News Aussie newsreader takes surprise call from Taliban
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Aussie newsreader takes surprise call from Taliban

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An Australian-raised newsreader has drawn plaudits for her smooth handling of a surprising on-air phone call.

Yalda Hakim was conducting a live interview for BBC World News when she was interrupted by a phone call from Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen

With barely a pause for breath, Hakim answered the call on her mobile, putting her phone on speaker so her audience could listen in.

After adjusting a microphone and checking that viewers would be able to hear him, she interviewed Mr Shaheen, pummelling him with questions about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

The Taliban had earlier claimed the country’s war was over after 20 years of US intervention, sparking fears for civilians – particularly women and girls – who remain in the country.

Hakim began by asking about the “chaos and confusion” in Afghanistan – and what the Taliban planned to do.

Mr Shaheen claimed insurgents do not intend to take revenge on anyone, including those who assisted the US and their allies. But he pointedly did not rule out future executions.

“We assure the people in Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe – there will be no revenge on anyone,” Mr Shaheen said.

“We are the servants of the people and of this country.”

“Our leadership has instructed our forces to remain at the gate of Kabul, not to enter the city. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power,” he added.

Mr Shaheen confirmed Afghanistan would return to fundamentalist Sharia law under its new government.

“I can’t say right now, that’s up to the judges in the courts and the laws. The judges will be appointed according to the law of the future government,” he said.

Hakim, who was born in Kabul, asked for clarity on behalf of women and girls who had written to her worried about how their lives might be about to change.

She said women on the ground feared they would not be allowed to access education and work and would no longer be permitted to cover only their heads, but would instead be made to wear the full burka.

“There are hundreds of schools for girls, universities … there is no tension on them, they are continuing their studies and they are going to schools they were going to in the past,” Mr Shaheen said.

The interview, which lasted a little over half an hour, shocked viewers around the world and gained swift attention on social media.

Hakim is already a famous face in Afghanistan and is known for her coverage of volatile countries.

She and her family fled Afghanistan on horseback when she was just six months old, during the Soviet-Afghan war. They later settled in western Sydney.

She went to Macarthur Girls High School and studied journalism at Macleay College.

  • Watch the BBC interview here

Before she started working for the BBC in 2012, Hakim worked for the SBS and had won the United Nations Media Peace Prize.

BBC colleague Clare Casey called the quick decision to place Shaheen on speakerphone a “gamble that paid off”.

“We all held our breath as [Hakim] asked can our viewers hear this?” Casey wrote on Twitter.

There have been chaotic scenes in Kabul as the Taliban’s control has tightened in recent days. On Monday, a group of men clung to a US military transport plane as it taxied on the runway at Kabul airport, with one person appearing to fall as the aircraft took off.

Witnesses said at least five people were killed, while an astonishing picture emerged of more than 600 Afghans crammed onto a US plane as it flew towards Qatar.

In a televised address on Tuesday morning (Australian time), US President Joe Biden stood by his decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan despite heavy criticism.

“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” Mr Biden said.

He said the situation had unfolded faster than anticipated because Afghanistan political leaders had given up and fled the country and the military had collapsed.

-with AAP