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What countries make up the G7?

The Taliban has set a deadline of 31 August for all foreigners to leave Afghanistan as the G7 meets to discuss the possibility of sanctions, or recognition.

A US Marine provides security for qualified evacuees boarding a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the noncombatant evacuation operation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Leaders of the G7 nations held a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s lightning offensive across the country following the pull-out of US forces that began on 1 May and culminated in the fall of Kabul to the militants on 15 August, bringing an end to a 20-year conflict in the country between the Islamist political movement and the now-exiled, US-backed government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Taliban were ousted after five years in power by US-led forces in the weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda militants whose leaders had found safe haven in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of the Taliban’s recapture of Kabul a huge multinational evacuation mission was launched. Tens of thousands of foreign nationals and Afghans have been evacuated by an international airlift with many more fleeing for the borders of the landlocked country. Several nations have pledged to take in Afghan refugees with the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Germany committing to providing save haven for over 80,000. Some estimates place the number of Afghans at risk of reprisals for having worked with US and coalition forces at around 300,000.

Kabul airport has been inundated with people tying to get on flights out of the country ahead of a Taliban-imposed deadline of 31 August for all foreign nationals to be evacuated. US President Joe Biden, who has faced criticism for his decision to withdraw US combat troops from Afghanistan, is also now under pressure from allies to seek an extension to that deadline, risking a political confrontation with the Taliban. The US and its major allies have ruled out sending in more military aid with those troops currently there purely engaged in the evacuation effort and the security of Kabul Airport.

Rush to evacuate Kabul

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CIA Director William Burns met Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday, two sources told Reuters.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he was not aware if Baradar had met the CIA chief. But he said the group had not agreed to an extension of the deadline and it wanted all foreign evacuations to be completed by 31 August. He also called on the United States not to encourage Afghan people to leave their homeland. The Taliban also urged foreign embassies not to close or stop work. "We have assured them of security," he said.

Countries that have evacuated nearly 60,000 people over the past 10 days were trying to meet the deadline agreed earlier with the Taliban for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a NATO diplomat told Reuters. "Every foreign force member is working at a war-footing pace to meet the deadline," said the official, who declined to be identified.

Biden, who has said US troops might stay beyond the deadline, has warned the evacuation was going to be "hard and painful" and much could still go wrong. Democratic US Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told reporters he did not believe the evacuation could be completed in the days remaining. "It's possible but I think it's very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated," Schiff said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at a news briefing Monday that "we will continue to get Afghans at risk out of the country even after US military forces have left".

British Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Sky News he was doubtful there would be a deadline extension. But German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany was working with the United States and Britain to ensure the NATO allies can fly civilians out after the deadline.

G7 stance on Taliban

The G7 leaders could discuss taking a united stand on the question of whether to recognize a Taliban government, or alternatively renew sanctions to pressure the movement to comply with pledges to respect women's rights and international relations. "The G7 leaders will agree to coordinate on if, or when, to recognize the Taliban," said one European diplomat.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin was interested in serving as a middleman in resolving the crisis along with China, the United States and Pakistan.

At the same time, he said, Russia opposes the idea of allowing Afghan refugees to enter the ex-Soviet region of Central Asia or having United States troops deployed there. "If you think that any country in Central Asia or elsewhere is interested in becoming a target so that the Americans could fulfil their initiatives, I really doubt anyone needs that," Lavrov said during a visit to Hungary.

Who are the G7?

The G7 originated in 1973 at an informal meeting of finance ministers and was officially rubber-stamped in 1975. The founding members were Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The G7 became the G8 in 1997 when Russia was invited to join as a permanent member but reverted to the G7 when Russia was indefinitely suspended following its annexation of Crimea.

Despite containing only 10 percent of the world’s population, the G7 accounts for some 60 percent of global net wealth and between 32 and 46 of global GDP. Although it has no legal or institutional mandate, the G7 wields considerable power. As the European Union, which has a permanent presence at G7 summits, notes: “The political direction set by these leaders on a policy issue will have a “ripple” effect across many other international organisations and institutions.”