KUWAIT: HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah receives US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at Bayan Palace yesterday. – AFP

KUWAIT: Visiting US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reaffirmed yesterday the United States’ supportive position for the security and stability of Kuwait. During a meeting with HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Austin conveyed appreciation by US President Joe Biden, expressing his country’s gratitude for Kuwait’s cooperation in Washington’s evacuation process in Afghanistan while facilitating the transit of evacuees through its airport, KUNA said.

Austin stressed the US’ firm and supportive position for the security and stability of Kuwait, KUNA added. HH the Amir conveyed his appreciation to US President Biden, wishing him everlasting health and wellbeing and for his country further development and progress. During the meeting, the two sides reviewed ways to strengthen bilateral relations and enhance cooperation in various fields. The two sides also addressed top issues of common interest and the latest developments in the region.

On Aug 24, Alina L Romanowski, the US ambassador to Kuwait, said the first flight of Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan on their way to the United States arrived in Kuwait for transit. “These Afghans at risk have been safely evacuated to a coalition military facility in Kuwait,” the ambassador had said on Twitter.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned yesterday that the Taleban would have to earn legitimacy from the world, after talks with allies on how to present a united front to the hardline new government in Afghanistan. “The Taleban seek international legitimacy. Any legitimacy – any support – will have to be earned,” Blinken told reporters at the US air base in Ramstein, Germany, after leading a 20-nation ministerial meeting on the Afghan crisis.

Standing alongside him, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the international community expected the Taleban to uphold human rights, including those of women, grant access to humanitarian aid and allow those wishing to leave the country to do so. Maas said he believed yesterday’s talks were “the starting point for international coordination” on how to deal with the Taleban. Among the countries that participated in the virtual meeting were European allies and historic Taleban backer Pakistan.

Blinken and Maas both criticized the caretaker government announced in Afghanistan on Tuesday, which has no women or non-Taleban members and includes an interior minister the United States wants to arrest on terrorism accusations. Blinken said the caretaker cabinet would be judged “by its actions”, while his German counterpart added he was “not optimistic”. US officials have stressed that any official recognition of a Taleban government is far off.

Blinken’s stop in Ramstein was his second base visit in as many days, after he visited Qatar on Tuesday. Thanks were offered thanks to US civilian and military officials behind one of history’s largest airlifts after Afghanistan fell to the Taleban. Blinken also toured a makeshift home for some of the children who have lost their parents. Blinken vowed to press the Taleban to allow charter flights out of Afghanistan after criticism the US administration was not doing enough to help those still stranded.

“We are working to do everything in our power to support those flights and to get them off the ground,” Blinken said. The new Taleban interim government drawn exclusively from loyalist ranks formally began work yesterday, with established hardliners in all key posts and no women – despite previous promises to form an inclusive administration for all Afghans.

As they transition from militant force to governing power, the Taleban are already facing opposition to their rule, with scattered protests – many with women at the forefront – breaking out in cities across the country. A small rally in the capital Kabul yesterday was quickly dispersed by armed Taleban security, while Afghan media reported a protest in the northeastern city of Faizabad was also broken up.

As Afghans anxiously wait to see what kind of Taleban rule awaits the country, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the reinstatement of the feared Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The ministry had under the Taleban’s former rule been responsible for arresting and punishing people for failing to implement the movement’s restrictive interpretation of sharia law.

Beijing said yesterday it welcomed the end of “three weeks of anarchy”, adding it “attaches great importance” to the announcement of an interim government. Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China hoped the Taleban would “pursue moderate and steady domestic and foreign policies, resolutely crack down on all kinds of terrorist forces, and get along well with all countries, especially neighboring countries”.

Qatar, the central intermediary between the Taleban and the international community in recent years, also said the Taleban should be judged on their actions and said they had demonstrated “pragmatism” of late. “Let’s seize the opportunities there,” Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al-Khater told AFP in an exclusive interview, but she stopped short of announcing formal recognition of the government. “They are the de facto rulers, no question about that.”

Khater, Qatar’s spokeswoman on the world stage as well as face of the nation’s coronavirus response, noted “some good gestures” from the new Taleban rulers of Afghanistan. Qatari recognition of the Taleban would not come immediately, Khater said. “We don’t rush to a recognition. But we don’t completely disengage with the Taleban… we take the middle way.”

Khater said that since returning to power, the Taleban had largely left Afghan health authorities, including female medics, free to continue their coronavirus response. “Afghanistan is a sovereign country… the people of Afghanistan should have their own say,” said Khater. “When we talk about Afghanistan being responsive to the international community, it does not mean that the international community can or should control the fate of the people of Afghanistan.”

Qatar, a US ally that has emerged as a key player both in evacuations and diplomacy on Afghanistan, is host to the largest US airbase in the region. Asked if Qatar’s actions had contributed to the Taleban’s re-emergence, Khater said: “Don’t kill the messenger”. “Qatar has been the messenger… we have been facilitating,” she added.

Former president Ashraf Ghani, meanwhile, who fled the country on Aug 15 as the Taleban entered Kabul, apologized yesterday to the Afghan people for how his rule ended. In a statement on Twitter, Ghani said he left at the urging of the palace security in order to avoid the risk of bloody street fighting, and again denied stealing millions from the treasury. “I apologize to the Afghan people that I could not make it end differently,” he said. – Agencies