KABUL: Thousands of Afghans made a run for the borders on Wednesday as Taliban militants cemented their grip on the country and finalized plans to form a government.
Kabul’s airport is out of action and Afghans fearful of Taliban reprisals are seeking safe passage overland into neighboring Iran, Pakistan and Central Asian states.
At Torkham, a border crossing with Pakistan just east of the Khyber Pass, a Pakistani official said: “A large number of people are waiting on the Afghanistan side for the opening of the gate.”
Thousands also gathered at the Islam Qala post on the border with Iran. “I felt that being among Iranian security forces brought some kind of relaxation for Afghans as they entered Iran, compared with the past,” said one Afghan who crossed over.
Uzbekistan’s land border with northern Afghanistan remained closed but its government said it would assist Afghans in transit by air once flights resume.
The Taliban is talking with Qatar and Turkey about how to run Kabul airport, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, but it could take days or weeks to finalize those negotiations.
More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in the Western airlift after the Taliban seized the city on Aug. 15, but tens of thousands at risk remained behind. Germany alone estimates that up to 40,000 have a right to be evacuated to Germany if they feel endangered.
Meanwhile, the Taliban said the group’s leaders had concluded talks on the formation of an “all-inclusive,” wide-ranging Afghan government and hoped to reveal the new administration within two weeks.
The announcement follows the Taliban’s toppling of the Western-backed Kabul administration earlier this month and comes just 48 hours after the last US military flight left the Afghan capital on Monday.
Bilal Karimi, the Taliban’s deputy spokesman in Kabul, told Arab News: “In the near future, the nation will witness the formation of a new government and Cabinet ... the discussions for forming a new government have finished.”
It follows three days of talks led by the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the group’s stronghold.
“We hope that the new government will be formed possibly this week or within the next week,” Karimi added.
He gave no further details but said the future government would be a “wide-ranging one with the presence of all parties in the new political system of Afghanistan.”
Since returning to power on Aug. 15, the Taliban have repeatedly vowed to form a more moderate government under “the framework of Islamic law,” to uphold women’s rights, grant amnesty to opponents, and ensure Afghan territory will not be used as a base for attacks against any other country.
The Taliban, on Tuesday, took full control of Kabul airport, declaring Afghanistan a “free and sovereign” nation after the US ended its 20 years of occupation, cementing the group’s return to power after their ouster in 2001.
Speaking to reporters at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid hailed Washington’s withdrawal as an “historic moment” while pledging to bring security to the war-torn country and “protect our freedom, independence, and Islamic values.”
But many Afghans remain skeptical, and tens of thousands have fled the country in the past two weeks, amid fears that the Taliban will reinstate their hardline form of governance as they did during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, before being toppled in an American-led invasion.
Abdullah Qaderi, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News: “Formation of a new inclusive government in the country is an urgent need, as we are the world’s first nation that has had no government for almost two weeks. Continuation of this process could facilitate internal wars in the country.”
Shahram Rahmani, a civil rights activist, told Arab News: “We hope that this government will be inclusive, and all parties and political figures will take part in it. We believe that if the government is not inclusive, its presence will be meaningless to all sides.”
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The Taliban also face the urgent task of bolstering Afghanistan’s economy with international donors withholding funds ever since the group recaptured the nation of 38 million people that for two decades had survived on billions of dollars in foreign aid.
Banks remain closed, and residents have reported a sharp spike in prices of essential goods throughout the capital and other areas.
Sanaullah Zazai, 35, told Arab News: “We need food, water, and also security. We urge the Islamic Emirate leadership to form their government as soon as possible; the people are facing challenges.”
On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden struck a defiant tone, defending his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. In a tweet, he said: “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It is about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”
Nearly 2,500 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans have lost their lives in America’s longest conflict, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University. These included nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians, more than 400 aid workers, and 72 journalists.
Amid mounting fears over the future of residents in the country, Abdul Qadeer Faqirzada, a spokesman for the National Resistance Forces, said: “The situation in Afghanistan is full of crises. In the two weeks since the Taliban captured Kabul, people are facing difficulties.
“The economic situation is in chaos; there is no rule of law and no government services, and it shows that the Taliban are unable to govern the country,” he added.
Meanwhile, there were several reports of intense clashes between Taliban fighters and anti-Taliban groups in the Panjshir valley north of Kabul on Monday.
Panjshir has so far been the only province to resist the Taliban since the group’s takeover of Kabul, with its fighters reportedly urging opposition leaders to join their new government and threatening a military strike if they do not.