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Taliban hold political talks with former President Hamid Karzai

[Ousted Afghan president Ashraf Ghani delivered a video message from the United Arab Emirates. Photo/AFP.]

Senior Taliban members have met with former President Hamid Karzai and senior official Abdullah Abdullah as they seek to form a government in Afghanistan, pledging it will be different from their brutal rule two decades ago.

But thousands of Afghans and foreigners are still attempting to flee the country, fearful about the hardliners’ past record of human rights abuses.

US President Joe Biden told ABC News that he believed it would have been impossible to leave Afghanistan “without chaos ensuing”, defending his actions.

Washington however expressed concern that the militants, who took over the country after a lightning offensive ending in Kabul at the weekend, were already defaulting on promises of safe passage to the airport for Afghans wishing to leave.

In the United Arab Emirates, ousted president Ashraf Ghani who fled as the insurgents closed in on the capital said he supported negotiations between the Taliban and former top officials, and was in his own talks to return home.

But US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Ghani was “no longer a figure” on the country’s complex political stage.

The Taliban have come full circle after being toppled from power by a US-led invasion in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The group has pledged not to seek revenge against opponents and to respect women’s rights, but the international community is skeptical about such  promises.

As the Taliban moves to put a government in place, leader Haibatullah Akhundzada has ordered the release of “political detainees”, telling provincial governors to free them “without any restrictions or conditions”, the group said.

Taliban negotiator Anas Haqqani met with Karzai, the first Western-backed leader of Afghanistan after the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, and Abdullah, who had led the government’s peace council, the SITE monitoring group said.

Ghani — who was in the United Arab Emirates, which said it was hosting him and his family “on humanitarian grounds” — said he wanted those negotiations to be a “success”.