Former Afghan minister returns to Kabul at Taliban invitation

A former Afghan minister, who fled as the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year, returned on Wednesday, officials said, following security assurances given as part of the hard-line group’s initiative to woo back high-profile individuals.

Ghulam Farooq Wardak, a member of the cabinets of former presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, is the latest in a string of returning officials, said Taliban officials looking to shore up a government yet to win international recognition.

Wardak had returned from Turkey, said Ahmad Wasiq, the spokesman of a body set up by the Taliban to negotiate the return of high-profile Afghans abroad.

Other officials to return included a former spokesman for the defense ministry, the former head of Afghanistan’s national power company, and some military officials, he told Reuters.

While Reuters could not immediately verify the return of the others, Wardak spoke to state-run media after landing in Afghanistan.

“Most authorities are thinking about returning,” the former education minister said, adding that he felt respect and happiness in his home, although he cautioned that a small group might not want to come back.

Most high-profile officials fled Afghanistan as the Taliban took over last August, including Ghani, the president at the time, who is now in the UAE. Karzai remains in Kabul, the capital.

The Taliban set up the high-powered panel to negotiate the returns a few weeks ago, with nine members, including the intelligence and military chiefs.

It has the power to ensure amnesty, and provide security to returning officials, as well as ensuring work in the private sector.

Since last year, former government personalities, especially security officials have faced reprisals nationwide, say international bodies and media.

The Taliban say such attacks were unauthorized, with action taken for breaches of a general amnesty order.