International 15/08/2021

Afghanistan's president leaves the country as Taliban enter Kabul promising a peaceful transition

The insurgents and the government say they want a "peaceful transition" and anyone who wants to leave the city is allowed to do so

4 min
Taliban fighters on Sunday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

BarcelonaAfghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani left the country on Sunday accompanied by aides, according to Afghanistan's Tolo News shortly after the Taliban entered the capital, Kabul. Reuters says he is on his way to Tajikistan. The Taliban are trying to confirm whether he has left and have given the go-ahead for the full entry into Kabul "to prevent looting", Reuters reported, as policemen have deserted their jobs. The Taliban's final assault for full control of Afghanistan is already underway in Kabul, with a spokesman for the radicals promising that it will be "a peaceful transition".

Insurgent soldiers surrounded the capital in the morning, guaranteeing themselves the option of access to its centre from all possible sides. The insurgents, who have conquered as many as 26 provincial capitals after a final lightning offensive in little more than a week as US troops left the country, said they have no intention of taking power by force and leaders have ordered soldiers to stay at the city gates, reports Al Jazeera, while allowing anyone who wants to leave the city to evacuate peacefully. This was acknowledged from Doha, where talks between the two sides have been going on for months but have not stopped the conflict. They will allow this by creating a corridor out of the city, according to Reuters.

For now, the United States and the United Kingdom have already evacuated their embassies by air. On Saturday night, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, threatened the Taliban that if they endangered their evacuation mission they would receive "a swift and strong military response" and maintained his conviction to leave Afghanistan 20 years after their entry in 2001 to bring down the regime that protected terrorist Bin Laden, responsible for the attacks of 11 September, 2001 - next month it will be two decades from the attack, probably with the Taliban back in power.

Since Biden announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan on 14 April, he defended that the Afghans had to defend themselves and assured that the fall of an army that has been trained and armed by the United States for years was "unlikely". The reality of Taliban terror has annihilated his optimism: Afghan government forces have put up almost no resistance to the points conquered by the Taliban and Biden was satisfied Saturday night that the United States maintains "the ability to deal with future terrorist threats in Afghanistan", aware of the risk of exporting terror beyond the borders of the Middle East, as happened with Iraq when the Islamic State controlled much of it. The agreement with the Taliban for the withdrawal of troops that President Trump signed in 2020, however, included that Afghanistan should not serve as a platform and refuge for international terrorism.

Far from the comfort of offices in Doha and Washington, thousands of Afghans, mostly women and children, have sought refuge in recent days in Kabul as their regions were conquered. "They have nowhere else to go if the violence erupts in Kabul", said Sharif Hassan, a reporter for The New York Times. For its part, the Pakistani government has closed the Torkham border crossing as the Afghan side of the border has been occupied by the Taliban. As a result of the chaotic situation, an unprecedented refugee crisis is expected from a country of 38 million people. The European Union was still debating during the last days between deportation and acceptance of asylum requests, and in Turkey a xenophobic discourse was growing because of the arrival of Afghans, after having been the country that took in the most Syrian refugees during the war.

The backward, sexist, violent and authoritarian Taliban regime threatens the freedom of citizens and above all the fundamental rights of women, who are not allowed to work, study or go out on the street alone and who are often subjected to forced marriages, rape, stoning and murder.

Last Friday's conquest of the country's second largest city, Kandahar, accelerated a siege of the country that has been much faster than expected. Just six days ago, it was shocking that they had gained power in eight capitals in less than a week. Today, with Kabul surrounded and on the verge of falling, there are already 26 and the vast majority of urban and rural territories. The last conquests before Kabul have also been key: Jalalabad, Gardiz and Nili, shortly after the easy fall of Mazar-y-Sharif, in the north of the country and traditionally a place of resistance to the Taliban due to the strength of the northern alliance.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was still optimistic Saturday that his priority was to "remobilise the troops" and that he had had "important consultations" that would have a quick response. But right now, with Kabul on the verge of collapse more by surrender of a weakened government and unmotivated military forces than by knockout, the questions of what has happened and what will happen do not include the possibility of minimal freedoms in the country. What remains to be known is how far the Taliban terror will go and how the United States will be able to justify an exit that the Afghans, and above all Afghan women, are experiencing as an abandonment, and not because they were happy with an American presence that has not had a clear strategy and has failed to train the local army.

Looking back, there is still a long way to go to find out what has happened to these Afghan forces that have received thousands of dollars in weapons and training, how the Taliban have rearmed, how they have prepared this offensive and what role other countries have played.