US President Joe Biden has authorised up to $100m from an emergency fund to meet “unexpected urgent” refugee needs stemming from the situation in Afghanistan, including for Afghan special immigration visa applicants, the White House said.
Biden also approved on Friday the release of $200m in services and articles from the inventories of US government agencies to meet the same needs, the White House said.
Joe Biden approves $100m emergency funds to resettle Afghan refugees
The United States is preparing to begin evacuating thousands of Afghan applicants for special immigration visas (SIVs) who are at risk from the Taliban because they worked for the US government.
The first batch of evacuees and their families is expected to be flown before the end of the month to Fort Lee, a US military base in Virginia, where they will wait for the final processing of their visa applications.
About 2,500 Afghans could be brought to the facility, about 48km (30 miles) south of Richmond, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The Biden administration is reviewing other US facilities in the US and overseas where SIV applicants and their families could be accommodated.
Special immigrant visas are available to Afghans who worked as translators or in other jobs for the US government after the 2001 US-led invasion.
On Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that would expand the number of SIVs that could be granted by 8,000, which would cover all potentially eligible applications in the pipeline.
About 18,000 such applications are being processed, US officials say.
Earlier on Friday, the Canadian government said it will fast-track resettlement of potentially thousands of Afghans who have worked with Canada during the past 20 years but offered few details of who will be eligible or when people who are now in danger from the Taliban will start arriving.
The government has been facing pressure from Canadian veterans worried that Afghans who supported them and their families will face arrest and even death at the hands of the Taliban.
“For the safety and security of the Afghans, as well as the Canadian teams who are already on the ground, we have to safeguard the precise details of how this operation will be carried out, as well as exactly when it will begin,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.
The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan emboldened the Taliban to take parts of the country. The captured territory includes parts of the southern province of Kandahar, where the Canadian military spent the longest amount of time during its 13-year mission in the country.
Also on Friday, the US called on the Taliban to negotiate after the group said that there will not be peace in Afghanistan until there is a new government in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is removed.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group’s negotiating team, laid out their stance on what should come next in a country on the precipice.
Shaheen said the Taliban will lay down their weapons when a negotiated government acceptable to all sides in the conflict is installed in Kabul and Ghani’s government is gone.
During a news briefing held over the phone, State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter said “we call on the Taliban to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political road map for Afghanistan future that leads to a just and durable settlement.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki affirmed Biden’s support for the Afghan president. She said Biden was scheduled to speak with Ghani by phone later in the day.
“The president and the administration supports the leadership of the Afghan people, including Ashraf Ghani,” Psaki told reporters.
“I would note that there are ongoing political negotiations and discussions that we certainly support between Afghan leaders, members of the Afghan government and the Taliban. And we believe a political solution is the only outcome to lasting peace in Afghanistan,” she said.
Zalmay Khalilzad: How will US monitor Afghanistan after pullout?
Decades of turmoil in Afghanistan have led to sectarian division, political instability and the loss of countless lives.
International players from the region and beyond have made several attempts to bring peace and stability to the country. The United States has played a central role. Afghan-born American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad has been leading that effort since 2018.
But as the US military ends its mission in Afghanistan, will there be a power vacuum in Kabul? And what role will Washington play moving forward? Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, talks to Al Jazeera.
US envoy Khalilzad: Now Afghans cannot blame the United States
After nearly 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan, the warring parties meet face-to-face at the negotiating table in the Qatari capital, Doha.
One of the key players in the Afghan peace process has been Afghan-born American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who has led the efforts to achieve peace in Afghanistan on behalf of the United States since September 2018.
So, having made it this far, what is next in the Afghan peace process? And what role will Washington play?
We find out as US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad talks to Al Jazeera.
The US is leaving. What’s next for Afghanistan?
After 20 years, the United States is ending its occupation of Afghanistan. A lot has changed but many Afghans like journalist Ali Latifi are concerned about how many things are still the same. Roads remain unpaved, the electricity is spotty and a newly energised Taliban is threatening to take back the Afghan state. Many Afghans are now left wondering what happened to the US promises and why the Afghan people have been left behind.
Will the US do a U-turn on Afghanistan troop withdrawal?
There is growing concern about the future of Afghanistan as the United States and allied troops leave the country.
Afghan forces are surrendering outposts and escaping in their hundreds to neighbouring Tajikistan. Those that do face the Taliban put up little or no resistance.
The heart of US operations in Afghanistan for almost two decades – Bagram airbase – is empty of American troops. And the Taliban is pressing on with its territorial campaign, making significant gains.
The group now controls almost one-third of the country’s 400 districts, mainly in the north.
How worrying are these latest developments?
Pakistan urges Afghanistan to reconsider recall of diplomats
Pakistan’s foreign ministry has termed the Afghan government’s decision to recall its ambassador and senior diplomats from its embassy in Islamabad “unfortunate and regrettable”, after the ambassador’s daughter was abducted and assaulted last week.
In a statement released late on Sunday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the incident was being investigated “at the highest level”.
“The decision by the Government of Afghanistan to recall its ambassador and senior diplomats from Pakistan is unfortunate and regrettable,” said the statement.
Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood, the top bureaucrat at the ministry, met with Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Najib Alikhil, on Sunday, the statement said.
“We hope that the Government of Afghanistan would reconsider its decision.”
Earlier on Sunday, the Afghan government announced its decision to withdraw the ambassador and other senior diplomats from the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
The move came after a “strong protest” was lodged with Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul, Mansoor Ahmad Khan.
Silsila Alikhil, the Afghan ambassador’s daughter, was abducted for several hours and “severely tortured” by unidentified attackers on Friday, Afghanistan’s government says.
On Sunday, however, Pakistan’s interior minister appeared sceptical of the Afghan government’s version of events.
“She was not kidnapped, we have simply registered a case in which [she] says she was kidnapped,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Pakistani television news channel Geo News.
Ahmed said that Pakistani authorities had traced Alikhil’s phone to at least four locations, where security camera footage showed her boarding several taxis. He said that the owners or drivers of at least three taxis were in Pakistani custody.
Ahmed also alleged that Alikhil had deleted the contents of her mobile phone before handing it over to authorities during the investigation.
The incident has come as a fresh blow to relations between the South Asian neighbours, between whom tensions have risen in recent weeks.
Top Afghan officials, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, have accused Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban in its armed push against the Afghan government.
Pakistan has denied the accusation, with Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterating in a meeting with Ghani on Friday that “instability and conflict were not in Pakistan’s interest”.