Taliban announces 'amnesty,' UN spokesperson says 'actions speak deeper than words'
Advocate for women's rights says Taliban haven't changed, 'do not have respect for human dignity'
The Taliban declared an "amnesty" across Afghanistan and urged women to join its government Tuesday, trying to calm nerves across a tense capital city that only the day before saw chaos at its airport as people tried to flee.
The statement by Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban's cultural commission, represents the first comments on governance from a federal level after their blitz across the country.
While there were no major reports of abuses or fighting in Kabul, many residents have stayed home and remain fearful after the insurgents' takeover saw prisons emptied and armouries looted. Older generations remember their ultraconservative Islamic views, which included stonings, amputations and public executions during their rule before the U.S.-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
"The Islamic Emirate doesn't want women to be victims," Samangani said, using the militants' term for Afghanistan. "They should be in government structure according to Shariah law."
He added: "The structure of government is not fully clear, but based on experience, there should be a fully Islamic leadership and all sides should join."
Samangani remained vague on other details, however, implying people already knew the rules of Islamic law the Taliban expected them to follow.
"Our people are Muslims and we are not here to force them to Islam," he said.
Under the Taliban, which ruled in accordance with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, women were largely confined to their homes. The insurgents have sought to project greater moderation in recent years, but many Afghans remain skeptical.
Zubaida Akbar, an Afghan women's rights advocate, told CBC News Network that since the initiation of the U.S.-led peace process with the Taliban, the group has "continued to make promises that they haven't kept."
"They might say things to the world, the world might promote this new brand of the Taliban, but we don't believe them, we never believe them."
"The Taliban have not changed," she said from Washington. "They are a terrorist group who do not have respect for human dignity."
Promises 'need to be honoured'
The United Nations is urging the Taliban to keep its "promises," including its pledges to grant an amnesty to former government workers in Afghanistan, show inclusiveness for women and allow girls to remain in school.
"The Taliban have made a number of statements that on the surface are reassuring," UN human rights office spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters Tuesday in Geneva. "But their actions speak deeper than words, and it's very early now — it's very fluid."
He said the Taliban's promises "need to be honoured."
"Understandably, given their past history, these declarations have been greeted with some skepticism," Colville said. "Nevertheless, the promises have been made, and whether or not they are honoured or broken will be closely scrutinized."
Colville alluded to comments a day earlier from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about "chilling reports" of human rights abuses and restrictions on rights — especially those of women and girls — in areas captured by the Taliban in recent weeks.
He also called on UN member states to "use their influence" with the Taliban to protect civilian lives.
Commercial flights halted
Meanwhile Tuesday, Stefano Pontecorvo, NATO's senior civilian representative to Afghanistan, posted video online showing the runway empty with American troops on the tarmac. What appeared to be a military cargo plane could be seen in the distance from behind a chain-link fence in the footage.
The runway "is open," he wrote on Twitter. "I see airplanes landing and taking off."
Runway in HKIA <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Kabul?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Kabul</a> international airport is open. I see airplanes landing and taking off <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Afghanistan?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Afghanistan</a> <a href="https://t.co/9nueT20G7W">pic.twitter.com/9nueT20G7W</a>—@pontecorvoste
Overnight, flight-tracking data showed a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules plane at the airport and later taking off for Qatar, home to Al-Udeid Air Base and the U.S. military Central Command's forward headquarters. There were no other immediate flights seen in Afghan airspace, which has been taken over by the American military as commercial flights have been halted in the country.
Germany, Sweden evacuate citizens, embassy staff
The German Foreign Ministry meanwhile said a first German military transport plane has landed in Kabul, but it could only take seven people on board before it had to depart again.
"Because of the chaotic conditions at the airport and regular exchanges of fire at the access point last night, it was not possible for further German citizens and other people who need to be evacuated to come to the airport without protection from the German army," the ministry said.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the staff from the Swedish Embassy in Kabul had returned to Sweden.
On Monday, thousands of Afghans rushed into Kabul's main airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban that they held onto a military jet as it took off and plunged to their deaths. At least seven people died in the chaos, U.S. officials said
Across Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands had been wounded in the fighting. Security forces and politicians handed over their provinces and bases without a fight, likely believing the two-decade Western experiment to remake Afghanistan would not survive the resurgent Taliban. The last American troops had planned to withdraw at the end of the month.
"The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead," Guterres said.
A resolute U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday said he stood "squarely behind" his decision to withdraw American forces and acknowledged the "gut-wrenching" images unfolding in Kabul. Biden said he faced a choice between honouring a previously negotiated withdrawal agreement or sending thousands more troops back to begin a third decade of war.
"After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces," Biden said in a televised address from the White House.
Talks appeared to be continuing between the Taliban and several Afghan government officials, including former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country's negotiating council. President Ashraf Ghani earlier fled the country amid the Taliban advance and his whereabouts remain unknown.
An official with direct knowledge of the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to brief journalists, said senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi had arrived in Kabul from Qatar.
Muttaqi is a former higher education minister during the Taliban's last rule. Muttaqi had begun making contact with Afghan political leaders even before Ghani fled.
With a file from CBC News