JEDDAH: World leaders offered on Tuesday to “engage” with the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new government, provided the militants guaranteed safe passage for anyone who wanted to leave.
Less than a week before the deadline for the withdrawal of US troops, thousands of Afghans continue to crowd the gates to Kabul airport seeking to flee, and it will be impossible for everyone eligible to be airlifted out by Aug. 31.
The Taliban said again on Tuesday that the deadline could not be extended, and an emergency meeting of leaders of the G7 group of the world’s wealthiest nations failed to persuade US President Joe Biden to keep US troops in Kabul beyond Aug. 31.
Instead, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired the emergency talks, said the group had agreed on “a roadmap for the way in which we’re going to engage with the Taliban.”
He said: “The No. 1 condition is to guarantee ... through Aug. 31 and beyond, a safe passage for those who want to come out.”
The G7 leaders also agreed that the Taliban would be “held accountable for their actions on preventing terrorism, on human rights — in particular those of women, girls and minorities — and on pursuing an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.”
They said they would remain committed to Afghanistan and back the UN in coordinating immediate humanitarian help in the region, which faces a new influx of refugees.
Britain currently chairs the G7, which also comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.
They met after reports emerged that US spy chief William Burns, head of the CIA, held secret talks in Kabul on Monday with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s political chief and widely tipped to be Afghanistan’s new president.
The Taliban sought to assure the thousands of Afghans massing outside Kabul airport that they had nothing to fear and should go home.
“We guarantee their security,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. He also called on the US not to encourage Afghan people to leave, and urged foreign embassies not to close or stop work.
Mujahid said there was no list of people targeted for reprisals and the group was trying to come up with a procedure so women could return to work.
However, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she had received credible reports of “summary executions” of civilians and Afghan security forces who had surrendered.
Bachelet said the UN would be watching closely. “A fundamental red line will be the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls,” she said.