The Taliban appoint loyalists to top positions in government

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban announced an interim government on Tuesday, taking a major step in re-establishing their Islamic emirate in Afghanistan and strengthening many of the movement’s loyalists from their regime in the 1990s.

After weeks of assurances from Taliban leaders that the movement would offer a more moderate and inclusive form of government, most of the acting appointments on Tuesday were by senior officials serving in similar roles decades ago – a sign that the group’s conservatives and theocratic core remains largely unchanged. All were men, and several are listed by the United States and the United Nations as global terrorists.

“I assure all our compatriots that these officials will work hard to uphold Islamic rules and Sharia law,” Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the movement’s top leader, said in a written statement issued at a press conference in Kabul. “The Islamic Emirate needs the continued support of its people to rebuild the devastated country together.”

The Taliban made it clear that there would be more appointments, prolonging a process that has already stretched for weeks since the group suddenly took national control last month.

The highest-ranking role announced on Tuesday went to Mullah Muhammad Hassan, who was appointed acting prime minister, making him head of government. Sir. Hassan is a tough-handed man who has filled a similar role in the rebel leadership council in recent years and was deputy prime minister of the first Taliban government.

Some analysts had thought that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had led the Taliban’s negotiations with the United States, would take that role, but instead he was appointed deputy along with Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi, a prominent Uzbek member of the negotiating team.

However, the top security posts went to relative newcomers from a younger generation of Taliban leaders, both of whom served as Sheikh Haibatullah’s powerful military deputies.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, 48, appointed acting interior minister, presided over the insurgency campaign with urban bombings that terrorized the capital, Kabul, for years. His new position will give him extensive authority over police and legal matters. Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoub, who was appointed acting defense minister, is the eldest son of Taliban founding leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and is believed to be in his 30s.

A large part of the cabinet, including Mr Baradar, had served in the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar. Among them was Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting foreign minister; his deputy, Sher Abbas Stanikzai; and four of the so-called “Guantánamo Five”. They were held in the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay for 13 years before being replaced in 2014 by Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier captured by the Taliban.

In order to govern, the Taliban will need to secure aid that has been frozen by the United States and other nations. Still, U.S. sanctions against some cabinet members, including Mr Haqqani and his uncle, Khalil Haqqani, appointed acting Minister of Refugees and Repatriation – both listed as leaders of the terrorist-designated Haqqani network – would make it a difficult proposal.

Another factor will be foreign governments, lenders and aid organizations waiting to see the fate of the opposition, and whether the Taliban will respect the rights of women and ethnic and religious minorities. Just hours before the Taliban announced their new government posts, their fighters were actually on the streets of Kabul and violently broke up for a peaceful demonstration for the second time in less than a week.

As the crowd of protesters grew on Tuesday, with hundreds of women joining at least as many men, the Taliban began beating protesters with rifle butts and sticks, witnesses said, and the crowd dispersed after the fighters began firing into the air. .

Rezai, 26, one of the organizers of the latest protest, said the demonstration was planned in coordination with people trying to organize a national resistance against the Taliban.

“We invited people who used social media platforms,” ​​she said. “And there were more people than we expected. We’re expecting more rallies tonight because people do not want terror and destruction.”

As they marched Tuesday morning, they carried a banner with a single word: “Freedom.”

The protests are taking place while the Taliban are also cementing their military grip on the country, announcing on Monday that they had captured the capital of the restrained Panjshir province.

Afghanistan is also facing a worsening humanitarian crisis. Basic services like electricity are threatened while the country has been hit by food and cash shortages.

Thousands of Afghans are still desperately trying to flee the country, even as the United States is working to evacuate dozens of its citizens. At a news conference in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said U.S. officials were “working around the clock” to ensure charter flights with Americans can leave Afghanistan safely.

A senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the fact that the Taliban took more than three weeks to announce even a transitional government, despite an urgent need to re-establish services and economic functions, could be taken as a sign that “they were” They were not really ready and they did not have a plan. “

The designated officials, all of whom were men, were also notable for including only a few non-Pashtuns despite the country’s ethnic diversity and the Taliban’s promises of inclusive government.

At the press conference naming the new cabinet, the Taliban’s top spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, who was appointed deputy information and culture minister, stressed the government’s transitional character.

“This is a functioning cabinet appointed to handle current affairs and we are preparing the foundations for government and state-building,” he said. “In the near future, the role of people’s participation and the Shuras will be developed.”

Taliban officials said a nationwide gathering of religious scholars and elders is still being planned to confirm Sheikh Haibatullah, a native of Kandahar province and a widely respected religious scholar in the movement, as Afghanistan’s supreme leader.

Reporting is contributed by Wali Arian, Sami Sahak, Mujib Mashal, Adam Nossiter, Michael Crowleyand Farnaz Fassihi.

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