KABUL: The Taliban’s co-founder and political leader made a triumphant return to Afghanistan on Tuesday as the militants pledged peaceful relations with other countries and respect for the rights of women.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has been widely tipped to be the country’s next president, flew from Qatar to Kandahar — the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace and Afghanistan’s capital when they ruled from 1996 to 2001.
Baradar was in prison in Pakistan from 2010 to 2018, when he was released at the request of the US. He led the Taliban delegation at talks in Doha, and signed the peace agreement with the US in February.
As Baradar’s plane touched down, the US and Western allies resumed evacuation flights for diplomats and civilians from Kabul airport the day after scenes of chaos when Afghans thronged the tarmac.
About a dozen flights left on Tuesday, although French Defense Minister Florence Parly said Taliban roadblocks at the airport were making access difficult.
After taking control of Kabul, the Taliban held a news briefing in the capital on Tuesday in which they sought to allay fears of a return to their previous harsh rule.
“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. Women could work and study, and would be “active in society but within the framework of Islam,” he said.
Mujahid said the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and members of the Western-backed government, and the movement was granting an amnesty for former Afghan government soldiers, and for contractors and translators who worked for international forces.
“Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors,” he said, and there was a “huge difference” between the Taliban now and 20 years ago.
He said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan, and the Taliban were committed to the media within their cultural framework.
He also said families trying to flee the country at Kabul airport should return home, and no harm would come to them.
After the briefing, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We will need to see what actually happens and I think we will need to see acts on the ground in terms of promises kept.”
In Kabul, Taliban officials visited the city’s main Sikh and Hindu temples to pledge protection for religious minorities, and others encouraged female health workers to continue with their jobs.
On the streets of the capital, women ventured outdoors, many without a male guardian or face covering, while shops and markets reopened.
In an upmarket area of the city, as armed Taliban fighters watched from a distance, a group of women held a rally urging the Taliban “not to silence women’s voices.”