For the Taliban, a political agreement could help the group avoid again becoming an international pariah, which would push one of the world's poorest countries even further into poverty. For the former Afghan leaders, a deal would give them a share of power in Afghanistan’s new government.
At a news conference inside the former Afghan government’s media center, now adorned with white Taliban flags, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said meetings with former Afghan officials are an effort to seek “their advice about the future government,” so Afghanistan can “build a government that is accountable, serves the country and brings everyone together.’’
A former senior Afghan official present at several of the meetings said Taliban leaders conveyed that they “want to have a shared government.”
“They say, ‘We can’t control the country without your help,’” said the former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“But yes, the main point is money,” the official said. “The Taliban are scared of two things: pressure from the international community,” he said, referring to sanctions, cuts to international aid and the inability to trade, “and resistance.”
Most countries say they want to see a formal political transfer of power before recognizing a new government in Afghanistan; others, like Russia and China, suggest their decision could be based more on maintaining regional stability.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the Taliban’s military takeover as a “reality” that should be acted upon to prevent the breakup of the country. G-7 leaders — including President Biden — said the Taliban’s approach to human rights will be taken into account when deciding on formal recognition.
“We will judge the Afghan parties by their actions, not words,” said a joint statement from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany and Italy.
Recognition by the international community could lead to the release of billions of dollars in reserves that are now inaccessible to the Taliban. The Biden administration froze Afghan government reserves two days after the Taliban’s sudden takeover of Kabul, a move that was followed by the International Monetary Fund.
While pursuing talks with former foes, the Taliban appears to be urging a return to normal in Kabul. Traffic has returned to the city’s streets, and many shops are open, but banks remain largely closed as a result of the frozen U.S. reserves. The closures have nearly ground the country’s economy to a halt and, combined with cuts to international aid, risk plunging nearly 4 million more Afghans below the poverty line in just three months, according to an assessment by the World Bank seen by The Washington Post.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Mujahid asked foreign embassies to resume their work in the country, emphasized the need for continued international aid and called for a halt to the mass evacuations being carried out by the United States.
The United States “should not encourage the Afghan people to leave the country, our skilled people, our engineers, our doctors and specialists and those who were educated here, our country needs them. They should not be taken to foreign countries,” he said.
“Those who are taken out of Afghanistan are treated like ordinary workers instead of working in their specialties,” he warned.
U.S. evacuations hit their highest daily total Tuesday since the operation began, with 21,600 people flown out of the country. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday officials are planning to keep that pace up this week, and Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor at the Pentagon said Wednesday that the overall number of evacuees is “approximately 88,000.”
Saiamai, one of thousands of Afghans camped outside Kabul’s international airport, had been waiting for a flight out for days with her seven children and said the Taliban fighters guarding one of the main gates are increasingly calling on the crowds to return home and stay in Afghanistan.
“But they don’t say why, they don’t give us a reason, they just beat us,” she said Wednesday, describing what happened just hours before when she attempted to approach the gates to check if her name was on the list of people authorized to leave. She asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of retribution.
Naimatullah Barakzai, 30, decided not to leave Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul. The spokesman for Kabul’s municipality is one of the few people who served under Afghanistan’s previous government and chose to remain under Taliban rule.
“The system is not important to me. I just want to serve my people and my country,” he said. But he explained it wasn’t an easy decision.
“People must tolerate some things if they want to continue serving their country. Two of my brothers were killed by the Taliban, but now I just don’t think about it,” he said.
The former senior Afghan official meeting with Taliban leadership said he believes the group’s appeals to share power are genuine but that the movement is grappling with the same problem that has plagued it for months: deciding what kinds of concessions it is willing to make — if any — for the sake of international legitimacy.
“We are waiting for them to share their plan for the new government with us. We don’t want to lose all of our achievements of the last 20 years,” he said, referring to advances in the rights of women and minorities and on civil liberties.
But regardless of what the group pledges to uphold now, he said, many fear that once a deal is reached, the Taliban could go back on its word.
“No one can guarantee that,” he said. “It’s always possible.”
Dan Lamothe in Washington and Robyn Dixon in Moscow contributed to this report.