background, during an organised media tour to the Pakistan-Afghanistan crossing border, in Torkham, Pakistan on Thursday [Gibran Peshimam/Reuters]

UN resumes humanitarian flights to Afghanistan

The UN has resumed humanitarian flights to Afghanistan with three planes arriving in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif since Sunday, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.

The flights, operated by the World Food Programme (WFP), link Pakistan’s Islamabad to Mazar-i-Sharif and the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. The programme aims to deliver humanitarian aid to areas that are difficult to reach.

Dujarric said WFP is looking to “step up” its operations in Afghanistan as soon as possible.

“From 2002 to 2021, the UN Humanitarian Air Service in Afghanistan served more than 20 destinations in the country; it will seek to return to these locations once security and funding permits,” Dujarric said.

US Republicans demand transcript of Biden’s call with Ashraf Ghani

Republican legislators have sent a letter to the White House requesting the release of “the full, unedited and unredacted” transcript of President Joe Biden’s call with exiled Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in July.

The letter, sent on Thursday, signed by 12 US Congress members, including top Republican Elise Stefanik, accused the administration of engaging in a “deliberate effort” to mislead the public on the situation in Afghanistan.

The legislators argued that releasing Biden’s conversation with Ghani would increase transparency to hold the White House accountable.

“The contrast between your administration’s official spin and the reality on the ground revealed a bewildering lack of coherence, strategy and fundamental transparency,” the letter said.

Blinken discusses Afghanistan in calls with counterparts

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the situation in Afghanistan in separate phone conversations with his Saudi, Italian, Spanish and German counterparts on Thursday.

The State Department said Blinken thanked Germany for its “support in facilitating the transit of thousands of people out of Afghanistan” in a call with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

“The Secretary and Foreign Minister discussed ways to promote the safety and security of Afghan and international citizens following the withdrawal of NATO forces,” it said.

EU mulls reaction force after Kabul evacuation

European Union defence ministers weighed proposals for a European rapid reaction force after the bloc was sidelined during the US-led evacuation from Afghanistan.

Calls have grown for the 27-nation group to develop its own joint military capability to respond quickly to crises in the wake of the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.

“Afghanistan has shown that deficiencies in our strategic autonomy come with a price and that the only way forward is to combine our forces and strengthen not only our capacity but also our will to act,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told journalists after the meeting in Slovenia.

“If we want to be able to act autonomously and not be dependent on the choices made by others, even if these others are our friends and allies, then we have to develop our own capacities.”

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Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies