After more than a week of suspense where the only thing keeping Americans remaining in Afghanistan safe was the Taliban's promise not to harm them, it looks like the Talibs have made good - at least so far as Americans are concerned. According to Al Jazeera and a flurry of other media reports, Afghanistan's Taliban authorities are allowing some 200 Americans and other foreign citizens to leave the country on a flight to Qatar scheduled for Thursday afternoon (local time).
International travel resumed in Kabul when Qatar Airways Boeing 777 arrived Thursday afternoon, marking the resumption of international passenger operations at the Afghan capital's Hamid Karzai International Airport. Guarded by a squad of Qatari special forces, it was expected to depart later in the day.
Qatari officials speaking to WSJ insisted it wasn't an evacuation mission since all of those departing had foreign passports and permission from the Taliban to fly. Qatar even facilitated the passengers' transportation to the airport with a parade of minibuses. Most of these foreign citizens hold dual citizenship and are still considered Afghans. But they're far more fortunate than the tens of thousands of Afghans who remain in the country despite helping the American war effort.
During a Tuesday press briefing where they announced the new government, the Taliban said international travel would soon be revived. But he added that only those with lawful permission should leave (since the Taliban are working to stave off a brain drain.
"When Afghans and foreigners want to leave Afghanistan, they should do it lawfully, having a passport and visa," a Taliban spokesman said.
One reason for the delay is the fact that American forces disabled the radar and other key equipment at Hamid Karzai International Airport on their way out the door. But Qatar sent technicians to fix the equipment and domestic flights to Khandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharifn soon resumed.
The big question now is, with international flights open once again, how with the Taliban prevent the feared 'brain drain' they worry will sap the country of skilled workers needed to make it run. Taliban leaders were “furious with the evacuation of skilled and educated people, who are greatly needed to rebuild the country,” according to an internal UN readout from a recent meeting.
Put another way: if they don't have dual citizenship, many Afghans should probably get used to the idea of staying in the country.