Taliban announce hardline govt as protests grow

The Taliban announced their new government on Tuesday, with a UN-blacklisted veteran of the hardline movement in the top role, after the hardliners swept to power in a lightning offensive which toppled the US-backed president.

The announcement came as protests were growing against Taliban rule, with two people shot dead in the western city of Herat on Tuesday, a doctor told AFP.

The Islamist hardliners, notorious for their brutal and oppressive rule during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, had pledged a more “inclusive” brand of rule as US troops completed their chaotic pullout.

But all the key positions appointed Tuesday are core, veteran players in the movement.

Chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a press conference that the new government would be an interim one, and that veteran official Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund would serve as its new acting prime minister.

He had served as deputy foreign minister under the Taliban’s old regime, and is on a UN blacklist. 

Mujahid also said that Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar will be the deputy leader. Previously he served as the head of his movement’s political office, overseeing the signing of the US withdrawal agreement in 2020.

Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the Taliban founder and late supreme leader Mullah Omar, was named defence minister, while the position of interior minister was given to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the feared Haqqani network who also doubled up as a Taliban deputy leader.

Shortly after the announcement of the new lineup, Hibatullah Akhundzada, the secretive supreme leader of the Taliban made his first statement since his movement’s stunning takeover of Afghanistan, saying that the new government would “work hard towards upholding Islamic rules and sharia law”.

– ‘Not inclusive’ –

Following their 20-year insurgency, the Taliban now face the colossal task of ruling Afghanistan, which is wracked with economic woes and security challenges — including from the Islamic State group’s local chapter. 

In what appeared to be a fresh sign that the Taliban are seeking to appease sceptics, Mujahid said the government — as yet incomplete — would only have an interim role.

“We will try to take people from other parts of the country,” he said.

One analyst told AFP, however, that the new lineup was far removed from the softer brand of rule the movement had pledged.

“It’s not at all inclusive, and that’s no surprise whatsoever,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

“The Taliban had never indicated that any of its cabinet ministers would include anyone other than themselves.”

– Deadly protest –

Scattered protests in recent days have indicated that some Afghans do not believe in the Taliban’s capacity to translate their promise of a more moderate rule into reality.

In Herat, scores of demonstrators marched, unfurling banners and waving the old Afghan flag — a black, red and green vertical tricolour with the national emblem overlaid in white. 

Taliban militants opened fire to disperse the crowds who had gathered to protest against Pakistan — seen widely as a backer of Afghanistan’s new rulers.

Two bodies were brought to the city’s central hospital from the site of the protest, a doctor in Herat told AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

“They all have bullet wounds,” he said. 

Videos posted on social media of a separate rally showed more than a hundred people marching through the streets of Kabul under the watchful eye of armed Taliban members.

Demonstrations have also been held in smaller cities in recent days, where women have demanded to be part of a new government. 

– ‘Go away’ –

General Mobin, a Taliban official in charge of security in the capital, told AFP he had been called to the scene by guards who said that “women were creating a disruption”.

“These protesters are gathered based only on the conspiracy of foreign intelligence,” he claimed.

An Afghan journalist covering the demonstration told AFP his press ID and camera were confiscated by the Taliban. 

“I was kicked and told to go away,” he said.

Later, the Kabul-based Afghan Independent Journalists Association said 14 journalists — Afghan and foreign — were detained briefly during the protests before being released.

Images shared online showed reporters with cuts and bruises to their hands and knees.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had reiterated a pledge to allow Afghans to freely depart Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden has faced mounting pressure amid reports that several hundred people, including Americans, have been prevented for a week from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan.

Close Bitnami banner