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Afghanistan turmoil

Taliban government must earn legitimacy: Blinken

US secretary of state 'concerned' by members of new Afghanistan cabinet

Secretary of State Antony Blinken shows a picture of his children to a young Afghan refugee outside Hangar 5 for evacuation operations at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Sept. 8.    © AP

NEW YORK/NEW DELHI -- The Taliban-led new caretaker government in Afghanistan must stay true to its promise to allow people to leave the country, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

Speaking alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. facility in Germany that has been a transit point for evacuees from Afghanistan, Blinken said, "We must hold the Taliban, including the recently announced caretaker government and any eventual Afghan government, to their commitment to allow foreign nationals, visa holders and Afghans to travel outside the country if they wish."

The two spoke to reporters after convening a virtual meeting of 22 foreign ministers plus officials from NATO, the European Union and the United Nations.

Noting that the international community expects the Taliban to honor their repeated pledges to allow any Afghans with the appropriate documents to leave the country, the secretary warned that it will determine the relationship the Islamist group can build with the outside world.

"While the Taliban badly wants or professes to want international legitimacy and support, that legitimacy and support has to be earned by their actions. And in our judgment, it cannot be earned quickly, it cannot be earned by words alone, or even by some positive first steps, welcome as those may be. It really has to be demonstrated over time," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the Afghan Reception Center at Ramstein Air Base where Afghan evacuees await transit. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

"The nature of the Taliban and government's relationship with us, with the international community will depend entirely on its actions in the weeks and months and time ahead," he said.

The 33 key cabinet members and senior officials announced on Tuesday, more than three weeks after the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Aug. 15, are all male Taliban members.

This came after the group had stressed creating an "inclusive" government, seen by some as a signal that women and officials from the former U.S.-backed government could be brought in.

Blinken said there was concern over the announced lineup. "We're assessing the announcement but despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women," he said.

Washington was "concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of those individuals," Blinken added.

A lengthy statement issued by Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada after the cabinet announcement made no mention whatsoever of women, while stressing that Afghanistan would be governed by Islamic law. Akhundzada asserted that the group would respect all international laws and treaties "that are not in conflict with Islamic law and the country's national values."

Of particular concern for the U.S. is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the new acting interior minister. Haqqani heads a Taliban branch that maintains close ties with al-Qaida, the extremist group behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and is on the FBI's most wanted list.

American and European authorities had indicated they would wait to decide whether to officially recognize the new government until after seeing the makeup of the caretaker government, and the all-Taliban roster will not help the group's case. The U.K. has stated that it would not recognize Taliban rule.

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Ministry was approached about joining Thursday's G-7 foreign ministers meeting on Afghanistan and declined, according to Russia's Tass news agency. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said Moscow would "gladly" take part in a ceremony to mark the announcement of the new government if it is an inclusive one, and the ambassador is set to attend.

China, Pakistan and Iran have also been invited to the event in Kabul, which is slated to take place soon, but Western countries are unlikely to be on the guest list.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin welcomed the new government in a news conference Tuesday as an important step in the restoration of order and postwar rebuilding, and expressed hope that the Taliban will cut ties with terrorist organizations and take action to prevent terrorism.

Meanwhile, former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement on Twitter Wednesday, in which he apologized to the Afghan people for how he left the country.

"It is with deep and profound regret that my own chapter ended in similar tragedy to my predecessors -- without ensuring stability and prosperity," Ghani wrote. "I apologize to the Afghan people that I could not make it end differently."

He rejected the "baseless allegations" that he left the country with millions of dollars belonging to the Afghan people. He said he would welcome an official audit or financial investigation under U.N. auspices to prove the veracity of his statements.

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