G-7 vows to ensure safe Afghanistan evacuation, keep Taliban on watch

Aug 25 , 2021. 5 hours ago – 04:54 KYODO NEWS

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the situation in Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Aug. 24, 2021 in Washington. (Getty/Kyodo)

TOKYO – The Group of Seven industrialized nations on Tuesday vowed to ensure the safe evacuation of their citizens from Afghanistan following the takeover by the Taliban, and urged those in power to comply with obligations to protect human rights in the country and prevent terrorism.

President Joe Biden told other G-7 leaders during a virtual meeting that the United States is “currently on pace” to finish withdrawing American troops by his self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Britain and France have reportedly been calling for easing the timeline amid ongoing international airlift operations.

Biden also made clear that completion of the mission by the deadline “depends on continued coordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport” and asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline should that become necessary, Psaki said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday his group will accept no extensions of the deadline.

“Our immediate priority is to ensure the safe evacuation of our citizens and those Afghans who have partnered with us and assisted our efforts over the past twenty years,” the G-7 leaders including Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a joint statement issued after their meeting.

“We will continue to coordinate closely on this, and we expect all parties to continue to facilitate this,” they said, while also agreeing to cooperate with countries in the region that are hosting refugees to find safe and legal routes for resettlement.

The airport in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul has been flooded by thousands of people seeking to flee from the Islamist group that returned to power earlier this month after being ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

Foreign governments are rushing to airlift citizens out of the country, with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces sending three transport planes.

Suga told reporters on Tuesday that Tokyo will work closely with the other G-7 members on efforts to evacuate people from Afghanistan and that his country is prepared to help support refugees who flee Afghanistan to neighboring countries.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga participates in an online summit meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on Aug. 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Cabinet Public Relations Office)(Kyodo)

The G-7 members are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, as well as the European Union. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, were also invited to the summit meeting.

With attention growing as to whether a Taliban-led Afghanistan government will be recognized by foreign powers, the G-7 leaders said the Islamic group will be held accountable on human rights in Afghanistan, including those of women, and efforts to prevent a resurgence in terrorism.

“Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations…We will judge the Afghan parties by their actions, not words,” they said.

They also called on all parties in Afghanistan to “work in good faith to establish an inclusive and representative government, including with the meaningful participation of women and minority groups.”

The Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, has promised to uphold women’s rights “within the framework of Islam” amid concerns liberties will be significantly eroded under their strict implementation of shariah law.

As the Taliban seized city after city before taking control of Kabul on Aug. 15, Afghanistan’s security forces collapsed in a matter of days, and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Biden, who has faced criticism over the chaotic evacuation scenes at the Kabul airport, has defended the withdrawal of American troops in a process that was started by his predecessor Donald Trump, saying “there was never a good time” to exit.

The United States started the war in Afghanistan against the al-Qaida organization behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001 as well as the Taliban, which harbored the group.

In April this year, Biden announced that he would withdraw all the U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the upcoming 20th anniversary of the terror attacks, saying it was “time to end America’s longest war.”

In July, the deadline was moved up to Aug. 31. But the Biden administration was forced to send thousands of troops to the war-torn country to assist with evacuation operations as the Taliban seized power more rapidly than expected.

Cr. KYODO NEWS