Flights have resumed from Kabul airport after being paused for hours due to large crowds, as senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi is believed to be in the Afghan capital holding talks with the city’s political leadership aimed at building a government.
Scenes of desperation emerged from the airport in Kabul a day earlier after the fall of the capital to Taliban control. Crowds flooded the runway, some clinging on to moving planes, hoping to flee the country and escape a return to Taliban rule. That prompted US forces, which control the airport, to halt flights.
Military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan started taking off again on Tuesday morning, a western security official at Kabul airport said, with the tarmac now clear of crowds.
As evacuation efforts resumed in Kabul, George W Bush – who started the war in 2001 – released a statement expressing his “deep sadness” over the unfolding crisis.
“Laura and I have been watching the tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan with deep sadness. Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and Nato allies who have sacrificed so much,” he wrote.
Elsewhere, powerful figures in the Afghan capital were believed to be moving toward forming a government.
Muttaqi, higher education minister when the Taliban last ruled, held talks with Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council, and former president Hamid Karzai. The negotiations were reported by Associated Press, citing an anonymous official familiar with the talks.
Muttaqi is said to have began making contacts with Afghan political leaders even before Afghan president Ashraf Ghani secretly slipped away from the Presidential Palace on the weekend, leaving a devastating vacuum that Taliban who were surrounding the city strode in to fill.
The official said the talks under way in the Afghan capital were aimed at bringing other non-Taliban leaders into the government that Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen has said will be an “inclusive Afghan government.”
There was little indication about the substance of the talks, but Shaheen earlier told The Associated Press that a government would be announced after negotiations with non-Taliban leaders had been completed.
Afghanistan erupted into disarray as the Taliban swept across the country in recent days, as the US has been attempting to withdraw its forces after a 20-year conflict.
In the face of heavy criticism over the decision to pull out of the country, US president Joe Biden on Tuesday remained defiant and insisted he stands “squarely behind” the move. Biden attempted to shift blame for events there to his predecessor, Donald Trump, and the unwillingness of Afghan forces to fight the Taliban.
With Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press