The Taliban announced the formation of a hardline interim government for Afghanistan on Tuesday, with some main posts taken by veterans of the militant group and their allies in the Haqqani Network, based in North Waziristan, Pakistan.
A Taliban spokesman presented the new leaders at a news conference in Kabul.
Veteran Taliban member Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who has been the leader of the group’s Shura (Leadership Council) for about two decades, is now Afghanistan’s Prime Minister.
According to Afghanistan watchers, he is seen as a respected figure from the religious– rather than the military — wing of the Taliban.
Mullah Baradar, the chief of the group’s political bureau, will serve as Deputy Prime Minister Baradar has taken part in peace talks in Qatar in the past on behalf of the Taliban.
The Haqqani Network, based in Pakistan, will have two of its senior members represented in the interim Afghan government. The Network has been designated as a terror group by the United States. Like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, with whom its shares a great deal of ideology, it has been sanctioned by the United Nations and the United States.
The acting Interior Minister of Afghanistan, the leader of the Network, is a man who has a $10 million US bounty on his head — Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Haqqani, who has served as one of two deputy leaders of the Taliban since 2016, has an once who was also appointed to the new government, has an uncle, Khalil Haqqani, who will be the new acting minister for refugees.
Son of Taliban founding member now the acting Minister of Defense
In what looks like the beginning of a political dynasty, two additional members of the Haqqani clan were also named to positions in the interim government.
Mullah Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban, will serve as the other deputy leader and the acting Minister of Defense.
The leadership roster was announced after the blitzkrieg-like takeover of the country in the past few weeks, leading to a mass exodus of many Afghans who either helped the Americans when they were in the country or who simply refused to live under the Taliban.
Grim scenes played out at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and in the streets as many thousands of Afghans fled the country. As of Tuesday, more than 122,000 have successfully found refuge elsewhere, with the vast majority of them coming to the US.
Acting Afghanistan government pledges it “won’t allow” ethnic division
Since the beginning of the post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan, at least 5.9 million Afghans have fled the country or been internally displaced.
In a key departure from the endemic ethnic hatreds that have plagued Afghanistan since its inception,Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated on Tuesday that “Our government won’t be based on ethnicity. We will not allow this type of politics.”
However, there were no females listed on the platform for the new government, with Zabihullah telling the international press that the Taliban would be dealing with that issue at some unspecified point in time.
Seemingly a bit more sensitive to international condemnation for its barbaric treatment of women in the past, with females beaten in public for minor infractions of Muslim law, Taliban leaders have been insisting since their recent takeover that females will play a prominent role in society and will be allowed to attend schools.
Demonstration on women’s rights broken up by gunfire on Tuesday
However, there are no women in sight regarding any talks in forming the new interim government and individual Taliban members have encouraged women to stay home. Some militants, just as many female Afghans had feared, have ordered them to leave their workplaces.
In the past week, Afghan women have taken part in several demonstrations, in Kabul and provincial capitals, calling for the freedom to go to school and work and take part in the normal life of the country as equal citizens.
When asked by foreign reporters how the Taliban will handle such protests, Zabihullah replied that illegal demonstrations would not be allowed to take place, adding that protesters must live by the rules during the “current emergency.”
One of today’s protests centered around women’s rights and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan’s remaining province that had held out against it, the Panjshir Valley. That demonstration, in which some were heard to shout “Death to Pakistan!” was broken up by Taliban fighters firing guns into the air.
The demonstration also was in protest against Pakistan’s interference in the takeover and its apparent participation in the new Afghan interim government. Zabihullah dismissed the claims, saying they were just rumors that had been bruited about for two decades.
Meanwhile, four American citizens were smuggled out of the country overland through Tajikistan in the past several days after the Taliban stopped all flights out of the country. Currently, there are still some Americans who are stranded at the airport, with claims that the Taliban are not allowing them to leave.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that there are now “approximately 100” US citizens still in Afghanistan who wish to leave the country. Some are blaming the US for not allowing planes at Mazar-e-Sharif to leave for Doha; however, while the Taliban says they are not stopping the planes from leaving, there are individuals on the plane who do not have the “correct identification.”
Blinken is currently in Doha, where he thanked the Qatari government on Tuesday morning for allowing 58,000 Afghan refugees and American evacuees to come through that country since the Taliban takeover. Qatar also used many of its own aircraft for the airlift.
He praised the officers and airmen at Al Udeid Military Airbase, who shepherded all those thousands of people through. As Blinken stated on Tuesday, that represents nearly half of those who were evacuated in the entire operation from Kabul. “these are massive numbers,” Blinken noted.
“And as I’ve said a number of times, we spend a lot of time back in Washington talking about numbers: the total number of evacuees, American citizens, and so forth. But you know better than anyone that behind each of these numbers is a real person, is a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter.
“And simply put, because of the work that you’ve done and our colleagues have done together so well, you’ve saved lives; you’ve changed futures in remarkable ways.
Blinken concluded his remarks by saying “I don’t think anyone but you will actually fully understand the magnitude of what you’ve dealt with. Even back in Washington as we were seeing this unfold, we relied so much on each of you to figure out a solution in the moment on the ground. And I think no one will really fully understands as well what you’ve actually been able to achieve.”