Blinken urges Taliban to allow foreign nationals to depart Afghanistan.

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said the international community was “concerned” by the Taliban’s new caretaker government and called on it to prove its commitments to engagement by allowing foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans to depart the country.

In a joint press conference with Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, at the US Ramstein military base in Germany, Mr Blinken said charter flights arranged by private groups and individuals had been blocked by the Taliban, which argued that some of those booked on the flights did not have proper paperwork.

“We’ve made clear to the Taliban that these charters need to be able to depart,” he said after an online meeting with representatives from more than 20 countries about how to approach the Taliban government.

The discussions covered how to ensure their demands were met in exchange for offering humanitarian aid co-operation with the Taliban. Their main points of interest were the free movement for both Afghan and foreign nationals seeking to leave Afghanistan, guarantees from the Taliban that it would fight jihadist groups that sought to use its territory, human rights protection and broader representation in a future government.

Mr Blinken said some members of the new cabinet had “challenging track records”, an indirect reference to the fact that 17 of the 33 members of the cabinet are either on UN sanctions lists or are wanted by the FBI.

Temporary

The Taliban has said the government is temporary and will eventually be replaced by one that includes both political opponents and more representatives from ethnic groups outside the dominant Pashtuns.

“We understand the Taliban has presented this as a caretaker cabinet,” Mr Blinken said. “The international community has made clear its expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government.”

Western leaders are trying to avoid completely isolating the Taliban, as they had done during its rule in the 1990s before the 20-year US-led occupation of Afghanistan. But they were disappointed that Abdul Ghani Baradar, who led negotiations with the US, was not named prime minister. Instead, he was appointed deputy to Mohammad Hassan Akhund, an adviser to the late Taliban founder Mohammed Omar.

Both Mr Maas and Mr Blinken said they were in co-ordination with 100 different countries to ensure international consensus on how to approach the Taliban. “We don’t want them to play us against each other,” Mr Maas said.

But China appeared to offer a tentative embrace to the caretaker government, announcing it would donate €26 million worth of food, supplies and coronavirus vaccines to its neighbour.

“Afghanistan stands at a crossroads,” said Wang Yi, foreign minister, in a video conference with Taliban leaders and representatives from Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. “The US and its allies withdrew hastily and the so-called ‘democratic transformation’ has ended in failure.”

Mr Wang laid down preconditions for Afghanistan receiving infrastructure investment, however, saying it needed to control security and prevent drug trafficking before announcing any Belt and Road projects in the country.

Inclusive

Brussels said an inclusive Afghan government was a requirement for any engagement with the Taliban-led administration and the appointments did not appear to meet its calls for an inclusive government.

“It does not look like the inclusive and representative formation in terms of the rich ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan we hoped to see and that the Taliban were promising over the past weeks,” said Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU’s diplomatic arm.

The UK has also cast doubt on the appointments, and said a government would not only need to represent other groups but women. “We will judge the Taliban by its actions, not its words,” the UK foreign office said.

The new cabinet also has Sirajuddin Haqqani as its interior minister. The FBI is offering a $5 million (€4.2 million) bounty on Mr Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani network that is accused of attacks on US targets.

Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and veteran politician Abdullah Abdullah were excluded, despite holding extensive talks with the Taliban leadership.

The US and its Nato allies completed a chaotic withdrawal last month in the wake of the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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