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Taliban enter Kabul and Afghan government announces 'peaceful' handover of power

They have also completed the conquest of northern Afghanistan after taking the city of Mazar-e Sharif
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PHOTO/AP  -   Taliban fighters sit on a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on 15 August 2021.

After a whirlwind conquest of much of Afghan territory, the Taliban have finally reached Kabul. The insurgents have announced that they are besieging the capital "on all fronts". They also said they are in talks with the Afghan government to take Kabul "peacefully". Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, the Afghan Interior Minister, said that "the transfer of power to a transitional government will take place in a peaceful manner". Mirzakwal has guaranteed the security of the capital, assuring that "there will be no attack on Kabul".

Several media reports claim that Ashraf Ghani will resign in the next few hours and hand over power to the Taliban, who already claim to control the whole of Afghanistan. "The group has established control over the whole of Afghanistan," reports Al Arabiya television channel.

Echoes of Saigon in Kabul

The Taliban have also held talks with the United States prior to their arrival in Kabul, as reported by The Washington Post. US diplomatic officials asked the insurgents to slow their expansion to facilitate the evacuation of embassy staff. Local media have reported the withdrawal of US diplomatic personnel and some Afghan nationals 'who assisted the mission and those who are at particular risk from Taliban advances'.

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AP/RAHMAT GUL - A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over Kabul city, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Taliban fighters entered the outskirts of the Afghan capital on Sunday as panicked workers fled government offices and helicopters landed at the US embassy.

Social media has been filled with photos showing US helicopters flying over the embassy in Kabul to evacuate staff, an image reminiscent of the historic Saigon moment, symbolic of the US defeat in Vietnam. "For President Biden, who had hoped for an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, the chaos in Kabul carries echoes of Saigon in 1975, precisely what he wanted to avoid," writes Washington Post columnist David Ignatious. Videos have also been shared of smoke from the burning of US embassy documents.

Russia stays in Afghanistan

Like the US, other countries have begun to relocate their nationals in Kabul. Russia, on the other hand, has announced that it will keep its diplomatic staff in the capital. As Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin's envoy to Afghanistan, told the Interfax news agency, the Russian embassy is "calmly carrying out its duties". The Russian news agency TASS also reported that the Taliban have guaranteed the security of the embassy in Kabul. "Yes, we have good relations with Russia and our policy in general is to ensure safe conditions for the functioning of Russian and other embassies," said Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - An Afghan soldier sits in a military vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, 15 August 2021.
Taliban expansion into the rest of the territory consolidates

In addition to taking Kabul, the Taliban continue to conquer areas in the rest of the Asian country. The northern city of Mazar-e-Sarif has fallen to the Taliban after fighting with Afghan forces, who eventually fled to the Uzbek border. The northern city, a symbol of resistance against the insurgents, was controlled by Abdul Rashid Dostum, a warlord who fought against the Taliban in the 1990s. Ghani had handed over control of the area to Dostum to fight the fundamentalists. However, Mazar-e-Sarif's fighters failed and the Taliban ended up controlling the city while videos were being recorded in Dostum's house. 

"All parts of the country have come under the control of the Islamic Emirate," said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. Nearly 30 capitals are under the control of the extremist group, many of them without even fighting, such as Jalalabad, where the governor surrendered to the Taliban. This town of more than 280,000 inhabitants has great geostrategic power as it is part of the largest trade route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban also control other key areas bordering Iran and Turkmenistan.

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AP/RAHMAT GUL - Passengers walk towards the departure terminal at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.

With a Taliban government imminent, the international community now looks with concern at the Afghan population. Women, in particular, will return to an era of obscurity and the rights they have achieved in recent years will disappear. Girls will drop out of school and be trained exclusively to be wives and mothers. On the other hand, those who do not follow the rules set by the Emirate will suffer brutal consequences, as has already happened in some areas where killings and whippings have already been reported.

For a few weeks, perhaps months, Afghanistan will be in the media spotlight, with the emphasis on the formation of the Taliban government and the progressive loss of freedoms in society. In time, however, the situation in Afghanistan will not occupy as much media space. As has been seen in other countries such as Yemen and Iraq, the international community will stop focusing so much on the Afghan issue that its citizens will fall into oblivion, as they endure the oppression of the Taliban regime.