Taliban checkpoints ring Kabul airport as IMF suspends funds to Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and checkpoints ringed Kabul airport on Thursday, adding to fears for Afghan nationals who previously worked for the West.

The militant group has promised safe passage to the airport to foreigners. But Afghan nationals eligible for evacuation because of their past work for Western countries have reported difficulties and violence.

A former employee of EUPOL, a European Union agency deployed in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2016 to support and train Afghan police, also told Euronews that Taliban fighters were going door to door in Kabul to identify nationals who had work for the international community.

The issue at the airport is compounded by thousands of other Afghans, who do not qualify, crowding the area in the hope of securing a place on an evacuation flight.

According to the U.S.-based International Refugee Assistance Programme, about 100,000 Afghans were seeking evacuation through a U.S. visa programme meant to provide refuge to Afghans who had worked with Americans, as well as family members.

The U.S. government sent emails in recent days telling some American citizens, green card holders and their families, and others to come to the airport, and to be prepared to wait.

Other western countries including France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK are also evacuating their citizens and local nationals who worked for them.

US President Joe Biden stressed on Wednesday in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that Washington, whose forces control the airport in Kabul, will do “everything in our power” to evacuate Americans and U.S. allies from Afghanistan before the August 31 deadline.

Pressed repeatedly on how the administration would help Americans left in the nation after Aug. 31, Biden said, “if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay till we get them all out.”

‘Actions, rather than words’

The Taliban, who are seeking to establish a government, met with former Afghan president Hamid Karzai on Wednesday.

Karzai was joined by the former government’s main peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah in the first sign of engagement between the Taliban and the ousted government since the fall of Kabul last Sunday.

The preliminary meeting was intended to facilitate eventual negotiations with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the top Taliban political leader, a spokesperson for Karzai said.

The group has also sought to appease the international community, declaring a “general amnesty” and stressing that there would be “many differences” in the way they administer the country compared to their previous time in power.

They said, for instance, that women would not be obliged to wear the burqa, the Islamic full-body covering, and that they would be allowed to work, within the confines of “Islamic law”.

But this is unlikely to appease the West. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged foreign countries on Wednesday not to recognise a Taliban regime “prematurely or bilaterally”, calling instead for them to “work together towards new conditions” for the new regime to respect.

“We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes and by its actions, rather than its words,” he said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian issued a similar call, writing on Twitter: “I have asked that the Taliban demonstrate by their actions that they have changed as they claim. It is up to them to prove it.”

Afghanistan loses access to IMF resources

Failure to be recognised by the international community would lead to further economic strain for Afghanistan — already one of the poorest countries in the world.

Gerry Rice, the spokesperson for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), revealed on Wednesday evening that Afghanistan had lost access to Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) or other IMF resources.

“The IMF is guided by the views of the international community. There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan,” he explained.

The Taliban have also urged foreign countries not to cut financial assistance and said production of opium — from which they derived a large chunk of their revenues over the past two decades — will be brought back to “zero”.

Both the EU and Germany have already announced that they are suspending development aid to the country until further notice.

This comes as the head of the UN’s food agency said that Afghanistan is “on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe” due to the conflict, the nation’s second severe drought in three years, and the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Programme’s country director, said in a video briefing to U.N. correspondents from Kabul on Wednesday that over 40% of crops have been lost and livestock devastated by the drought, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced as the Taliban advanced, and winter is fast approaching.

“Really the race is on to get food where it’s most needed,” she said.

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