The Taliban hailed Tuesday the departure of international forces from Afghanistan and their return to power as a “big lesson for other invaders,” urging the United States and the rest of the world to recognize Taliban rule.
Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made the remarks, hours after the last American military plane left the international airport in the capital, Kabul.
Mujahid, while speaking to reporters at the tarmac, congratulated Afghans and declared the foreign military exit a victory “that belongs to us all.”
The U.S. and its Western allies invaded the war-torn South Asian country nearly 20 years ago and removed the Taliban from power for allowing the al-Qaida terror network to organize the September 2001 attacks on America.
The Taliban have repeatedly promised a more tolerant and broad-based governance system compared with their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, when the fundamentalist group imposed a brutal justice system, barred Afghan women from working outside the home and girls from receiving an education.
Mujahid attempted to allay concerns while speaking to a unit of the Taliban’s elite Badri force on the tarmac Tuesday and admonished them to not treat Afghans harshly.
“Treat the Afghan population kindly and nicely,” he told them. “The public deserves this.” He also reminded them that they were the “servants” of the population and should not be heavy handed with their fellow countrymen.
“We want to have good relations with the U.S. and the world. We welcome good diplomatic relations with them all," Mujahid insisted, saying Afghanistan needs international assistance to overcome many crises after four decades of war.
Later, speaking to a seminar in Kabul organized in connection with the foreign troop withdrawal, Mujahid called on the international community to recognize the Taliban rule and to help them address multiple crises facing the country.
Taliban officials also reported that consultations on the formation of an “inclusive Islamic government” in Kabul have concluded and said an announcement will soon be made.
International stakeholders remained skeptical about whether the Islamist movement would deliver on its pledges and prevent Afghanistan from being diplomatically isolated again.
“The Taliban now face a test. Can they lead their country to a safe & prosperous future where all their citizens, men & women, have the chance to reach their potential? Can Afghanistan present the beauty & power of its diverse cultures, histories & traditions to the world?” Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special Afghan peace envoy, wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
He noted the foreign military withdrawal had offered “a moment of decision and opportunity” for all Afghans.
“Their country's future is in their hands. They will choose their path in full sovereignty," Khalilzad wrote. "This is the chance to bring their war to an end as well.”
Western intelligence officials have also been wary of the Taliban’s pledges to sever ties with al-Qaida, pointing to assessments that show relations between the Taliban and the terror group are as strong as ever.
And on Tuesday, al-Qaida’s media wing did nothing to dispel such notions, congratulating the Taliban for a “great victory against the Crusader alliance.”
The statement, published in both Arabic and English, and obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group, said the U.S. was expelled, “disgraced and humiliated, from the Islamic land of Afghanistan" and promised, “This historic victory will open the way for the Muslim masses to achieve liberation from the despotic rule of tyrants who have been imposed by the West on the Islamic World."
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday the international response to the Taliban’s bid for legitimacy would depend on the nature of the government they introduce in Afghanistan. He spoke in neighboring Pakistan.
“Soon the Taliban are going to present a new government. It remains to be seen that this government is as inclusive a government as we demanded it to be. It is important for us that Afghans who do not support the Taliban feel represented by this government,” Maas emphasized when asked whether Germany was ready to give legitimacy to the Taliban-held Kabul.
Maas said that “the important lesson I draw out of the failure in Afghanistan” is that military interventions are suited only to combat terrorist attacks, wars, human rights violations, but not to export any form of political governance system to another country.
“In the West, in the international community at large, we have to ask ourselves if military interventions are suitable to export a form of government which we prefer. This was not successful in Afghanistan,” said the chief German diplomat.
“This is why we have to draw the necessary lessons that … military interventions are not suited to export a specific form of government. We need to think about the purposes and also the duration of military interventions.”
The Taliban have promised to get the airport up and running for commercial flights as soon as possible. However, some of the airport infrastructure was damaged during the first few days of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, when thousands of Afghans, in a panic over the arrival of the militant group, massed around it and many managed to get inside and onto the tarmac.
Several Afghans died as they tried to hang onto the outside of an American C-17 military cargo plane or climb into the wheel wells.
The last U.S. troops left Afghanistan moments before the expiration of an August 31 deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden.
The head of U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, said Monday the last U.S. aircraft took off from Kabul just before midnight local time, a minute ahead of the deadline.
The United States and its coalition partners helped more than 123,000 civilians flee Afghanistan, though countless more were left behind.
“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” McKenzie said of the 18-day evacuation effort, described as the largest airlift in U.S. military history.
VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeen, Jeff Seldin and Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.