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Taliban name caretaker cabinet in Afghanistan, with top posts going to old guard

The Taliban on Tuesday announced an all-male interim government for Afghanistan stacked with veterans of their hard-line rule from the 1990s and the 20-year battle against the U.S.-led coalition, a move that seems unlikely to win the international support the new leaders desperately need to avoid an economic meltdown.

Lack of ethnic representation seems certain to hinder international support

Taliban announce interim cabinet for Afghan government

3 months ago
2:45
The Taliban announced an interim cabinet dominated by the group's old guard that will govern Afghanistan for the near future. There was no evidence of non-Taliban members in the lineup, a big demand of the international community. 2:45

The Taliban on Tuesday announced an all-male interim government for Afghanistan stacked with veterans of their hard-line rule from the 1990s and the 20-year battle against the U.S.-led coalition, a move that seems unlikely to win the international support the new leaders desperately need to avoid an economic meltdown.

The interim prime minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund, also headed the Taliban government in Kabul during the last years of its rule. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had led talks with the United States and signed the deal that led to America's final withdrawal from Afghanistan, will be one of two deputies to Akhund.

Appointed to the key post of interior minister was Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is on the FBI's most-wanted list with a $5 million US bounty on his head and who is believed to still be holding at least one American hostage. He headed the feared Haqqani network blamed for many deadly attacks and kidnappings.

The announcement came hours after Taliban fired into the air to disperse protesters and arrested several journalists, the second time in less than a week the group used heavy-handed tactics to break up a demonstration.

Cabinet made up mostly of Pashtuns

Drawn mostly from Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun ethnic group, the Cabinet's lack of representation from other ethnic groups also seems certain to hobble its support from abroad

As much as 80 per cent of Afghanistan's budget comes from the international community, and a long-running economic crisis has worsened in recent months. Near daily flights from Qatar bring in humanitarian aid, but the needs are massive, and the Taliban can hardly afford isolation.

Appointed to the key post of interior minister was Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is on the FBI's most-wanted list with a $5 million US bounty on his head and who is believed to still be holding at least one American hostage. (FBI/Reuters)

In announcing the Cabinet, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid emphasized that the appointments were temporary. He did not elaborate on how long they would serve and what would be the catalyst for a change.

Since taking over Afghanistan in mid-August after U.S. troops withdrew, the Taliban have shown no indications they will hold elections.

A policy statement accompanying the Cabinet announcement sought to allay fears of Afghanistan's neighbours and the rest of the world, but was unlikely to calm the fears of women, who didn't get a single post.

"Our message to our neighbours, the region and the world is that Afghanistan's soil will not be used against the security of any other country," the statement said.

The Taliban's Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, right, shakes hands with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad after signing a peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020. Baradar was named as a deputy to Afghanistan's new caretaker prime minister Tuesday. (Hussein Sayed/The Associated Press)

It urged foreign diplomats, embassies, consulates and humanitarian organizations to return to Afghanistan. "Their presence is the need of our country," the statement said.

The statement spoke of protecting the rights of minorities and the underprivileged and promised education "to all countrymen within the framework of Sharia." Women were not mentioned in the three-page statement.

Abdul Salam Hanafi, an ethnic Uzbek, was named as second deputy to Akhund. A long-time Taliban member, he is unlikely to satisfy demands for inclusivity and minority representation.

Taliban official Abdul Salam Hanafi is seen in Moscow in February 2019. He was named as a second deputy to Afghanistan's interim prime minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund. (Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press)

Besides Haqqani as head of the police, the other top security post of defence minister went to Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder and near mythic figure Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The Haqqani network, which dominates most of eastern Afghanistan, has been blamed for dramatic attacks in Kabul in the past two decades and for orchestrating kidnappings, often of Americans. Washington believes it still holds Mark Frerichs, a civilian contractor, who was abducted in January 2020 and hasn't been heard from since.

The new foreign minister will be Amir Khan Muttaqi, another prominent figure from the Taliban's last time in power. He faces a difficult task, given the Cabinet's lack of diversity.

Amir Khan Muttaqi arrives to the signing of a U.S.-Taliban agreement in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020. He was named foreign minister in the Cabinet. (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)

The Cabinet selection defied the many voices that had urged inclusivity and moderation.

Instead, it seemed to be a bow to the Taliban's tens of thousands of fighters, who would have struggled to accept figures from previous governments that they see as corrupt and that they believe they were called upon to oust.

"The fighters made the sacrifices. … They are the decision makers, not the politicians," said analyst and author Fazelminallah Qazizai, who has has written extensively about the Taliban.

Yet even with a Cabinet dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, the Taliban's fighting force would appear to have already attained some diversity, with their ranks bolstered considerably by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.

That may have helped hand the Taliban a surprising win in the mostly Tajik province of Badakhshan, which they overran with hardly a fight. When they last ruled, the province was the only one they failed to control.

Crackdown on protesters, journalists

At Tuesday's demonstration that was broken up by gunfire, protesters had gathered outside the Pakistani Embassy to accuse Islamabad of aiding the Taliban's assault on northern Panjshir province. The Taliban said Monday they seized the province — the last one not in their control — after their lightning advance through Afghanistan last month.

Afghanistan's previous government routinely accused neighbouring Pakistan of aiding the Taliban, a charge Islamabad has denied.

Dozens of women were among the protesters Tuesday. Some of them carried signs bemoaning the killing of their sons by Taliban fighters they say were aided by Pakistan. One sign read: "I am a mother when you kill my son you kill a part of me."

A view of protesters during the protest in Kabul on Tuesday. The Taliban moved quickly and harshly to end the demonstration. (West Asia News Agency/Reuters)

At one point, a Taliban fighter responded: "We have announced amnesty to everyone who has killed our sons."

The Taliban moved quickly and harshly to end Tuesday's protest when it arrived near the presidential palace. They also arrested several journalists covering the demonstration. 

At one point, a Taliban member waving a Kalashnikov rifle took a microphone from a journalist and began beating him with it. The journalist was later handcuffed and detained for several hours.

"This is the third time I have been beaten by the Taliban covering protests," he told The Associated Press on condition he not be identified because he was afraid of retaliation. "I won't go again to cover a demonstration. It's too difficult for me."

A journalist from Afghanistan's popular TOLO News was detained for three hours by the Taliban before being freed. He said his equipment was returned and his video of the demonstration was intact.

On Saturday, Taliban special forces in camouflage fired their weapons into the air to end a protest march in Kabul by women demanding equal rights.

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