AP – The director of the CIA met with the Taliban’s top political leader in Kabul, an official said Tuesday, as more reports emerged of abuses in areas held by the fighters, fueling concerns about Afghanistan’s future and the fate of those racing to leave the country before the looming U.S. withdrawal.
A Taliban spokesman dashed hopes that an American-led evacuation could continue beyond an Aug. 31 deadline to allow more time for Western powers to get their citizens and vulnerable Afghans out of the country. Recent days have seen a flurry of efforts to speed the chaotic operation at Kabul’s airport, where scenes of desperation have highlighted both the disarray of the American pullout and fears that the Taliban will again impose a brutal rule.
Leaders of the Group of Seven nations plan to meet later in the day to discuss the airlift and the broader crisis.
While details of William Burns’ discussion with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Monday were not released, the meeting represents an extraordinary moment for a CIA that for two decades targeted the Taliban in paramilitary operations. And it gives a sense of the extent of the wrangling happening ahead of the end of America’s two-decade war in the country.
The CIA partnered with Pakistani forces to arrest Baradar in 2010, and he spent eight years in a Pakistani prison before the Trump administration persuaded Pakistan to release him in 2018 ahead of peace talks.
The Washington Post first reported Burns’ meeting with Baradar. A U.S. official confirmed the report on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. A Taliban spokesman said he was not aware of any such meeting but did not deny that it took place.
In the wake of their stunning takeover of Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have promised to restore security and tried to project an image of moderation, but many Afghans are skeptical — and thousands have raced to the airport to flee the country. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet added to those concerns Tuesday, warning she had credible reports of “summary executions” and restrictions on women in areas under Taliban control. She urged the Human Rights Council to take “bold and vigorous action” to monitor the rights situation.
Bachelet did not specify what time timeframe she was referring to or the source of her reports. It has been difficult to determine how widespread abuses might be and whether they reflect that Taliban leaders are saying one thing and doing another, or if fighters on the ground are taking matters into their own hands.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the group largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, chopped off the hands of suspected thieves and held public executions.
Later Tuesday, G-7 leaders will discuss the crisis in Afghanistan, as European leaders press the U.S. to consider delaying its withdrawal to allow more time to evacuate those desperate to leave.