A flight carrying more than 100 international passengers out of Kabul has landed in Doha, the first such civilian flight since the chaotic evacuation of 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans sparked by the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country.
About 113 people were aboard the flight to Doha operated by state-owned Qatar Airways, officials said. The passengers included US, British, Canadian, Ukrainian, Dutch and German citizens.
Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani described Thursday’s flight as a regular one and not an evacuation, and said there would be another flight on Friday. In Doha, the passengers will initially stay in a compound hosting Afghan and other evacuees.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken thanked Taliban and Qatari authorities, and called the flight a “concrete demonstration” of American commitment to help its citizens and others who helped the US continue to leave Afghanistan.
Earlier, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne praised Taliban cooperation on the flight. “They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort,” she said, adding that efforts to secure further departures would continue.
US state department spokesperson Ned Price said 10 US citizens and 11 permanent residents were on the flight, out of “the 39 we invited”. Canada said 43 of its citizens were on the plane, while the UK and the Netherlands each had 13 on board.
An Afghan-American dual citizen, waiting to board the flight with his family, said the US state department had called him on Thursday morning. “We got in contact with the state department, they gave me a call this morning and said to go to the airport,” the father, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
Although international flights have flown in and out with officials, technicians and aid in recent days, this was the first civilian flight since the Taliban captured the capital on 15 August.
In the days that followed the Taliban takeover, the airport had become a tragic symbol of desperation among Afghans terrified of the militants’ return to power – with thousands of people crowding around its gates daily, and some even clinging to jets as they took off.
Thursday’s Taliban-approved departure comes amid mounting concern over the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation under the hardline Islamist group’s new rule, including around freedom of expression and women’s rights.
UN secretary general António Guterres pleaded with the international community on Thursday to maintain ties with the Taliban, warning that an “economic collapse” with possibly millions dying must be avoided.
“We must maintain a dialogue with the Taliban, where we affirm our principles directly – a dialogue with a feeling of solidarity with the Afghan people,” he told AFP. “Our duty is to extend our solidarity to a people who suffer greatly, where millions and millions risk dying of hunger.”
The UN chief said there were “no guarantees” about what might come out of talks but that discussions were a must “if we want Afghanistan not to be a centre of terrorism, if we want women and girls to not lose all the rights acquired during the previous period, if we want different ethnic groups to be able to feel represented.”
“Until now, in the discussions that we have had, there is at least a receptivity to talk,” added Guterres, who does not rule out going to Afghanistan one day if conditions were right.
Guterres added that the Taliban wanted recognition, financial support and sanctions to be abolished.
“That gives a certain leverage to the international community,” he said, adding that “an economic collapse situation which could create appalling humanitarian consequences” must be avoided.
Guterres suggested that, as with Yemen, it is possible to foresee the granting of “financial instruments” to Kabul that would not be subject to current sanctions.
“It is in the interest of the international community and I am not talking about the lifting of sanctions or recognition. I am talking about targeted measures to allow the Afghan economy to breathe.”
With Reuters and Agence France-Presse