Watched by the world, Taliban returns to power in Afghanistan

The Taliban's appointment of hardline veteran figures to top cabinet positions in Afghanistan was widely seen as a signal Wednesday that the group was not looking to broaden its base and present a more tolerant face to the world, especially around concerns about women's rights in the country.

Afghanistan ushers in all-male Taliban cabinet that includes figures wanted by U.S.

Taliban soldiers stand guard over surrendered Afghan militia in the Kapisa province of Afghanistan on Wednesday, the first official day of the Taliban's term as national government. (Mohammad Asif Khan/The Associated Press)

Foreign countries greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay on Wednesday after the Taliban appointed hardline veteran figures to top positions, including several with a U.S. bounty on their head.

The appointments were widely seen as a signal that the group was not looking to broaden its base and present a more tolerant face to the world, especially around concerns about women's rights in the country.

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from working and girls from attending school. The group carried out public executions and enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Though new leaders have vowed to respect people's rights, including those of women, in accordance with Shariah, those who have won greater freedoms over the last two decades are worried about losing them, seemingly for good reason.

Jiu Jitsu club members look at a wall with posters at their club ahead of a training session in Kabul, on Feb. 15, 2020. On Wednesday, a senior Taliban official said women in Afghanistan would be banned from playing cricket and possibly any other sport. (Tamana Sarwary/The Associated Press)

Taliban announce cricket ban for women

On Wednesday, a senior Taliban official told Australia's SBS News that women in Afghanistan would no longer be allowed to play cricket and possibly any other sport because it was "not necessary" and because their bodies might be exposed.

In Kabul, a group of women holding signs that read "A cabinet without women is a failure" held another protest in the Pul-e Surkh area of the city.

Larger demonstrations on Tuesday were broken up when the Taliban fired warning shots into the air.

"The cabinet was announced and there were no women in the cabinet. And some journalists who came to cover the protest were all arrested and taken to the police station," said a woman in a video shared on social media.

WATCH | Women's rights threatened in Afghanistan:

Women's rights threatened in Afghanistan

2 years ago
Duration 7:32
Taliban advances are raising fears that women's rights could be eliminated in Afghanistan. During their rule from 1996-2001, the Taliban closed schools for girls, and women were not allowed to work in most professions.

Exiled officials called back

Tens of thousands of people who fled after the Taliban seized power in mid-August were professionals fearing reprisals because of their association with the previous Western-backed government. 

But for the Afghans who stayed, more pressing than the composition of the cabinet was the economic fallout of the chaos triggered by the Taliban's conquest.

People urged the new leaders to revive the Afghan economy, which faces steep inflation, food shortages exacerbated by drought and the prospect of international aid being slashed as countries distance themselves from the Taliban.

As the newly appointed ministers and their deputies set to work after they were named late Tuesday, acting premier Mohammad Hasan Akhund urged former officials who fled Afghanistan to return, saying their safety would be guaranteed.

"We have suffered heavy losses for this historic moment and the era of bloodshed in Afghanistan is over," he told Al Jazeera.

The group has promised to respect people's rights and not seek vendettas, but it has been criticized for its heavy-handed response to protests and its part in a chaotic evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul airport.

Women gather to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul on Sept. 3, 2021. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, they enforced a harsh interpretation of Islam, barring girls and women from schools and public life, and brutally suppressing dissent. (Wali Sabawoon/The Associated Press)

Zaki Daryabi, head of the daily newspaper Etilaatroz, said some of his reporters had been beaten while covering Tuesday's protests.

A statement from the new Taliban interior ministry said that in order to avoid disturbances and security problems anyone holding a demonstration should apply for clearance 24 hours beforehand.

Global reaction

Meanwhile, the global community reacted to the government appointments with dismay and caution.

"We're assessing the announcement, but despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women," said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

While visiting a U.S. air base in Germany that has been a transit point for evacuees from Afghanistan, Blinken said Washington was "concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of those individuals."

The new acting cabinet includes former detainees of U.S. military prison Guantanamo Bay, while the interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a bounty of $10 million.

His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.

The Taliban's victory has presented a dilemma to the rest of the world, which wants to keep aid flowing and help those who want to leave. But in order to do so, they may have to engage with a movement that, until a few weeks ago, was an insurgency blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.

The European Union voiced disapproval of the appointments, but said it was ready to continue humanitarian assistance. Longer term aid would depend on whether the Taliban upholds basic freedoms.