Kabul: Work on a comprehensive ceasefire and hectic negotiations with the Taliban are still underway as Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani made it clear Saturday that he will not be stepping down and will do all he can to fight their takeover of the country.
Ghani’s firm stance that he won’t let an “imposed war” on Afghans derail the gains of the last 20 years came even as the fight with the Taliban, now just 50 km from capital Kabul, got louder and fiercer.
Sources, however, told ThePrint that the question of Ghani stepping down has not been ruled out completely.
In a recorded speech, the Afghan President spoke about the strategy of remobilising the security and defence of Afghanistan that is now deeply divided between the Pashtuns, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks.
Rallying the forces and the moral of the country, Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, too, hailed the Afghan security forces as “heroic”.
“In all areas where there has been mobility, Talib has not done anything. We have countless examples of courage and history-making of our heroic forces. The lasting bravery and courage of special parts, commandos, air force, camp, police, national security forces, national security officials, our popular rising has been recorded in many parts of the country with a golden line,” Saleh wrote in a Facebook post.
“Not resisting will be a historical shame. Be sure that we will win but not without sacrifice. I am proud of the ability and motivation of our armed forces.”
The Taliban have now taken over two-thirds of Afghanistan, while the US Embassy is evacuating its staff on a war footing before the 31 August exit deadline.
Kabul, a city of 5 million people, has turned into a refugee zone as thousands of Afghans fleeing the country’s interiors crowded its streets, parks and squares. The fear was undeniable as they pitched tents across the city, many among them looking to leave the country.
“Due to the conflict that we’re seeing across the country, many people are arriving in Kabul and other large cities, trying to seek safety for themselves and for their families,” said Stephane Dujarric, the chief spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Sources said that, citing imminent danger, several Afghan government officials have already fled the country, among them is believed to be Finance Minister Khalid Payenda.
“The main issue here is that this country is now deeply divided. The Americans while they were here did nothing and now that they are going they are leaving behind deep divisional lines which got widened for them,” said an official who refused to be identified.
The official also said that a large section of the Pashtuns “supports” a Taliban takeover while others continue to resist.
Despite the environment of fear, at Kabul’s main city centre, the shops, restaurants, offices, schools and universities continued to function as usual. On Saturday, Kabul’s main roads even witnessed long traffic snarls as life-sized roadside paintings of revered Afghan rebel leader Ahmad Shah Massoud stared down at the people.
At the American embassy in Kabul, the staff has been asked to shred and burn sensitive material even as 3,000 American troops came back roaring in their Boeing Chinooks that has become a normal sighting in Kabul’s skies.
The first forces of a Marine battalion arrived in Kabul to stand guard as the US speeds up evacuation flights.
“The first movement will consist of three infantry battalions that are currently in the Central Command area of responsibility. They will move to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul within the next 24 to 48 hours. Two of those battalions are United States Marines and one is a U.S. Army battalion,” Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said Friday.
“The next movement will consist of a joint U.S. Army-Air Force support element of around 1,000 personnel to facilitate the processing of SIV applicants. Initial elements of this movement — of this element will arrive in Qatar in the coming days,” he added.