The Taliban moved Tuesday to quickly restart the Afghan capital following their stunning takeover of Kabul and told government staff to return to work, though residents reacted cautiously and few women took to the streets.
Tens of thousands of people have tried to flee Afghanistan to escape the hardline Islamist rule expected under the Taliban, or fearing direct retribution for siding with the US-backed government that ruled for the past two decades.
Evacuations flights from Kabul’s airport restarted on Tuesday after chaos the previous day in which huge crowds mobbed the tarmac, with some people so desperate they clung to the outside of a US military plane as it prepared for take-off.
The Taliban led a pariah regime from 1996-2001, infamous for a brutal rule in which girls could not go to school and people were stoned to death.
US-led forces invading following the September 11 attacks, in response to the Taliban giving sanctuary to Al-Qaeda, and toppled them.
Now the Taliban are back in power, they have sought to project an air of restraint and moderation, including by on Tuesday announcing a “general amnesty” for government workers.
“Those working in any part or department of the government should resume their duties with full satisfaction and continue their duties without any fear,” a Taliban statement said.
Some shops also reopened as traffic police were back on the streets, while its officials planned a first diplomatic meeting — with the Russian ambassador.
A Taliban official also gave an interview to a female journalist on an Afghan news channel.
– ‘There is fear’ –
However schools and universities remain closed, few women openly took to the streets and men had shed their Western clothes for traditional garb.
“The fear is there,” said a shopkeeper who asked not to be named after opening his small neighbourhood provisions store.
The UN Security Council also said Monday the international community must ensure Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terrorism.
“The world is watching,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
The Taliban took effective control of the country on Sunday when president Ahraf Ghani fled and the insurgents walked into Kabul with no opposition.
It capped a staggeringly fast rout of all cities in just 10 days, and achieved with relatively little bloodshed, following two decades of war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
The collapse came after President Joe Biden withdrew US troops, under the false belief that the Afghan army — with billions of dollars in American funding and training — was strong enough to withstand the Taliban.
– Biden defends exit –
In his first comments since the Taliban victory, Biden admitted the Taliban advance had unfolded more quickly than expected.
But he heaped criticism on Ghani’s government, insisted he had no regrets and emphasised US troops could not defend a nation whose leaders “gave up and fled”.
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future,” Biden said in his address at the White House.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
The United States has also come under criticism for its handling of the evacuations of Afghans.
The United States had sent 6,000 troops to ensure the safe evacuation of embassy staff, as well as Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other support roles.
Other governments, including France, Germany and Australia, also organised charter flights.
But on Monday, dramatic footage posted on social media showed hundreds of men running alongside a US Air Force plane as it rolled down the runway, with some clinging to the side of it.
In other videos, civilians frantically clambered up an already overcrowded and buckling jetway.
One picture carried by US media showed a jam-packed US military transport plane purportedly with about 640 Afghans on board — some of whom climbed onto the half-open ramp at the last minute and were allowed aboard.