The Taliban came closer to taking control of Afghanistan as fighters reached the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, and were awaiting the outcome of negotiations on a peaceful transition of power.
The Taliban ordered its forces not to invade Kabul, but to take up positions at the gates of the city, it said in a statement on Sunday.
Since Kabul is a large and densely populated city, the Taliban wasn’t looking to enter it by force or in a state of war, the statement said. Instead, the militants are planning to hold negotiations with the Afghan government on a peaceful invasion of Kabul, they said.
The statement was published while unconfirmed reports of Taliban fighters already having entered the city circulated on social media.
Afghanistan’s acting interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, also said Kabul would not be attacked. “People do not need to worry, the city is safe, anyone who causes disorder in the city will be dealt with in accordance to the law,” Mirzakwal said.
“The safety of the city is guaranteed, there will be no attack on the city, and the agreement is such that the transition of power will take place in a peaceful manner,” he added.
Shortly before, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the BBC that he could confirm there were talks with the presidential palace about a peaceful takeover of power. The head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, was organizing them.
Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi also said in a video address published on Facebook that he, as a representative of the armed forces, guaranteed Kabul’s security.
He said it was known that President Ashraf Ghani had met with domestic politicians and had given them the responsibility to form a delegation to travel to Doha on Monday to reach an agreement with the Taliban on the Afghanistan issue.
“I assure all of you that Kabul’s security will be maintained until an agreement is reached,” Mohammadi said.
Meanwhile, the capital became the site of tumultuous scenes as many people tried to withdraw their savings, buy food and get home to their families.
Kabul was the last remaining major city in Afghanistan held by the country’s government after Taliban militants captured the key eastern city of Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, earlier on Sunday.
The city was taken without a fight, two provincial councillors and a resident confirmed to dpa.
The capture of Jalalabad, with an estimated population of more than 280,000, and other areas in the province gives the insurgents control over the Torkham border crossing, the largest trade and transit route between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan has since sealed the crossing, leaving thousands of travellers stranded on both sides of the border.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid announced the decision to close the Torkham terminal in north-western Pakistan without giving a time frame for the reopening of the border crossing.
The Taliban now controls at least 25 provincial capitals of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. All of these cities were captured within 10 days.
Countries including the United States, Germany, the Czech Republic and France have started making efforts to evacuate their remaining local staff from Afghanistan.
According to US media reports, the evacuation of the US embassy in Kabul is “in full swing” and should be completed by Tuesday morning.
The Bundeswehr will begin evacuating German citizens and local Afghan forces from Kabul this Monday, dpa learned.
Several A400M transport planes are to fly to the Afghan capital to ferry people to safety, according to information supplied to dpa. Paratroopers are to secure the operation.
Meanwhile, Russia said it is not planning to evacuate its embassy in the Afghan capital for the time being.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan had failed and that he is expecting new waves of refugees trying to reach Europe, in comments to the Augsburger Allgemeine daily’s Monday edition.
“It was the great aim to improve the living conditions of the people in the country and to bring stability to the country. Today, unfortunately, it has to be said: That has failed.”
Albania has said that it plans to temporarily take in Afghans who are fleeing their country in the face of the advancing Taliban.
The country is responding to a request from the United States, Prime Minister Edi Rama said on Facebook on Sunday. As a member of NATO, the country also felt obliged to do so; it was a matter of taking in refugees who would later be brought to the US, said Rama.