Taliban await ‘peaceful transfer’ of power as militants enter Kabul

The Taliban have entered Afghanistan”s capital Kabul, and are awaiting the “peaceful transfer” of power, with the militant group almost in control of the country.

Taliban negotiators went to the presidential palace to negotiate terms with government figures, an official said.

The negotiators on the government side include former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council.

The Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal meanwhile said a “peaceful transfer of power” to a transitional government will take place.

The Taliban have taken over at blistering speed, conquering major cities throughout the country over the past week.

“The Afghans should not worry…there will be no attack on the city (of Kabul). And there will be a peaceful transfer of power to a transitional government,” Mirzakwal said in a video message.

The Taliban have said they don’t plan to take the capital by force, as their fighters entered Kabul on Sunday, having taken over all other major cities in the country.

Staff from foreign embassies have been hurriedly fleeing the country as the militants advanced on the capital.

Earlier on Sunday the Islamist militants seized the last major city outside of Kabul that was held by the central government, cutting off the capital to the east.

Helicopters could be seen landing at the US Embassy in Kabul, rapid shuttle-run flights which began just after the fall of Jalalabad.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to questions about the movements.

Russia is working with other countries to hold an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the situation.

Last major city outside of capital falls

The collapse of Jalalabad, near a major border crossing with Pakistan, left Afghanistan’s central government in control of just Kabul and five other provincial capitals out of the country’s 34.

In a nationwide offensive that has taken just over a week, the Taliban has defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide swathes of the country, even with some air support by the US military.

The Czech Republic also approved a plan to begin withdrawing their Afghan staff from their embassy after earlier taking their diplomats to Kabul International Airport.

President Ashraf Ghani, who spoke to the nation Saturday for the first time since the offensive began, appears increasingly isolated as well.

Warlords he negotiated with just days earlier have surrendered to the Taliban or fled, leaving Ghani without a military option.

Ongoing negotiations in Qatar, the site of a Taliban office, also have failed to stop the insurgents’ advance.

Thousands of civilians now live in parks and open spaces in Kabul itself, fearing the future. While Kabul appeared calm on Sunday, some ATMs stopped distributing cash as hundreds gathered in front of private banks, trying to withdraw their life savings.

Militants posted photos online early on Sunday showing them in the governor’s office in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province.

Abrarullah Murad, a lawmaker from the province, said the insurgents seized Jalalabad after elders negotiated the fall of the government there. Murad said there was no fighting as the city surrendered.

The militants also took Maidan Shar, the capital of Maidan Wardak, on Sunday, only some 90 kilometers (55 miles) from Kabul, Afghan lawmaker Hamida Akbari and the Taliban said.

Another day of sweeping military victories for the Taliban

Another provincial capital in Khost fell later on Sunday to the Taliban, said a provincial council member who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The fall on Saturday of Mazar-e-Sharif, the country’s fourth largest city, which Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords had pledged to defend, handed the insurgents control over all of northern Afghanistan.

Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum, two of the warlords Ghani tried to rally to his side days earlier, fled over the border into Uzbekistan on Saturday, said officials close to Dostum.

They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorised to publicly speak about his movements.

Writing on Twitter, Noor alleged a “conspiracy” aided the fall of the north to the Taliban, without elaborating.

“Despite our firm resistance, sadly, all the government and the Afghan security forces equipment were handed over to the Taliban as a result of a big organized and cowardly plot,” Noor wrote. “They had orchestrated the plot to trap Marshal Dostum and myself too, but they didn’t succeed.”

In his speech, Ghani vowed not to give up the “achievements” of the 20 years since the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban after the September 11 terror attacks of 2001.

The US has continued holding peace talks between the government and the Taliban in Qatar this week, and the international community has warned that a Taliban government brought about by force would be shunned.

But the insurgents appear to have little interest in making concessions as they rack up victories on the battlefield.

“We have started consultations, inside the government with elders and political leaders, representatives of different levels of the community as well as our international allies,” Ghani said. “Soon the results will be shared with you,” he added, without elaborating further.

Many Afghans fear a return to the Taliban’s oppressive rule. The group had previously governed Afghanistan under a harsh version of Islamic law in which women were forbidden to work or attend school, and could not leave their homes without a male relative accompanying them.

Salima Mazari, one of the few female district governors in the country, expressed fears about a Taliban takeover on Saturday in an interview from Mazar-e-Sharif, before it fell.

“There will be no place for women,” said Mazari, who governs a district of 36,000 people near the northern city. “In the provinces controlled by the Taliban, no women exist there anymore, not even in the cities. They are all imprisoned in their homes.”

In a statement late on Saturday, however, the Taliban insisted their fighters wouldn’t enter people’s homes or interfere with businesses. They also said they’d offer an “amnesty” to those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces.

“The Islamic Emirate once again assures all its citizens that it will, as always, protect their life, property and honor and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation,” the militants said. “In this regard, no one should worry about their life.”

Despite the pledge, those who can afford a ticket have been flocking to Kabul International Airport, the only way out of the country as the Taliban took the last border crossing still held by the government Sunday at Torkham.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told local broadcaster Geo TV that Pakistan halted cross-border traffic there after the militants seized it.

Russia not planning to evacuate embassy in Kabul

Russia is not planning to evacuate its embassy in Kabul, a Russian foreign ministry official told the Interfax agency on Sunday.

“No evacuation is planned,” said the official, Zamir Kabulov, stressing that he was “in direct contact” with the Russian ambassador in Kabul, whose staff continued to work “calmly” at the embassy.

Russia is one of the countries that have received guarantees from the Taliban regarding the security of their embassies, the official was quoted by the RIA Novosty agency as saying.

“We received these guarantees some time ago. Russia was not the only one to have received them,” he said, according to the agency.

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