By Ayaz Gul
The Taliban announced Tuesday a “caretaker” Islamic government in Afghanistan, saying it will be headed by Mullah Hasan Akhund, a close associate of the Islamist movement’s late founder Mullah Omar.
The announcement came a day after the Taliban declared they had conquered the northern province of Panjshir, ending the only armed resistance to their rule in the conflict-torn country.
While sharing details of the caretaker Cabinet at a news conference in Kabul, Taliban chief spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that all the appointments were in an acting capacity and that the heads of various other ministries will be appointed soon.
Akhund, believed to be in his 60s, hails from the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He led the group’s leadership council, which directed insurgent attacks against the United States and allied forces during nearly 20 years of war.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the group’s political office, will serve as the deputy prime minister in the caretaker government. Sirajuddin Haqqani will be interior minister; Amir Khan Muttaqi will be the foreign minister; and Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Omar, will be the acting defense minister, Mujahid added.
Haqqani is the head of the Haqqani network, designated by the United States as a global terrorist organization.
Washington has offered a $10 million reward for information that leads to Haqqani’s arrest on accusations of directing deadly attacks against American and allied forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. denounces the Haqqani network as the “most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group.”
Reclusive Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada will be the overall “amir” (supreme leader) of the government, or the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” said Ahmadullah Wasiq, the acting information minister, while speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s news conference.
The radical group regained power in Kabul last month after capturing the rest of the country in a week of stunningly rapid battlefield victories as American and allied troops withdrew from the country. The absence of the crucial foreign military support led to the collapse of Afghan government forces.
The Taliban have since assured Afghans and foreign countries that they will install an “inclusive government” in the country and will not bring back their harsh Islamist rule of the 1990s, marked by a brutal justice system and the barring of women and girls from public life. So far, all the people appointed to the caretaker Cabinet are Taliban members.
U.S. President Joe Biden, when asked on Monday whether his administration would recognize the Taliban, said, “No. That’s a long way off.”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that there was no rush to recognition.
“It is really going to be dependent on what steps the Taliban takes. They will be watching, the United States included, they will be watching whether they allow for American citizens and citizens of other countries to depart, whether they allow individuals who want to leave the country to leave … how they treat women and girls around the country.”
The U.S. and the global community at large have urged the Taliban to ensure protection of human rights, cut ties with al-Qaida terrorists and give representation to all Afghan ethnicities if they want to remain part of the international community.
The United Nations stressed Tuesday, while reacting to the Taliban’s announcement, that only a negotiated and inclusive settlement will bring sustainable peace to Afghanistan.
“The U.N. remains committed to contribute to a peaceful solution; promote the human rights of all Afghans, notably women and girls; promote sustainable development in line with agenda 2030; and provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance and critical support to civilians in need,” U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said at daily news briefing in New York.
Michael Kugelman, deputy Asia program director at the Wilson Center, noted that Taliban leaders have been appointed to essentially all key positions. “It’s not at all inclusive, and that’s no surprise whatsoever. The Taliban had never indicated that any of its cabinet ministers would include anyone other than themselves,” Kugelman tweeted.
At least 10 people in the 33-member Taliban Cabinet announced Tuesday were part of the group’s team that negotiated the February 2020 peace agreement with the U.S., paving the way for all foreign forces to withdraw from nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The military drawdown concluded on August 31, in line with Biden’s directives.
Margaret Besheer and Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.