Taliban spokesman fronts media, China underscores desire for ‘friendly relations’

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday August 18, 2021

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a press corps in Kabul that he did not want Afghanistan to be a ‘battlefield of conflict’.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a press corps in Kabul that he did not want Afghanistan to be a ‘battlefield of conflict’. (EPA/STRINGER)

A top spokesman for the insurgent group turned ruling power held a press conference on Tuesday night to promise that ‘no revenge’ would be sought by the Taliban against any Afghan who worked or fought with foreign forces and declared a general amnesty.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a press corps in Kabul that he did not want Afghanistan to be a ‘battlefield of conflict’ and that everyone would be ‘forgiven’ under the new order. 

“All of them have been pardoned, nobody is going to be treated with revenge,” Mujahid said, referring to scores of translators and contractors employed during the 20-year US occupation of Afghanistan — many of whom are desperately trying to escape the country. 

“In your homes, nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors, nobody is going to interrogate you.”

Mujahid described the events of the last 23 years as a struggle for Afghanistan that the Taliban helped end to achieve independence for the country. 

“We have expelled the abusers. We achieved this, it is our right,” he told reporters.

“We want to thank God for giving freedom to our nation.”

The group has previously declared a general amnesty across Afghanistan and urged women to join its government (they are committed to allowing women work ‘in accordance with the principles of Islam’) in an effort to address the fear of the panic-stricken capital that was overtaken in one day and displaced thousands.

Flights for those lucky enough to be evacuated resumed on Tuesday, with military aircraft departing with a small group of diplomats and civilians. Many more are left behind although the desperate crowds at the airport have been cleared from the tarmac and runway

On Wednesday a US photojournalist filing from Kabul shared disturbing pictures from Taliban-inflicted violence on civilians piling to get out of the capital along the road to the airport. The bloodshed of Afghan civilians, in particular women and children, does not appear to have ended.

According to Aljazeera, the Taliban will wait for foreign forces to leave the country before it will establish a new governance structure. The presidential palace in Kabul, also known as the Arg, was seized without incident two days ago after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday. He is believed to be in Tajikistan.

The New York Times reports that members of the Taliban shook hands with the Presidential Protection Service, which guarded the building for nearly two decades, and announced the handover.

China welcomes new rulers of border neighbour 

As the US and its allies make an emergency push to get as many close contacts out of Afghanistan as quickly as they can manage, a diplomatic message from Beijing was being broadcast. 

“The Afghan Taliban said on multiple occasions that it hopes to grow sound relations with China, looks forward to China’s participation in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development, and will never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing.

“We welcome those statements.”

ABC News reports that Beijing reached out to make unofficial ties with the Taliban a month ago. In late July the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi invited a delegation of Taliban officials to meet with him in the city of Tianjin. Representing the Taliabn at the glitzy diplomatic event was political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

“The Afghan Taliban is a pivotal military and political force … and is expected to play an important role in peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press briefing.

China’s border with Afghanistan spans 76 kilometres and, according to ANU’s international security and intelligence studies expert Professor John Blaxland, under Taliban leadership there may be lucrative foreign investment opportunities — but only if stability and peace can be maintained.

“I think there’s a degree of cautious, but slightly nervous optimism about what the future might hold if the Taliban rule sees a significant drop in the level of internal violence, which is an assumption everybody’s making that the war’s over,” Blaxland said of China’s strategic outlook on Afghanistan. 

“Let’s just see which other warlord wishes to make a comeback now, I don’t know. It’s too early to say.”

Despite the diplomatic overtures that Beijing may make with the Taliban, her experience in Pakistan shows that anti-China public sentiment relating to the treatment of the minority Uyghurs of Xinjiang is a more challenging diplomatic hurdle. 

“It would not be inconceivable that it would happen also in Afghanistan, amongst like minds, particularly once they are less distracted with dealing with the foreign infidel,” Blaxland said.

“I think [The Taliban] are hoping that they can manage it but they will be sufficiently distracted with their own internal challenges, and sufficiently deferential and respectful of China’s largess, that they won’t go poking the dragon too much too soon.”

Humanitarian concerns persist

There are growing concerns from civil society groups and ordinary citizens, many connected to the Afghan diaspora, about the fate of millions of civilians under the new Taliban regime.

A letter to Australian prime minister Scott Morrison calling for the expedited asylum of people in Afghanistan who face grave risk has already attracted more than 5,000 signatures. The letter, originating from Monash University’s Centre for Gender, Peace and Security, says Afghan women and girls of ethnic minorities are at greatest risk.

Centre director Professor Jacqui True said it was not enough that Australia’s emergency evacuation mission only catered to Australian citizens and diplomats.

“We believe we have a responsibility to provide shelter to citizens who are likely to be persecuted by the new regime,” True said.

“The Australian Government should consider issuing priority refugee visas for Afghans and their families who have worked hard for women’s — and human — rights in the country. Their contribution to their communities has been invaluable, and would be invaluable to Australia.”

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Rosalind Croucher, has also issued a statement noting her ‘deep concern’ for the unfolding situation in Afghanistan. Croucher is also the current chair of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF), of which a major human rights group in Afghanistan is a member.

“My colleagues and I are deeply concerned about reports of the situation in Afghanistan,” Croucher said.

“It is clear that the fundamental human rights of women in Afghanistan to have access to education, employment, and freedom from sexual violence, are now under serious threat.”

Professor Croucher said she had written to foreign minister Marise Payne on Monday, noting the commission’s fears for the safety of the staff of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Women working in regional offices of the AIHRC in particular needed the help of the Australian government to find safe passage out of Afghanistan, the president said.

True called for the Australian government to grant permanent residency and/or refugee status to Afghan temporary migrants, international students, refugees and asylum seekers currently in Australia. This small step could guarantee the safety of some and open pathways to family reunification with loved ones still trapped in Afghanistan, she added. 

“This is a matter of life and death, and of Australia’s moral responsibility,” Professor True said. 

“As such, we ask the government to act immediately and stand up for the international human rights regime and provide safe asylum.”


READ MORE:

What is Australia’s role in Afghanistan as women are again put at risk?

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