As violent developments in the now Taliban-controlled Afghanistan unfold, civilians opposed to the new regime have been killed while protesting in the streets of regional cities, and the former Afghan president has delivered a message from his hiding place in the UAE.
On Wednesday, scenes of defiance and fear in some of Afghanistan’s regional cities were published online — in video footage from the eastern city of Jalalabad, scores of civilians who went to replace a prominently hoisted Taliban flag with the national flag of Afghanistan marched along the streets in protest. Taliban gunfire can then be heard dispersing nearby.
The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who escaped the country on Sunday with two of his senior aides, has also made his first public comments since fleeing. He reiterated that his departure was made at the last-minute and intended to prevent anymore bloodshed and was ‘in talks’ to return home.
“I was taken out of Afghanistan to avoid bloodshed and destruction of Afghanistan,” Ghani said in a pre-recorded video from the UAE.
Ghani conceded that previous peace talks between the now fallen Afghan government and the Taliban were failing on the part of both parties, and that when common ground was lost, the conversation should not have descended into ‘war’.
Evacuation flights from Kabul airport
As international allied forces from the US, the UK, Germany and Australia attempt a series of emergency evacuation flights from the Afghan capital of Kabul this week, civil society groups have called for a more generous humanitarian program for people trying to get out of the country.
During a press conference in Canberra on Thursday with Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, foreign minister Marise Payne confirmed there have been deaths among peaceful protesters in Jalalabad by the Taliban’s hand (Aljazeera reports that at least two have died and another 12 have been wounded).
She described the situation at the airport in the capital as fluid and risky.
“Our ongoing activities are underway 24-7 in Canberra and in Kabul,” Payne said.
“We absolutely know there are continuing significant issues ongoing with access to Hamid Karzai International Airport and we have seen the reports of those.”
DFAT secretary Kathryn Campbell participated in a meeting convened on Wednesday evening between partner countries, led by the US, to address the security situation at the airport, the foreign minister added.
“Ensuring the security of the airport is our priority. We’re also working with other countries now to share lists of potential passengers, and to coordinate our information and rescue efforts as we’re able to,” Payne said, noting that there were several entry points for people to access the airport from.
Australia is also working to establish a staging area at the airport for citizens and visa holders, with plans underway to deliver supplies at that location.
“There are some who will be waiting for periods of time – not long periods of time, it’s not possible to do that – but we want to make sure that we can make them as comfortable [at the airport] as possible,” she said.
Efforts have also been made to contact Australian citizens and visa holders who have been unable to reach checkpoint entries at the airport.
The pm has previously said that a total of 3,000 eligible Afghan civilians would be accepted by the federal government in the 2021-22 financial year. While he hinted there may be scope for expanding that number, he made it clear Australia was not in a position to accept humanitarian numbers of the magnitude pledged by comparable Commonwealth nations like the UK and Canada.
Earlier in the week, Morrison indicated that Australia would not be able to help all Afghans — including those interpreters who had worked with the ADF during its more than 20 year presence in the country — get out.
“Despite our best efforts, I know that support won’t reach all that it should. On the ground, events have overtaken many efforts. We wish it were different,” Morrison said.
ESO groups rally to support Australia’s veterans during ‘difficult time’
A virtual roundtable was convened on Wednesday with Australia’s Ex-Service Organisations (ESO) and the federal government to coordinate veteran mental health outreach and support during this difficult time.
Represented at the meeting were the Air Force Association, Australian War Widows, Defence Families Australia, Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans’ Association, Defence Reserves Association, Legacy Australia, Partners of Veterans Association of Australia, Returned and Services League of Australia, TPI Federation Australia, Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia and the Vietnam Veterans’ Federation of Australia.
In a statement, Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs minister Andrew Gee said the group’s focus was to ensure veterans who served in Afghanistan and other conflicts received support, as well as their families.
“Over the last 20 years, Australia has been a steadfast contributor to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan,” Gee said.
“Now the Defence and veteran community need to know that we are steadfast in our commitment to their wellbeing at home.”
The minister said the community and ex-service organisations played a critical role in the support of the veteran community, and that the network of support was uniting at this difficult time.
Legal community’s ‘grave concerns’ about fate of justice sector workers under the Taliban
In a joint statement published by two of Australia’s leading legal bodies — the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association — barristers Dr Jacoba Brasch QC and Matt Howard SC have called two issues to the government’s attention concerning the deteriorating state in Afghanistan.
They want the federal government to urgently get Australians and Afghans who have supported Australia’s defence and humanitarian work in the country out, and also facilitate the safe evacuation of lawyers, judges and others working in the justice system.
“Among Afghans at terrible risk are judges and lawyers – many of whom have courageously worked to defend and uphold the rule of law, and to support and establish democratic and justice institutions over the past twenty years,” Brash and Howard said.
“We are particularly concerned for the safety of all Afghan judges, but in particular, the women judges who previously heard trials against members of the Taliban, and lawyers who worked for the fallen government.”
Queensland Supreme Court Judge Glenn Martin, president of the Australian Judicial Officers Association, also issued a call for assistance for those judges who served as ‘the pillars of an emerging democracy’ and were no doubt in ‘extreme peril’.
“Within that group is a cohort in even greater danger – the women judges who have been under pressure for years. Two of them lost their lives in terrorist attacks in January this year,” Justice Martin said.
“The AJOA joins with the International Association of Judges and the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) in their calls for urgent, meaningful and sustained support for all of the judiciary in Afghanistan,” he said.
IAWJ president, New Zealand Supreme Court Judge Dame Susan Glazebrook said it would be tragic if Afghanistan’s women judges would be left to the mercy of the Taliban and insurgent groups.
“By serving as judges and helping develop the Afghan judicial branch, women judges have helped establish the rule of law in their country, an essential pillar of a democratic state,” Glazebrook said.
Letters of recommendation denied to UN Afghan staff
Afghans working for the United Nations in Afghanistan have been told the UN will not be giving them much prized letters of recommendation required by people seeking to flee Kabul following the return to power of the Taliban.
Australian humanitarian advocate Dr Kay Danes has told The Mandarin that the UN provided the advice to its locally engaged staff verbally.
Danes says the UN’s Afghan staff were told that letters of recommendation would not be given to them because the UN needed to be neutral.
“That is a very disappointing response and raises my deepest concerns for those people that will now be in a life-threatening situation despite their selfless contribution to the UN. This is odd given their mandate to evacuate and protect people at risk,” Danes says.
I think it is imperative given the unfolding situation in Afghanistan that the UN maintain a presence in Kabul. The UN must be a witness or it must ensure uphold their promise for peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
News of the UN’s refusal to given letters of recommendation to enable locally engaged employees to leave following the failure of UN team members to make their way to the airport despite being escorted by the Taliban.
Danes says the inability of the UN to exit Afghanistan provides the Australian government with time to ensure it acts with expedience to evacuate the 196 Australian embassy contractors and their families.