CANBERRA—Australia has demanded that the Taliban cease its violence against Afghan civilians and adhere to international humanitarian law in its treatment of women and girls after the democratically-elected government of Afghanistan fled the country following the Taliban’s advance on the capital, Kabul.
The Pashto word “Taliban” means “students.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and Defence Minister Peter Dutton said in a joint statement on Aug. 16 that Australia had committed many years to help Afghanistan build its future and was deeply concerned about the potential for further loss of life and suffering in the country amid the tense collapse of government.
“The Taliban must cease all violence against civilians and adhere to international humanitarian law, and the human rights all Afghans are entitled to expect, in particular women and girls,” the statement said. “The Taliban will be held fully accountable for any killing or other mistreatment of Afghan military and other security forces who have surrendered or been captured.”
The statement said that the Taliban’s leadership will be held responsible and accountable for the conduct of its forces, and that Afghan government officials and elected political leaders are fully entitled to be treated with safety, respect, and dignity.
The Australian government is currently working with the United States, France, Norway, and Germany to coordinate the evacuation of 130 Australians and their families who have been working in Kabul for the United Nations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). They are also trying to assist the evacuation of Afghans who have been granted humanitarian visas and those who are in the process of applying for protection.
The statement from the Australian government comes after thousands of people fled to Kabul’s international airport on Aug. 16 following the arrival of Taliban forces in the city, causing chaos for departing flights. The BBC reports that at least three civilians have died in the panic, and there were also reports of people desperately clinging to planes as they took off.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Defence is in the process of securing the airport and air traffic control to facilitate the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel, as well as visa-holding Afghans from Kabul, with 6,000 U.S. troops assigned by President Joe Biden to facilitate the task.
The panicked scenes at the airport follow the decision by members of the previous Afghan government, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, to leave the country on Aug. 15 and allow the Taliban to move into the city, leaving thousands of Afghans at risk.
Former Chief of the Australian Defence Force Chris Barrie, who oversaw Australia’s entry into Afghanistan in 2001, said on Aug. 16 that the latest developments have not left him hopeful for those families and people who helped Australians when we were there.
Speaking on ABC radio, Barrie criticised the pace of the Morrison government’s evacuation of Australians and local interpreters and contractors who supported the Australian Defence Forces.
“There is absolutely no question that we left it far too late to try and do anything about the people who helped us,” he said.
“I think it’s terrible; I think it’s a horrible story.
“It comes back to the same as the Vietnam experience, and then mark my words, I think there will be reprisals, there will be paybacks, there will be all sorts of brutalities that, I guess, will dribble out over the next period of time.
“For all of those people who helped us—God help them. God help them,” he prayed.
“I have read a litany of reasons why this was going to take weeks, months, and years, and people were having to be processed—now we find the very ugly truth that we’ve just left it far too late.”
More than 67 countries have called on the Taliban to behave responsibly and be accountable to the people of Afghanistan.
In a joint communication, Australia, alongside countries like the United States, Canada, France, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Japan, called on those who were in positions of “power and authority” in Afghanistan to be responsible “for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order.”