More Americans leave Kabul; UN says political stability needed in Afghanistan

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A Qatar Airways flight on Friday took more Americans out of Afghanistan, according to Washington’s peace envoy, the third such airlift by the Mideast carrier since the Taliban takeover and the frantic US troop pullout from the country.

The development came amid rising concerns over the future of Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The country’s new Islamic rulers on Friday ordered that boys but not girls from grades six to 12, and male teachers but no women teachers return to school and resume classes, starting Saturday.

The statement, posted on the Facebook page of the now Taliban-run education ministry, underscored fears that the Taliban might again impose restrictions on girls and women.

Since taking power, the Taliban had allowed girls in grades one to six to resume classes.

When they ruled Afghanistan previously in the late 1990s, the Taliban banned girls and women from attending school and work.

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted he was “grateful that more Americans were able to leave on a Qatar Airways flight.”

There was no immediate information how many Americans were on the flight.

An Afghan official said more than 150 passengers were on the flight, though it was not immediately clear how many were Americans.

In the past one week, more than 300 foreign nationals as well as US green card holders and Afghans with special visas have left Afghanistan.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He said more flights were expected on Saturday, including another Qatar Airways flight.

It’s unclear how many American nationals are still in Afghanistan, but Khalilzad tweeted “we remain committed to get them out if they want to come home.”

US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter confirmed that the plane departed Kabul on Friday and told reporters that officials were still trying to determine how many Americans, green card holders or holders of special immigrant visas for Afghans were on the flight heading to Doha, the Qatari capital.

Qatar Airways’ first flight out of Kabul with the cooperation of the Taliban was on September 9, the first such large-scale departure since the US forces withdrew on August 30.

There have been several chartered flights since, including by Pakistan International Airlines, to airlift foreigners and Afghans desperate to leave and fearing the Taliban, and a few commercial flights out of Kabul International Airport.

Porter said that in all, “between the charter flights and overland crossings, a total of 36 US citizens” have left Afghanistan since the US troop pullout.

The Taliban order for the boys and male teachers to return to junior high and high schools went against earlier promises by Afghanistan’s new rulers to guarantee girls equal access to education and harkened back to their past harsh rule.

Since taking over, the Taliban have only allowed women back to work in the health sector and as teachers in grades one through five.

At a news conference last week, the Taliban minister for higher education, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, had said classes would be gender segregated but that girls would have the same access to education as boys.

Earlier this month, the Taliban declared their interim, all-male government, devoid of any women or members of the country’s minorities.

The 33-member Cabinet is stacked with veterans of the Taliban’s hard-line rule from the 1990s and the 20-year battle against the US-led coalition.

This is unlikely to win the Taliban the international support they desperately need to avoid an economic meltdown.

The UN refugee agency says Afghans displaced by war and the Taliban takeover of the country are in urgent need of medicine, shelter and other essentials ahead of winter.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, urged the international community not only to give money but also to accept Afghan refugees.

He spoke at a press conference in Islamabad on Friday.

“Giving money is one thing, but also taking some of the refugees is important,” Grandi said and appealed on all countries “that have the possibility to do that – continue to resettle refugees.”

He stressed that said shelter, food, medicines and other necessities should be arranged for displaced Afghans because winter is coming.

He thanked Pakistan for hosting Afghan refugees over the past four decades of conflict and for facilitating recent humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.

The UN refugee agency says over 3.5 million Afghans have been displaced from their homes by the conflict and remain inside the country.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday said the troubling developments in Afghanistan were causing “profound political, economic, security and humanitarian challenges”, hoping the international community could deliver in the face of this “rapidly evolving and unpredictable” situation.

“You come together at a pivotal time,” Guterres said in a video message to the 20th Summit of the Council of the Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

“Troubling developments in Afghanistan are causing profound political, economic, security and humanitarian challenges. The situation is rapidly evolving and unpredictable,” he said.

The UN chief told the SCO leaders it is clear that the Afghan people want extreme poverty to be eradicated, jobs to become available, health and education services to be restored, and their lives and basic rights and freedoms to be protected.

“They want their country free of insecurity and terror. The United Nations is committed to deliver for the Afghan people,” Guterres said.

Top UN officials continue to engage with the Taliban in Afghanistan as they focus on ensuring continued humanitarian aid in the country.

UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Deborah Lyons and Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, Department of Safety and Security (DSS) Gilles Michaud met Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani “stressing absolute necessity for all UN and humanitarian personnel in Afghanistan to be able to work without intimidation or obstruction to deliver vital aid and conduct work for Afghan people.”

UNAMA said in a tweet that the meeting also addressed the requirement of mutual trust in collective efforts to improve the challenging situation in Afghanistan, “not least in restarting the economy, ensuring civil servants and health workers are paid, as well as medicines and food reaching those most in need.”

The two UN officials also met Thursday with the Taliban government’s intelligence chief Abdulhaq Wasiq “about securing the safety of UN personnel, the threat posed by Islamic State, and the importance of humanitarian assistance reaching those Afghans in need of help.”

On the meetings with Haqqani and Wasiq, Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, had told reporters Thursday “these are continuing dialogues that we are having with Afghan” with the Taliban in Kabul.

“These are ongoing dialogues with the Taliban that we’re having in Kabul to ensure that humanitarian aid can continue to be delivered in an independent and impartial manner, also to underscore the need to respect human rights, including, of course, the rights of women and girls, to ensure the safety of UN personnel, to talk about issues of access. It’s an ongoing discussion,” he said.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi is now in Pakistan, where he is holding talks with government officials and reviewing the refugee response in Pakistan.

Grandi just concluded a three-day visit to Afghanistan, and during his visit to Kabul, he had meetings with the interim Afghan government, as well as some of the hundreds of UN and NGO (non-governmental organisation) staff that have stayed on the ground to maintain and deliver humanitarian aid.

In his remarks to the SCO Summit, Guterres said the UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths recently travelled to Afghanistan and the UN has launched a Flash Appeal for immediate humanitarian response needs, and convened a High-Level event in Geneva to support this effort.

“We look forward to working with all of you to support the Afghan people,” he said, adding that across the board, solidarity is needed now more than ever.

“Transnational threats, such as the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, demand coordinated and creative solutions,” he said, adding that the work of regional organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is critical to addressing shared challenges and ensuring an equitable recovery.

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on August 15, two weeks before the US’ complete troop withdrawal on August 31 after a costly two-decade war.

This forced Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country to the UAE.

The Taliban insurgents stormed across Afghanistan and captured all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away.

Thousands of Afghan nationals and foreigners have fled the country to escape the new Taliban regime and to seek asylum in different nations, including the US and many European nations, resulting in total chaos and deaths.

Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the SCO summit via video link and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar attended the meeting of the eight-member bloc comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan.

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