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Top British envoy holds Kabul talks with Taliban leaders

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UK Special Representative for Afghanistan Simon Gass with Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi

Kabul:

A top British envoy held talks with senior Taliban officials in Kabul on Tuesday – the first time since the evacuation of foreign forces from Afghanistan – as the country’s new masters seek a way out of international isolation.

The radical Islamist movement announced a new regime in August after capturing the capital and overthrowing the US-backed government.

But the aid-dependent country is facing an economic collapse after a 20-year war, with major donors withholding funding and no emergency aid.

The new rulers are attracting hesitant foreign powers to restart cash flow in the country, where civil servants and health workers go through months without pay.

The Taliban tweeted photos of the first meeting between Britain’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Simon Gass and Deputy Prime Ministers Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi.

A UK government spokesman said the two sides discussed how the UK can help Afghanistan fight terrorism and the deepening humanitarian crisis and provide a safe passage for those who wish to leave the country.

“They also raised the treatment of minorities and the rights of women and girls,” the spokesman said, adding that the gas was joined by Martin Longden, charge d’affaires in the now-evacuated UK mission in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, notorious for its brutal and repressive regime from 1996 to 2001, has faced a backlash after effectively excluding women and girls from education and work across the country.

call for inclusivity

Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Kahar Balkhi said the meeting “focused on detailed discussions on how to revive diplomatic ties between the two countries”.

Western governments have warned that the Taliban should form an “inclusive” government and respect women’s rights if they are to be formally recognized.

However, neighboring Pakistan is pushing the international community to join forces with the new rulers and help stabilize the famine-threatening country.

The Taliban have made some gesture of international respect by asserting their right to return to government based on a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Taliban officials and teachers said Tuesday that girls returned to some secondary schools in the northern province, despite being barred from classes in much of the country.

A video posted by the group’s spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, showed dozens of schoolgirls in black, some wearing white headscarves and others wearing black masks, sitting on chairs waving Taliban flags.

But education ministry official Mohamed Abid told AFP on Tuesday that there had been no policy change from the interim central government: “High schools are still closed to girls.”

The Taliban, which has allowed girls to attend primary school, has said girls will return to secondary schools after Sharia law ensures girls’ safety and strict gender segregation.

In the provincial capital Kunduz city, several teachers and a headmaster told AFP that girls had gone back to classes in high schools in some districts.

The Taliban also announced at a stage-managed rally that some female civil servants had been called back to work, a sign that Islamists are trying to soften their public image after 50 days in power.

Interior ministry spokesman Qari Syed Khosti told AFP that all employees of the passport department “including women employees” have been asked to return to their offices.

Hazara ‘misbehaviour’

Meanwhile, an Amnesty International report warned on Tuesday that the Taliban’s brutal abuses and repression of minorities during its first term in power could be repeated.

The rights group said it determined that Taliban forces killed 13 ethnic Hazaras in central Dayakundi province on August 30, which it said “appears to be a war crime”.

Eleven of those killed were former government soldiers, and Amnesty said witnesses killed nine of them after they surrendered.

Two civilians, including a 17-year-old girl, were also killed in the firing.

Amnesty chief Agnes Callamard said in a statement: “These cold-blooded executions are further evidence that the Taliban are committing the same horrific abuses they were notorious for during their previous regime in Afghanistan.”

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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