KABUL (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The Taliban called for friendly ties with the United States, and indicated they were close to announcing details of a new government just hours after the last American soldiers flew out of Kabul to end 20 years of war.
"The Islamic Emirate wants a good and diplomatic relationship with the Americans," Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's main spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday (Aug 31) from the Hamid Karzai International Airport, which was the last place under American control.
America's longest war took the lives of nearly 2,500 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans, and cost about US$2 trillion (S$2.7 trillion).
Key Taliban leaders took a symbolic victory lap, walking across the tarmac to mark their win.
That's even as the militant group faces a host of fresh challenges to cement its control on the country.
Mujahid added later that a three-day meeting of the group's Leadership Council had taken place under the guidance of their top spiritual leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, in the southern city of Kandahar, the group's stronghold.
"A number of decisions were taken regarding the protection of public treasury goods and infrastructure and good treatment of the people and providing facilities to them," Mujahid said in a text message to reporters.
"Consultations were held on the formation of a new Islamic government and cabinet in the country."
The US officially ended its longest war around midnight on Monday Afghan time, a mission that began soon after the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001.
The Taliban's swift advance to Kabul prompted a rushed US withdrawal of more than 123,000 people since Aug 14, which was marred by a suicide bombing that killed 13 US service members and more than 169 Afghans.
Yet despite the jubilant mood among Taliban leaders, now the hard part of governing begins.
They must put in place a functioning government, figure out how to get the airport running, stem rising prices of essential goods, stave off an economic crisis after the US cut off aid and avoid a civil war with both ethnic-based armies and a local branch of the Islamic State.
On Tuesday, normalcy appeared to be returning to Kabul.
Restaurants and pharmacies reopened, with large crowds appearing in markets and traffic jams clogging the roads in the capital.
Armed Taliban guards wearing US gear patrolled in pickup trucks.
While banks and ATMs have reopened, citizens are struggling to get access to their money.
Prices of essential food and medicines have jumped by as much as 50 per cent over the last few weeks, Kabul residents said.
And flights over the country have stopped, with the US withdrawal leaving air-traffic control services in Kabul unmanned.
Qasim Mohseni, a medicine retailer, called on the Taliban to control prices of food and medicine even as he welcomed the new leaders.
"Since the Taliban came, the security looks good so far but the biggest worry and problem for people is the economy and lack of jobs and the markets prices have also increased," he said by phone from Kabul. "What did the US or its installed government do to Afghanistan? Tell me a good thing about them. Nothing. It was a corrupt government - all its rulers and leaders were made corrupt by the US's money."
Still, fear spread among those who were part of the former government even though the Taliban declared a general amnesty.
One former government employee, who asked not to be identified, said he had been in hiding for two weeks because the militants were looking for him.
He said certain Taliban militants had visited his home, and one of his colleagues had been killed.
The Taliban have adopted a more moderate tone since their military victory - promising that women could work and go to school within the bounds of Syariah Law, as well as amnesty for all their former Afghan foes and good ties with the international community.
The Biden administration has said US relations with the group is now contingent on its behaviour.
For the Taliban, lots of money is at stake: The International Monetary Fund on Aug 19 cut off the group from using fund reserve assets just days before the nation was set to receive almost US$500 million.
One potential source of funds is China, which on Tuesday called on the world to help out the Taliban.
"China hopes that the international community should enhance collaboration and provide Afghanistan with necessary economic, livelihood and humanitarian assistance to help the country achieve peace and reconstruction," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Tuesday in Beijing.
He was responding to a question on whether Beijing would support the IMF allowing the Taliban government to access assets.