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Taliban seek peaceful transfer of power in 'next few days': Spokesman

A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

A Taliban spokesman says the group expects a "peaceful transition of power” in the next few days after the militants entered Afghanistan's capital Kabul with little resistance amid evacuation of US diplomats from its embassy by helicopter.

"We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power" as soon as possible, Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with BBC on Sunday, adding the Taliban expected that to happen in a matter of days.

The spokesman added that the group is in talks with the Afghan government "for a peaceful surrender" of Kabul, calling on President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders of Afghanistan "to work with us."

He emphasized that the group would protect the rights of women, who "will be allowed to leave homes alone," as well as freedoms for media workers and diplomats.

Shaheen said media would be allowed to criticize anyone but should not indulge in character assassination.

"We assure the [Afghan] people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe," the Taliban spokesman said.

He added that the group seeks to establish an inclusive Afghan government in which all Afghans will be represented.

The spokesman said the Taliban have no intension of taking revenge on anyone, adding that all those who have served the government and military will be forgiven.

The Taliban spokesman called on Afghan civilians to stay in their country and do not leave due to fear.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban's political bureau, rejected as “mere rumor” reports that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the political chief of Taliban, has travelled to Kabul, saying he is in the Qatari capital city of Doha.

Afghan state sources denied reports about the presence of a Taliban delegation in the presidential palace.

Afghan President Ghani leaves country for Tajikistan: Interior ministry official

Later on Sunday, a senior official at Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said the country’s President Ashraf Ghani has left the capital Kabul for the neighboring Tajikistan. 

Asked for comment, the president's office said it "cannot say anything about Ashraf Ghani's movement for security reasons."

A top Afghan foreign ministry official said separately that Ghani had left Afghanistan, but that it was not clear which country he was heading for. 

Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah, also confirmed Ghani’s exit from the country, saying in a video posted on his Facebook page, “"The former Afghan president has left the nation."

Abdullah blamed President Ghani for the current situation in the war-ravaged country.

The new revelation came as a representative of the Taliban said the group was checking on Ghani's whereabouts.

Taliban forces ordered to enter Kabul to prevent looting after police desert posts 

The Taliban spokesman released a statement on Sunday afternoon, saying that the group has ordered its forces to enter the Afghan capital Kabul to prevent looting after local police deserted their posts.

The statement by Zabihullah Mujahid came shortly after it was announced that President Ashraf Ghani had left the country.

Kabul handover will be peaceful: Afghan acting interior minister

In a related development, Afghan acting Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal also said on Sunday that the "power will be peacefully transferred to a transitional government."

"It is agreed that power will be transferred in a peaceful manner to a transitional administration," Mirzakwal said in a televised message broadcast in local media.

"People should not worry about the safety and security in Kabul. The security of the city has been guaranteed. There will be no attack on the city," he added.

The official emphasized that the big city of Kabul and the power will be handed over to a temporary third party and called on the people not to be “victim” of Taliban propaganda.

Russia: No plan to evacuate Kabul embassy

Meanwhile, Russia announced on Sunday that it does not plan to evacuate its embassy in Kabul as Taliban fighters reached the outskirts of the Afghan capital, a Russian Foreign Ministry official, Zamir Kabulov, told Russian news agencies.

"No evacuation is planned," Kabulov said, adding that he was "in direct contact" with Moscow's ambassador in Kabul and that Russian embassy employees continued to work "calmly," AFP reported. 

According to the RIA Novosti agency, Kabulov also said that Russia is among countries that have received assurances from the Taliban that their embassies would be safe. 

"We received these guarantees a while ago. It was not only about Russia," RIA Novosti quoted Kabulov as saying. 

"The situation in Kabul is a bit tense, but there is no war in the city," a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Kabul was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.

The spokesman was also cited by the Interfax news agency as saying that Moscow is ready to cooperate with Afghanistan's interim government, adding that Russia is taking part in political contacts in Afghanistan.

TASS also quoted a Taliban official as Saying, "We have good relations with Russia and our policy, in general, is to ensure safe conditions for operations of the Russian and other embassies."

The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, was quoted by RIA state news agency as saying that Moscow does not yet recognize the Taliban militants as Afghanistan's new lawful authority.

The ministry also told RIA that Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani was unlikely to head to Russia after leaving his country.

Afghan delegation to meet Taliban in Qatar on Sunday

An Afghanistan peace negotiator said later on Sunday that a delegation representing the Afghan government, including senior official Abdullah Abdullah, will travel to Qatar the same day to meet with representatives of the Taliban.

Fawzi Koofi, a member of the Kabul negotiating team, confirmed to Reuters the delegation would meet with the Taliban in the Persian Gulf state after the militant group earlier entered Kabul.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the Afghan delegation and Taliban representatives would discuss a transition of power, adding that US officials would also be involved.

Pope voices 'concern' over Afghanistan, calls for 'dialogue'

In a related development, Pope Francis expressed his "concern" Sunday over the conflict in Afghanistan, calling for dialogue so that the "battered population" can live in peace.

"I join in the unanimous concern for the situation in Afghanistan," the pontiff said during the weekly Angelus at the Vatican, Reuters reported.

"I ask all of you to pray with me to the God of peace so that the clamor of weapons might cease and solutions can be found at the table of dialogue.

"Only thus can the battered population of that country - men, women, elderly and children - return to their own homes, and live in peace and security, in total mutual respect."

Political solution in Afghanistan 'more urgent than ever': NATO

Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance said on Sunday that finding a political solution to Afghanistan conflict was more pressing "than ever" as the Taliban stood poised to take power on the outskirts of Kabul. 

"We support Afghan efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, which is now more urgent than ever," an official at the 30-nation alliance told AFP. 

The official said "NATO is constantly assessing developments in Afghanistan," adding, "We are helping to maintain operations at Kabul airport to keep Afghanistan connected with the world."

"We also maintain our diplomatic presence in Kabul. The security of our personnel is paramount, and we continue to adjust as necessary," the NATO official added.

Taliban show off US-made war spoils in Kandahar

The Taliban released footage showing captured US-made Afghan military helicopters at the key Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan, which has until recently one of the most important US bases in the country.

The militants have been quick to show off their war spoils in the city, which is generally considered as their spiritual birthplace.

The Taliban posted footage on their social media accounts on Saturday, showing a militant walking around a US-made Black Hawk military helicopter, which is in brown-green camouflage with Afghan Air Force markings, purportedly at a Kandahar airport hangar.

He then walked out and another Black Hawk was seen in the distance on the tarmac.

The Black Hawk inside the hangar was seemingly in storage, with a black sheet covering its windshield and its left engine apparently missing.

Two Russian military helicopters are also seen as another person is heard saying "Mashallah" -- an Islamic term of praise. However, it was not clear if any of the helicopters were airworthy.

The helicopters outside the hangar were missing their blades, with a sheet covering the front of one airframe.

It is heard that one of the militants is claiming there are five military helicopters at the airport and several jets.

Washington supplied much of that hardware to the Afghan military, to the tune of $88 billion since 2002.

An Afghan government official confirmed on Friday that Kandahar, the most important city in the south, was under the control of the Taliban as foreign occupying forces complete their withdrawal.

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