Taliban interim government agrees to let foreigners leave Afghanistan

Charter flights set to depart from Kabul on Thursday / New Taliban government gets frosty international reception / Concern over women's rights heightened by men-only cabinet / Afghans urge leaders to address economic crisis, rights

Two hundred foreigners in Afghanistan, Americans among them, are set to depart on charter flights from Kabul on Thursday after the new Taliban government agreed to their evacuation, a U.S. official said.

The departures will be among the first international flights to take off from Kabul airport since the Islamist militia seized the capital in mid-August, triggering the chaotic U.S.-led evacuation of 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans.

The flights come two days after the Taliban announced an interim government made up of mainly ethnic Pashtun men, including wanted terror suspects and Islamist hardliners, dashing international hopes for a more moderate administration.

The Taliban were pressed to allow the departures by U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. official said, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The official could not say whether the American civilians and other foreign nationals were among people stranded for days in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif because their private charters had not been allowed to depart.

The announcement of a new government on Tuesday was widely seen as a signal the Taliban were not looking to broaden their base and present a more tolerant face to the world, as they had earlier suggested they would do.

All of the ministers are men, and nearly all are Pashtuns, the ethnic group that predominates in the Taliban’s southern Afgan heartland but accounts for less than half the country’s population.

Foreign countries greeted the interim government with caution and dismay on Wednesday. In Kabul, dozens of women took to the streets in protest and several journalists covering the demonstration said Taliban fighters detained and beat them.

The new Taliban Interior Ministry later said that to avoid disturbances and security problems, anyone holding a demonstration should apply for permission 24 hours in advance.

Protests by both women and men were being curtailed because there was a security threat from Islamic State fighters, said a Taliban minister who declined to be identified. Any attack on journalists would be investigated, he said.

QUESTIONS OVER RECOGNITION:

Many critics called on the leadership to respect basic human rights and revive the economy, which faces collapse amid steep inflation, food shortages and the prospect of foreign aid being slashed as countries seek to isolate the Taliban.

The Taliban government wanted to engage with regional and Western governments and to work with international aid organisations, the Taliban minister said.

But White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said no one in the Biden administration “would suggest that the Taliban are respected and valued members of the global community”.

The European Union voiced its disapproval at the appointments. It was ready to continue emergency humanitarian assistance, but longer-term development aid would depend on the Taliban upholding basic freedoms.

Saudi Arabia expressed hope the new government would help Afghanistan achieve “security and stability, rejecting violence and extremism”.

Analysts said the make-up of the cabinet could hamper recognition by Western governments, which will be vital for broader economic engagement.

The new acting Cabinet includes former detainees of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. The interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a reward of $10 million, while his uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.

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