Afghanistan crisis updates | August 20, 2021

A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport for it to be evacuated, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke with India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on August 19 over the chaotic situation in Afghanistan. They have agreed to continue coordination.

A total of 7,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the start of evacuation operations on August 14 and over 5,200 U.S. troops are in Kabul, the Pentagon said on August 19. Cumulatively, the number of people moved out of Afghanistan is somewhere near 12,000.

Here are the latest developments:


Friday prayers quiet in Kabul, Taliban unseen

Friday prayers were uneventful in the Afghan capital of Kabul, with no Taliban gunmen seen guarding the entrances of mosques or enforcing dress code restrictions as they have in the past. Some mosques even saw higher numbers than normal in attendance.

The Taliban had issued guidance to imams around Afghanistan on Thursday, saying they should use the weekly sermons and prayers to appeal for unity, urge people not to flee the country, and to counter “negative propaganda” about them. - AP


Taliban said to be waiting until after Aug 31

An Afghan official familiar with talks with the Taliban says the group does not plan to make any decisions or announcements about the upcoming government until after the August 31 US withdrawal date passes.

The official, who is not authorised to give information to the media and thus spoke anonymously, says Taliban lead negotiator Anas Haqqani has told his ex-government interlocutors that the insurgent movement has a deal with the US “to do nothing” until after the final withdrawal date passes.

He did not elaborate on whether the reference to doing nothing was only in the political field. Haqqani's statement raises concerns about what the religious movement might be planning after August 31, and whether they will keep their promise to include non-Taliban officials in the next government.

Until now the Taliban have said nothing of their plans to replace the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, or what a replacement would look like.



Indonesia evacuates 26 nationals from Kabul

Indonesia has evacuated 26 of its citizens, including 5 diplomats, from Kabul on a special military flight to Jakarta.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a tweet that the Friday flight that would land later in the day also carried five Filipinos and two Afghans, including the spouse of an Indonesian national and a local staff member of the Indonesian Embassy.

“The Indonesian military aircraft carrying out this mission is now in Islamabad and will proceed to Indonesia soon,” Marsudi said.

The ministry's spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah said the evacuation was planned once the Taliban took control of the capital and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.


Pakistan state carrier resumes flights to Kabul

Pakistan's state-run airline has resumed special flights for Kabul, in order to evacuate Pakistanis and foreigners stranded in Afghanistan.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in a tweet said Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will send its two planes to the Afghan capital on Friday to evacuate 350 passengers.

Chaudhry says Pakistan's interior ministry is also facilitating the evacuation of Pakistanis and foreigners from Afghanistan through border crossings.

The latest development comes days after PIA halted all flights to Kabul to protect passengers, the crew and the planes after consulting the Afghan civil aviation authorities.

Pakistan's government has been trying to evacuate its citizens and foreigners by air and land routes since the Taliban took over Kabul.

For this purpose, Pakistan is issuing visas upon arrival to all diplomats, foreigners and journalists who want to leave Kabul over security concerns.


Afghan man deported from Nagpur has joined Taliban, say cops as his gun-wielding snap surfaces

An Afghan national, who was deported to his country from Nagpur in June this year after he was found staying here illegally, has apparently joined the Taliban and his picture holding a rifle has surfaced on social media, a senior police official said on Friday.

The Taliban has seized power in Afghanistan as it swept into capital Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

"The man, Noor Mohammad Ajiz Mohammad, 30, was found staying in Nagpur since the last 10 years illegally. He was living in a rented place in Dighori area of the city. Acting on a tip-off, the police had started keeping a watch on his activities. He was finally nabbed and deported to Afghanistan on June 23," he said.

"After his deportation, he seems to have joined the Taliban and his photo holding a gun has emerged on social media," he added.

During the probe earlier, police had found that he had come to Nagpur in 2010 on a six-month tourist visa. Later, he had applied to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) seeking a refugee status for himself, but his application was rejected. His appeal was also turned down by the UNHRC. Since then, he stayed in Nagpur illegally, the official said.

Another police official said that Noor Mohammad's original name is Abdul Haque and his brother was working with the Taliban. Last year, Noor had floated a video on social media with a sharp-edged weapon.



Afghan influencers go dark on social media as Taliban return

Sadiqa Madadgar's social media looked much like any other successful young Afghan influencer's until Taliban militants stormed into Kabul and upended her dreams.

The return of the hardline Islamist group has sent a shockwave through Afghanistan's social media. Prominent influencers have gone dark or fled, while residents and activists are scrambling to scrub their digital lives.

A former contestant on the reality singing competition "Afghan Star", Madadgar amassed a huge following with her stunning vocals and down to earth, girl next door persona.

A devout Muslim who wears a headscarf, she spent her days uploading videos that transfixed Afghan youngsters, winning her 21,200 subscribers on YouTube and 182,000 followers on Instagram.

In one video, she giggles as she struggles to cut open a watermelon. On another, the 22-year-old is singing a haunting folk tune in a cafe while a friend plays guitar.

On a recent trip to the city of Kandahar — the Taliban's spiritual birthplace — she filmed herself sharing a pizza with girlfriends.

On Saturday, Madadgar posted her first overtly political post on Instagram.

"I don't like to express my pain online but I'm sick of this," she wrote. "My heart is in pieces when I look at the soil, my homeland which is being destroyed slowly before my eyes."

The following day, Taliban militants seized Kabul, and Madadgar stopped posting.


NATO pledges to speed evacuations from Afghanistan as criticism mounts

More than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took over Afghanistan's capital, a NATO official said on August 20, pledging to redouble evacuation efforts as criticism of the West's handling of the crisis mounted.

Thousands of people, desperate to flee the country, were still thronging the airport, the official who declined to be identified told Reuters, even though the Taliban have urged people without legal travel documents to go home. -REUTERS

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka should not recognise Taliban rule: Wickremesinghe

Former Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has cautioned the government against recognising Taliban's rule in Afghanistan and advocated snapping of ties with Kabul, saying one should rethink if the country should be a "party to help terrorism" raise its head in the region.

In a statement issued on August 19, the four-time former prime minister said: “Everyone fears that Afghanistan would become a centre of jihadi terrorist groups under the Taliban rule." "No one could condone their action to threaten states and people. Their ideology based on a wrong interpretation of the Quran is a threat to conventional Islamic states and other nations," Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

“There are no justifiable reasons for us to recognise a Taliban rule," he added.

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160 Australians and Afghans evacuated from Kabul

More than 160 Australian and Afghan citizens have been evacuated from Kabul after a third rescue flight, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on August 20.

Mr. Morrison said 60 Australians and Afghans who helped Australia during the 20-year war were flown to the United Arab Emirates overnight.—PTI


Indonesia air force sends plane to repatriate citizens from Afghanistan

The air force of Indonesia will bring home 15 of its citizens from Afghanistan, its foreign ministry said on August 20, amid chaos and uncertainty in the country after the hardline Islamist Taliban seized power.

Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim majority country, will pick up 15 of its citizens, said foreign ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah. -REUTERS


U.S. evacuates about 3,000 from Kabul airport on Thursday

The United States evacuated about 3,000 people from Afghanistan's Kabul airport on August 19, a White House official said.

"The United States evacuated approximately 3,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport on 16 C-17 flights," the official said in a media pool report on August 20, adding that nearly 350 were U.S. citizens. -REUTERS


Young Afghan footballer fell to death from US plane: federation

An Afghan footballer who played for the national youth team fell to his death after trying to cling to a U.S. plane airlifting people out of Taliban-controlled Kabul, a sports federation said Thursday.

The General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports of Afghanistan, a government institution that worked with sporting groups, confirmed the death of Zaki Anwari in the mayhem that erupted at the airport in the capital this week.

"Anwari, like thousands of Afghan youths, wanted to leave the country but fell off a US plane and died," the group said in a statement posted on Facebook.

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Tough wait for Indians stranded in Afghanistan

With as many as 450 Indians possibly still stranded inside Afghanistan, the Government of India is coordinating with the United States and other embassies to assist in their return, as transport to the airport as well as flights from Kabul to Delhi are proving to be a challenge. In addition, four days after Taliban militia took control of the capital, there was no formal government in place, making it harder for those who don’t have all the necessary documents, officials said.

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India working with global partners to bring stranded Indians from Afghanistan: Jaishankar

India is working with international partners, principally the U.S., in bringing stranded Indian nationals back home from strife-torn Afghanistan, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on August 19.

Mr. Jaishankar said this while addressing reporters at the UN Security Council stake-out after chairing the Security Council briefing on the 'Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts’, held under India’s current Presidency of the Council. -PTI


Afghan president latest leader on the run to turn up in UAE

Afghanistan's president, driven out by the Taliban, is the latest leader on the run to turn up in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE announced late August 18 it had accepted hosting Ashraf Ghani and his family, citing humanitarian grounds. -PTI


Erdogan says Turkey is not Europe's ''refugee warehouse''

Faced with a potential new migration wave from Afghanistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on European nations on August 19 to shoulder the responsibility for Afghans fleeing the Taliban and warned that his country won't become Europe's “refugee warehouse.”

In a televised address following a Cabinet meeting, Mr. Erdogan also said his government would “if necessary” engage in talks with a government that could be formed by the Taliban ” for the stability and security of this country.” -PTI


U.S. says Kabul evacuees don't need Covid tests

Amid the chaos and confusion at the airport, the U.S. on August 19 said it has taken at least one step to ease requirements for those seeking to leave: COVID-19 tests.

Although Afghanistan had been a hotspot for the coronavirus pandemic, the State Department said evacuees are not required to get a negative COVID-19 result to travel.

"A blanket humanitarian waiver has been implemented for COVID-19 testing for all persons the U.S. government is relocating from Afghanistan,” the department said. -PTI

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