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Taliban Promises Amnesty, Women's Rights

The Taliban has vowed to respect the rights of women and not to seek revenge, as one of its leaders returns to Afghanistan for the first time in over a decade.

The Taliban has said it wants peaceful relations with other countries and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law, as it held its first official news briefing since its lightning seizure of Kabul.

The Taliban announcements, short on details but suggesting a softer line than during its rule 20 years ago, came as the United States and Western allies resumed removing diplomats and civilians the day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans thronged the runway.

A White House official said military flights had removed about 1100 Americans from Kabul on Tuesday.

As it consolidated power, the Taliban said one of its leaders and co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, had returned to Afghanistan for the first time in more than 10 years. Baradar was arrested in 2010, but released from prison in 2018 at the request of former US president Donald Trump's administration so he could take part in peace talks.

"We don't want any internal or external enemies," the movement's main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said on Tuesday. Women would be allowed to work and study and "will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam", he said.

As they rushed to evacuate, foreign powers assessed how to respond after Afghan forces melted away in just days, with what many had predicted as the likely fast unravelling of women's rights.

"If (the Taliban) want any respect, if they want any recognition by the international community, they have to be very conscious of the fact that we will be watching how women and girls and, more broadly, the civilian community is treated by them as they try to form a government," US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told MSNBC on Tuesday.

US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they had agreed to hold a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders next week to discuss a common approach to Afghanistan. During its 1996-2001 rule, also guided by Islamic law, the Taliban stopped women working. Girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session in Geneva next week to address "serious human rights concerns" after the Taliban takeover. The European Union said it would co-operate with the Afghan government following the Taliban's return to power only if it respected fundamental rights, including those of women.

Mujahid said the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and government officials, and were granting an amnesty for former soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.

"Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors," he said, adding there was a "huge difference" between the Taliban now and 20 years ago. He also said families trying to flee the country should return home and nothing would happen to them.

Mujahid's conciliatory tone contrasted with comments by Afghan First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the "legitimate caretaker president" and vowed not to bow to Kabul's new rulers. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow the departure of all those who wanted to leave Afghanistan, adding the alliance could strike if the country again becomes a breeding ground for terrorism.

The decision by Biden, a Democrat, to stick to the withdrawal deal struck last year by his Republican predecessor Trump has stirred widespread criticism at home and among US allies. Biden's approval rating dropped by seven points to 46 per cent, the lowest level of his seven-month presidency, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. It also found fewer than half of Americans liked how he has handled Afghanistan.

Biden said he had had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on Trump's withdrawal deal. He blamed the Taliban takeover on Afghan leaders who fled and the army's unwillingness to fight.

AAP with The Project